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Will the new Transport for the North plan work?

Transport for the North recently launched a consultation on its freight and logistics strategy which aims to stimulate growth in the north of the UK and plug the gap following the collapse of the Northern Powerhouse Rail project.

PWA’s co-founder and director Paul Walton comments on the consultation and explores the issues surrounding the new Transport for the North plan.

A boost for the warehouse sector

The Transport for the North Freight and Logistics Strategy will provide a real boost for the region’s warehouse sector in particular.

With a focus on decarbonisation, the strategy analyses freight requirements across road, rail, port and inland waterways.

It sets out plans to plug the freight gap in the Integrated Rail Plan by driving a more connected and competitive northern economy, while also reducing the environmental impact of HGVs.

Currently, around a third of all GB freight enters the UK via northern posts, but the plan aims to increase this by diverting maritime freight away from southern ports and into ports like Liverpool instead.

Other benefits of the strategy include increasing warehouse capacity, as well as improving trans-Pennine freight movements. A final draft is set to be released in spring.

Engagement is key

This move to get a cohesive strategy for freight and logistics development in the North is to be applauded and it’s good to see the priority to decarbonise freight is writ large over the consultation document.

From a planning point of view there will be challenges and one of the major ones will be how this strategy engages with the multiple local authority development plans that are all coming forward at different points in time. This will need gargantuan levels of engagement and co-ordination with local planning authorities to ensure synchronisation with plans that are coming forward.

Limitations for rail-deprived areas

The recommendation to prioritise rail connected sites for freight warehouse locations is an admirable one, given the critical need to make the freight and logistics sector more sustainable.

However, that rules out huge swathes of the North that aren’t rail connected, so that is an obvious limitation for some sites.

Supporting infrastructure

Another potential planning issue will be the provision of adequate lorry parking, rest and refuelling facilities that are needed to deliver suitable sites.

Residents in urban areas don’t like them as they deemed to be noisy and dirty. Similarly, it will be a struggle to get planning consent for these facilities in green belt or countryside locations, so specific planning expertise is required to successfully secure planning approval for these types of schemes.

PWA Planning has vast experience in this field and works in partnership with a number of national and local roadside service and forecourt operators – including Euro Garages – to boost infrastructure and bring these rest and refuelling facilities forward.

Overall, the strategy is a sound one, but we need to make sure the planning system does not put the handbrake on the delivery of new freight locations.

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