I am delighted to make this statement together with the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government about the importance of rail freight and the need for a network of strategic rail freight interchanges to support growth and create employment.
The UK logistics industry makes a significant contribution to the national economy, generating around £110 billion annually and employing more than 2 million people. The rail network transports over 100 million tonnes of goods per year. It is of strategic importance - rail freight delivers over a quarter of the containerised food, clothes and white goods, and delivers nearly all the coal for the nation’s electricity generation. Rail freight has expanded by 60% over the last decade, and is expected to grow by a further 30% up to 2019.
Over recent years, rail freight has started to play an increasingly significant role in logistics and has become an important driver of economic growth. Given the right conditions, the government believes that rail freight could make an even stronger contribution to the country’s economic recovery.
The government supports the transfer of freight from road to rail, where it is practical and economic to do so and fully recognises that rail freight can generate valuable benefits for society where it provides an alternative to road haulage. Rail can deliver goods quickly, efficiently and reliably and help reduce both congestion on our roads and levels of carbon emissions. To secure this longer-term growth and modal shift, rail needs to be able to compete effectively with the use of road by heavy goods vehicles, and it is significant that in recent years our major retailers have been keen to choose rail over road for the long distance carriage of goods to market.
However, this expansion in rail freight will be very difficult to deliver unless the industry is able to develop modern distribution centres linked into both the rail and trunk road system - ‘Strategic Rail Freight Interchanges’ (SRFI) - in appropriate locations to serve our major conurbations. To date, this has proved extremely problematical, especially in the south east where growing demand and increasing congestion on the road network are creating serious logistical challenges.
The government believes that an expanded network of SRFIs, complemented by other freight interchanges and terminals, is needed to support longer-term development of efficient rail freight distribution logistics. Whilst SRFIs operate to serve regional and cross regional catchment areas, they are also key components in national and international networks. These networks are of strategic importance in facilitating links between UK regions and the European Union.
The government is therefore taking measures to unblock the development of strategic rail freight interchanges and unlock the necessary private sector investment in such facilities. Pending the publication of the Department for Transport’s consultation document on the National Networks National Policy Statement (NPS), a statement of current Strategic Rail Freight Interchange policy has been placed in the Libraries of both Houses and published on the department’s website. It may be used by the Infrastructure Planning Commission (IPC) in its decision making on the development consent applications for SRFI infrastructure that fall within the definition of a Nationally Significant Infrastructure Project (NSIP) as defined in the Planning Act 2008.
In parallel, the department has asked Network Rail to provide industry support to the development of a network of SRFIs, working collaboratively with the wider logistics industry to: speed up the delivery of SRFI sites to meet business demand; assist with funding mechanisms (potentially including Network Rail funding); and establish appropriate delivery vehicles for rail infrastructure elements of such proposals.