Rail freight capacity in the UK is not just a question of accessible, freight friendly track. Multimodal facilities are required close to, or on the same site as, distribution centres. A recent RETRI group research paper found that, although optimistic about the prospects for rail freight, the overwhelming majority of logistics managers surveyed regarded rail as being too difficult, too inflexible or too inefficient to supplant road-based networks.
London generally, but north and west London particularly, are ill-served, currently, in terms of multimodal terminals with freight generally arriving from Europe in Barking and then having to be trucked to distribution centres along the M1 and M4 corridors for example.
This is not for want of proposals. The HelioSlough scheme at Radlett and the Goodman project at Colnbrook would both fill important strategic gaps in the provision of multimodal terminals but are cast as rivals when, in truth, they would both form part of a strategic network of national importance.
They are both, of course, in the Green Belt and have therefore attracted the opprobrium of environmental groups (apparently opposed to the reduced carbon outputs from freight that the schemes would provide) and Local Authorities equally opposed to the employment and economic benefits that they would bring.
In the case of Radlett, the Government is sitting on its hands mindful of the storm of protest that another U-turn might bring, yet drawn by the economic and environmental case. In July 2010 Eric Pickles, Secretary of State for Local Government and Communities, decided against the Radlett site, citing Colnbrook as a more suitable location. Helioslough launched an appeal in August the same year. Originally expected to be decided by April 2012, then deferred until June, then July, the Radlett decision is currently on hold. A public enquiry into SIFE as the Colnbrook site is known, is due to start in October.
So much for kick starting the economy.