Monday 5th Dec 2016 - Logistics Manager

Future proofing

Are we going to see more rail freight interchanges in the future? Liza Helps reports.

This article was first published in Logistics Manager, June 2016.

This article was first published in Logistics Manager, June 2016.

There has been a positive explosion of strategic rail freight interchange schemes and proposals coming forward in the last year, with attendant rail related warehousing accompaniment: a significant boost to the availability of multi-modal warehouse space for logistics occupiers.

But will occupiers actually use the rail freight offering?

“Based purely on empirical evidence some operators use and employ rail and have it on their CSR agenda to reduce road traffic etc. But it still seems, with the odd very notable exception, that the industrial and logistics world in UK still struggles to get its head round rail, its function and operation.”

So says Richard Sullivan of Savills, who has been advising on a number of potential strategic rail freight developments round the UK over the past few years, including Roxhill’s East Midlands Gateway, which secured planning earlier this year for a Strategic Rail Freight Interchange with 6 million sq ft of related warehouse space.

“As with all logistics and supply chain, [moving goods by rail] is a low margin sector and as a consequence needs to have distance and volume to make it work effectively. Having a specific rail served and connected warehouse is not for everyone as they may not have not the size of volume of goods.”

Be that as it may, the Government, through its Nationally Significant Infrastructure Project (NSIP) consenting process, has given the go ahead to Roxhill’s East Midlands Gateway scheme, despite a recommendation for refusal by an examining panel of planning inspectors, such is its concern to be seen to be putting it’s money where its mouth is in terms of getting freight off the roads.

To that end it has put the development of a national network of strategic rail freight interchanges at the hear of its national infrastructure programme.

In its National Policy Statement for National Networks (NPSNN), adopted in December 2014, the government stated that while rail freight has started to play an increasingly significant role in logistics, it recognised that the lack of rail freight interchanges was hampering continued growth as there were not enough opportunities for its facilitation.

“The aim of a strategic rail freight interchange (SRFI) is to optimise the use of rail in the freight journey by maximising rail trunk haul and minimising some elements of the secondary distribution leg by road, through co-location of other distribution and freight activities. SRFIs are a key element in reducing the cost to users of moving freight by rail and are important in facilitating the transfer of freight from road to rail, thereby reducing trip mileage of freight movements on both the national and local road networks.

“The logistics industry provides warehousing and distribution networks for UK manufacturers, importers and retailers – currently this is predominantly a road-based industry. However, the users and buyers of warehousing and distribution services are increasingly looking to integrate rail freight into their transport operations with rail freight options sometimes specified in procurement contracts. This requires the logistics industry to develop new facilities that need to be located alongside the major rail routes, close to major trunk roads as well as near to the conurbations that consume the goods. In addition, the nature of that commercial development is such that some degree of flexibility is needed when schemes are being developed, to allow the development to respond to market requirements as they arise.”

There are a number of SRFI schemes coming forward on the back of this planning policy statement. These include Prologis DIRFT III development, which will see 7.86 million sq ft of rail related warehousing in units from 100,000 sq ft to 1.65 million sq ft. Joint letting agents are Burbage Realty, JLL and Savills.

To rival this development Ashfield Land is proposing another strategic rail freight terminal, to be known as Rail Central, between the nearby villages of Milton Malsor and Blisworth with eight million sq ft of co-located warehousing.
Situated at the junction of the West Coast Main Line and the Northampton Loop Line, near to the key freight routes of the M1 and A43, the site would cover some 250 hectares. No development would take place before 2019.

If that were not enough for the Midlands, there is another proposal for an SRFI in Staffordshire with a consortium called Four Ashes led by Surrey-based Kilbride, which specialises in rail infrastructure, with funding from Grosvenor Group and Kilbride, while the majority of the land belongs to Piers Monckton, whose family owns Stretton Hall.

The plans for the 617-acre site just off Junction 12 of the M6 motorway in the West Midlands could accommodate units from 100,000 sq ft to 1 million sq ft.

On its website Kilbride noted: “The West Midlands has a shortage of suitable quality development land for large scale rail linked logistics warehousing.

“Four Ashes is one of very few sites in the UK with good road access and where the rail access is the necessary W10 gauge that will enable the largest sized containers to be moved on the rail network to the rail terminal.”

The site is located on Junction 12 of the M6, near Cannock, and is bounded by the A5 to the north and the A449 dual carriageway to the west. The site has been promoted through the West Midlands RSS and through the South Staffordshire Local Plan, but the project qualifies as a Nationally Significant Infrastructure Project and so will require a submission to be made via the Planning Inspectorate.

Controversial

It’s not just in the Midlands where developers and landholders are looking to bring forward SRFIs. After a long and controversial planning battle Helioslough really looks like it could secure the Radlett site from Hertfordshire County Council and bring forward the only major rail freight interchange in the North and West quadrants around London. The scheme could provide some 3 million sq ft of co-located rail connected warehousing.

In the North West, St Helen’s Council is dusting down proposals abandoned by Prologis to redevelop the former Parkside Colliery as an SRFI and hopes to have a master plan worked up by the summer.

The fact that the Government has overruled inspectors with regard to SRFIs and more importantly the timing of the development of co-located warehousing, has made it easier for developers to cover the risk of putting in the extremely expensive rail links. Not only helping occupiers to future proof their businesses but also future proofing freight on rail.

Gareth Osborn of SEGRO says: “There is more distribution of goods via rail but it is not as yet a seismic shift, it is a more gradual incorporation rail into the supply chain. Rail is a key to future proofing locations.”