A tale of two cities

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For some time Government and EU policies have been aimed at promoting greater sustainability in transport and, in recent years, there has been no shortage of official advice and encouragement towards the promotion of modal shift from road to alternative freight modes such as rail and water. A few official policy documents containing this objective include the following:-

The 1998 New Deal for Transport: Better for Everyone was the first transport White Paper in 20-plus years. It advocated an integrated transport system, a more sustainable approach to freight distribution, and a cleaner and healthy environment. A year later, Sustainable Distribution – a Strategy outlined Government policy for freight for the next ten years.

The Government’s 2010 Transport Plan detailed its intention to increase rail freight volumes by 80%.

The EU’s transport White Paper European Transport Policy for 2010: Time to Decide emphasised the importance of the Trans-European Network, removal of barriers restraining rail freight growth and the need for greater inter-operability between the different networks.

The Strategic Rail Authority’s (SRA) Strategic Rail Freight Interchange Policy, published in April 2004 established a clear framework to promote and facilitate the delivery of major freight villages in the context of the Government’s wider economic and environmental objectives.

The North West Regional Freight Strategy published in December 2003 which draws attention to the region’s requirements for freight intermodal facilities.

Overall, the arguments advanced to the logistics industry for modal shift have been well-rehearsed and repeated ad nauseam – there is simply too much traffic on the road network. The result is worsening congestion levels, time delays and greater cost inefficiencies for the economy. Driver shortages, tolling, the possible introduction of a distance charging scheme and higher fuel prices have exasperated the situation. Also, there is the environmental impact on the wider society.

Therefore, the need in the future is for sustainable distribution policies, which a rail or water modal shift can assist in the achievement of that objective. However, the desire for modal shift in itself is meaningless without the necessary physical infrastructure. In short, this means the building of large freight villages, financed and built by the private sector. But, this is the nub of the problem. It is an unfortunate fact, but industry’s recent experience of the planning regulations, which would enable modal shift, has not been encouraging.

Last year’s planning rejection of the road/rail London Freight International Exchange (LIFE) was a major disappointment for industry expectations. Furthermore, this disappointment was somewhat compounded in April this year following the rejection of the planning application by Associated British Port’s (ABP) proposal for the Southampton Dibden Bay container terminal.

In the circumstances it is little wonder that the private sector appears to be confused. On the one hand official actions appear to proactively encourage the building of freight village infrastructure. Such infrastructure is essential if the goal of modal shift is to be achieved. However, on the other hand official actions (in the light of LIFE and Dibden Bay) are now interpreted as being negative, especially as planning, financial and time issues are seen as becoming insurmountable obstacles towards progress.

For this and other reasons industry is now taking a keen interest in those proposed intermodal freight villages in the planning pipeline. Two, in particular are of industry interest, due to their size, location, facilities and developers. Both are based in the North-west, on the upper reaches of the Manchester Ship Canal, a few miles from the city centre. These are Port Salford and Trafford Interchange.

The North-west is Britain’s second most important economic region – after the South-east – in terms of manufacturing and commercial activities, containing almost a seven million population. For the past 200 years Manchester has been the main trading centre of the North-west. In 1894, following the opening of the 36-mile long Manchester Ship Canal (MSC), the city also became a major seaport, complete with a major docks complex within a mile of the city centre. The MSC was the biggest and last of the great Victorian engineering projects.

However, in recent decades, similar to other British ports, the canal experienced a steep decline in ship traffic. This was particularly noticeable in the canal’s upper reaches, an area near to the main Manchester conurbation. The two proposed freight villages, Port Salford and Trafford Interchange, are unique in location and having impressive logistics facilities. The sites will be strategically located in the MSC’s upper reaches, ideally suited to assist future growth of the region’s economy, regenerate and revitalise the local area and boost employment prospects.

Port Salford

The proposed 150-acre tri-modal (road/rail/water) Port Salford site would be located adjacent to Barton Locks on the MSC, almost within sight of Manchester city centre. The site’s developer, Peel Holdings, also owns the MSC. When complete Port Salford would have capacity to handle more than 300,000 TEUs per year and attract 16 freight trains per day serving 150,000sq m of distribution warehousing, comprising four large units. The track rail reception yard could receive full length Channel Tunnel 775m freight trains.

Ships up to a maximum of 500 TEUs capacity could be accommodated on newly built wharfage. The Port Salford infrastructure would be designed to accommodate four trains and two ships simultaneously and store up to 10,000 TEUs. A new rail spur from the site would connect with the Liverpool/Manchester line and thereby to the West Coast Main Line, giving North and South accessibility. It is anticipated that Freightliner, P&O’s Roadway and the MSC Company would operate Port Salford in a three-way joint venture

Peel’s subsidiary, Clydeport Shipping, already operates a short-sea feeder service linking Glasgow with Liverpool and South coast and European container ports. As from last month Clydeport switched its service from Liverpool to a dedicated container wharf at Irlam on the MSC, a few miles downstream from Barton Locks. An annual throughput of between 6,500-8,000 TEUs, laden and unladen, is forecast for movement at Irlam.

It is expected that in time the Irlam container operation will eventually transfer to Port Salford. Initially, the 208-TEU Nordsee will operate at Irlam, with another ship possibly entering the service soon.

It is anticipated that Port Salford could generate 2,000 direct jobs and many more indirect jobs. The planning process for the project is expected to take 12 to18 months. The ship berths would be built at the outset and the construction phase would take a further 12 to18 months.

Trafford Interchange

The proposed 400-acre Trafford Interchange site is located at Carrington, south-west of Manchester and near to the MSC at Partinton Basin and Irlam wharfs. The site is a short distance downstream from Port Salford. Trafford Interchange’s developers, Burford and Shell, aim to design a major strategic road/rail facility to primarily cater for large scale rail-connected warehouses, manufacturing, distribution and light industry, coupled with consolidation and transshipment facilities.

Trafford Interchange will comprise approximately 415,000sq m of warehousing and manufacturing floor space and an intermodal terminal. It is anticipated that Trafford Interchange could comprise more than 12 major rail-served units of between 8,000 to 60,000sq m and accommodate warehousing units of up to 100,000sq m. At least 75% of floorspace would be directly served by rail, with dedicated rail sidings accessed from the refurbished Partington Branch line, which would provide access to the Midland Line and West Coast Main Line.

The site could also accommodate full length Channel Tunnel 775m freight trains, and it is anticipated that the site will cater for more than more than 72 trains per week when fully operational.

The reinstatement of the Partington Branch line rail link would enable Trafford Interchange access to the national rail network without resulting in additional freight trains going through the congested central Manchester lines. There is also a potential opportunity to increase the use of the MSC for freight movement at the nearby Partington Basin, which is already in regular use for shipping purposes, through the provision of new Trafford Interchange rail and road infrastructure.

Manchester Airport has consistently supported the Trafford Interchange scheme, recognising the potential importance of major rail-served warehouse facilities near to the Airport. Trafford Interchange is located in a Priority Regeneration Area, and has bee designated as a Strategic Regional Site by the North West Development Agency (NWDA). The site, which is expected to generate 5,000 jobs, also meets the SRA’s criteria for location of major Strategic Rail Freight Interchanges. Currently, Trafford Interchange is in the process of being ratified into Trafford Metropolitan Borough Council’s (TMBC) Unitary Development Plan (UDP).

Future strategy

Regional authorities accept that major freight interchanges are best located within the Metropolitan areas where they are best placed to encourage the use of rail for the movement of freight and to meet the needs of industry and serve the heavily populated conurbations. Developments such as Port Salford and Trafford Interchange are increasing deemed by regional and local authorities to be of regional, national and international significance.

Presently, the North West Regional Assembly (NWRA) is completing its review of Regional Planning for the North West (RPG13) and Regional Spatial Strategy, which in time will become a statutory document with real teeth in the planning process. The NWRA’s stance comes from first principles, with simple objectives including:-

Increasing the regional economy.

Improving the regional economy.

Increasing social inclusion.

Each of these objectives has equal priority within the wider Trafford Interchange Masterplan courtesy of Burford Groupscheme of things. The Port Salford and Trafford Interchange proposals help towards achieving these objectives. According to the NWRA, a modern, efficient and well-equipped transport system is essential to support the competitiveness of the North-west’s industry and commerce. The agency is aware that each year the North-west, in terms of time, moves further away from the centre of logistics gravity mainly because of worsening congestion levels and the EU’s enlargement.

It is imperative, therefore, for the North-west to protect and enhance it transport and logistics infrastructure – the region’s major trading links into Europe and through the Channel Tunnel and East/West links with the Humber and Ireland are freight corridors of strategic importance. The NWRA aims to create an accessible region, with efficient and fully integrated transport systems. As such, it maintains it is vital that the best use is made of the region’s existing and proposed freight gateways and interchanges. It is essential that effectively planned and operated transport interchanges are delivered within an acceptable timeframe if aspirations are to be fulfilled for the region. To this purpose the NWRA has developed a strategic vision covering the next 20 years.

Both Port Salford and Trafford Interchange are in the final stage of planning application. If and when planning permission is finally granted the schemes are expected to provide the North-west with state-of-the-art logistics infrastructure, bringing valuable economic benefits to the region. The facilities would give the regional economy a sounder base to compete in the national, enlarged EU and global markets. The proposed freight developments also meet the aspirations of the regional and local authorities such as the NWDA, the NWRA, and

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