Logistics students give Northamptonshire rail freight terminal the thumbs down

Date 11.04.2016

A scheme which would see farmland sacrificed for a major rail freight terminal has been questioned by students from the University of Northampton.

Developer Ashfield Land’s Rail Central proposals, which are to be examined by the Planning Inspectorate, would see a rail depot the size of 100 football pitches (250 hectares) built between south Northamptonshire villages Milton Malsor and Blisworth.

Logistics students from the University have carried out a study into recent developments in the rail freight market, which concluded the Rail Central proposals – which are opposed by many local residents – were premature and better sites existed for such a facility.

The group, which includes both undergraduates and postgraduates, recently travelled to Westminster, where they presented their results to Andrea Leadsom, MP for South Northamptonshire.

The study was supervised by Andrew Gough, Associate Professor of Logistics at the University’s Northampton Business School, who said: “Whilst no-one doubts that we need to encourage freight to move from road to rail, the lack of capacity on our railways to carry increased freight restricts the number of viable locations for suitable interchanges.

“The recent decision to expand the Daventry International Rail Freight Terminal (DIRFT) is to be welcomed and will provide much-needed capability for the next decade at least. We will watch with interest to see if the Planning Inspectorate sees the need for a second facility less than 20 miles from Daventry.”

He added: “I would like to place on record my thanks to Mrs Leadsom for this invitation, and for the fantastic opportunity it represents for our students to gain a unique insight into the infrastructure planning process.”

Mrs Leadsom said: “The Strategic Rail Freight Interchange proposal is a big issue in my constituency and the arguments for and against cover a wide range of policy areas.

“From the need to reduce our carbon footprint, to the need to balance economic growth with building enough homes and infrastructure for existing residents, to ensuring the local community’s views are taken into account, there is a great deal of work to be done.

“The presentation from the University of Northampton students was incredibly helpful in bringing out some of these critical issues.”

James Digby, from Rail Central, said: “The opportunity to invest into the Rail Central project and create a world-class logistics hub here just outside Northampton is driven by two things.

“Firstly, Government policy which encourages the development of more Strategic Rail Freight Interchange (SRFI) capacity across the UK, and secondly, the market demand for these types of buildings and this type of rail-served facility.

“The way we all expect goods and products to be delivered these days puts a premium on having fast, efficient, safe and sustainable supply chains. The increase in internet shopping, as just one example, is pushing these changes even harder and it’s a fast-moving marketplace.

“Rail Central will respond to both policy and market demand when it comes on stream in several years’ time, subject to planning permission, and it will be the next generation of facilities like DIRFT which have met current needs. Rail Central is about looking to the future and building for that future demand.

“This [University of Northampton] study is flawed in several aspects of its methodology and its data, hence we don’t recognise its conclusions. We have a strong policy and demand case for Rail Central which is why we are concentrating on bringing the proposals forward.”

Prof Gough added: “The amount of work that this class of students has been able to do in a short space of time is remarkable. It is important to note that these are initial findings and the study will be continued.”

The students’ project was linked to modules contained within the BA International Logistics and Trade Finance and the MSc International Logistics degree courses.

They were assisted by Northampton Business School graduate Bronwyn Barnett from logistics firm DHL, who acted as an industry advisor to the group.