Developments should be in keeping with the character of the area and with the established consent of local people, argues Dame Andrea Leadsom MP

I am gravely concerned about the impact of overdevelopment in my constituency of South Northamptonshire. Local need is too often overlooked in favour of the “national interest” by planning inspectors who disregard the wishes of communities. There is no better example than the Strategic Rail Freight Interchange (SRFI) currently under construction at Junction 15 of the M1 which offers no benefit to my constituents yet means a huge increase in HGV traffic congestion. So I have called a debate on the planning of national infrastructure projects such as this SRFI in order to highlight the plight that my constituents are currently facing.

A SRFI is defined as a large multi-purpose rail freight interchange containing rail-connected warehousing and container facilities. They support the modal shift in our transportation network from road to rail. Whilst I am supportive of this in principle, logically they should be located near ports or other starting points for freight coming into the country, not in the middle of the country.

South Northamptonshire has been blighted by a massive increase in the number of unwelcome warehousing developments in recent years – these include major warehousing plans around Northampton, Towcester, and Cosgrove – when in fact existing sites at Dirft, Panattoni and Swan Valley only a few miles away are still not fully occupied. There is no identifiable need for yet another Logistics Park in our area.

The plan to build this SRFI was universally unpopular among my constituents, with hundreds objecting at the planning stage. At the Planning Inquiry, many questioned whether a rail link would ever be built to connect the SRFI to the main network. I even met with Network Rail in Parliament, who told me that it would be unlikely that a rail link would be available until HS2 phase one had been completed, which as everyone knows is likely to be many years into the future.

Previous plans for the site of the SRFI had been blocked by local planners, who were concerned to maintain this greenfield site close to the nearby historic village of Collingtree. Yet, in what was seen as a cynical move by many residents to circumvent local planners, the developer searched around for a Nationally Significant Infrastructure Project (NSIP). They hit upon the idea of constructing an SRFI to achieve their lucrative development plans.

Despite massive local opposition, planning permission was granted by the Government’s planning inspector for the SRFI to go ahead, with the clear proviso that it would have to have completed its rail link before beginning any operation. SEGRO took over the development of the site and, lo and behold, then applied for a Development Consent Order (DCO) Waiver last year, asking DLUHC to overturn this condition so that they could start to fill up their warehouses and flood local roads with HGVs even before the rail link was established.

It seems clear to me that this project was always about forcing more warehousing into the heart of England to take advantage of motorway access from South Northamptonshire, and never about making it easier to move freight off the road and onto the rail network.

DLUHC granted the DCO Waiver in April 2022. Whilst a rail link has now been offered, this was not the case at the time the Waiver was granted, and I think there is a clear case to change the way in which these projects are evaluated and managed from a planning perspective.

In the meantime, the residents of Collingtree, Roade, Blisworth, Stoke Bruerne, Shutlanger, Ashton, and many others have had their lives blighted by endless road closures on the A508 and hours of delays at junction 15A on the M1, as improvements required by the DCO have been carried out on the roads and roundabouts to make them suitable for the new warehousing.

South Northamptonshire residents are by no means ‘NIMBYs’; most people recognise that in order to grow our economy and to allow families to build their lives, we need new houses as well as employment sites. Northamptonshire is one of the fastest growing parts of the country and we have taken more than our fair share of new development. All we ask is that developments should be in keeping with the character of the area and with the established consent of local people.

What we have at the SEGRO Logistics Park Northampton is a Strategic Rail Freight Interchange site full of warehousing, in an area with existing warehouses not even fully in use, with a rail link that is not yet functioning, and yet more of our countryside concreted over. This madness must end – national infrastructure planning must take account of local needs.

Rt Hon. Dame Andrea Leadsom DBE MP

The Rt Hon Andrea Leadsom is the Conservative MP for South Northamptonshire, and has been an MP continuously since 2010