Rail hub objectors step up fight

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CAMPAIGNERS have vowed to step up their fight against plans for a rail hub in the New Year – and say they are on course to force councillors to reconsider their decision to choose Deeping St Nicholas as their favoured location.

Last week we revealed that controversial plans to build a rail hub near Spalding have attracted the interest of a mystery developer, who is in talks to turn it into a reality.

The Rally Against the Industrialisation of our Landscape (RAIL) campaign group has been set up to fight the development – and has unearthed more details about the plan, which it feels strengthens its bid to prove it is not needed.

RAIL says that interest in the principle of shifting the transport of produce from lorries has waned and that firms here would not change from the flexibility that lorries provide for transporting chilled goods.

If it can attract 850 signatures to its petition, RAIL will spark a debate by South Holland District Council, at which it hopes to lobby for enough support to get councillors to reverse their decision and ditch the idea completely.

The group was more than halfway to its goal before Christmas and has sent out a mail shot to Deeping St Nicholas residents to try and boost the group’s numbers.

RAIL will also attend the Spalding and Peterborough Transport Forum at the district council offices in Spalding on January 27 to continue its fight.

Documents released to RAIL by South Holland District Council show that Bakkavor, Fowler Welch, Premier Foods, Birds Eye and supermarket giants Sainsbury’s, Morrisons and Tesco were among the firms Intermodality found to be interested in transporting goods to/from South Holland by rail.

Logistics firms Fowler Welch and Wincanton, Sainsbury’s, Premier and Bakkavor all told Intermodality that they would be interested in actually having a base at the site of the hub itself.

RAIL argues that closer scrutiny shows only 17 of 55 firms asked responded to the survey. Of those, 12 were interested in the rail hub and five in having a base close to the hub.

The group says that when taken as a percentage of the total number of companies asked, the Intermodality report is “optimistic as well as misleading”.

The documents also show that, as we revealed in the Spalding Guardian, South Holland District Council won a 500,000 euros funding pot from the EU – but turned it down when it emerged it needed to match fund it.

RAIL is upset that the decision to bid came with an individual members’ decision by Coun Paul Przyszlak for the “exception to the Procurement Contract Rules and to appoint Intermodality to develop and submit bids to the EU for funding for the development of the Road/Rail Hub” on March 23 – six days after we first revealed that the council’s preferred location was in Deeping St Nicholas. That means the bid was going on while residents were still being consulted on a preferred site.

The council says the funding pot was a general transport grant and separate from the site selection process and it stressed none of its officers went abroad to chase the European funding.

RAIL’s Jocelyn Kedzlie said: “It seems a little bit underhand. We have got concern that the bid for EU funding was before the cabinet made a decision to proceed and has only just been revealed through a Freedom of Information request.

“If it needed match funding then where were all these people scrabbling to sign up?”

RAIL also contests the argument made by councillors and officers that the hub is needed to keep businesses in South Holland.

Mrs Kedzlie added: “The key asset of the area is the work force which has huge experience and skill levels. There would be no earthly reason to move a large business and no-one would be in a financial position to do so.”