Parkside – The Story to date!
You will have seen, recently, a number of articles in the press relating to the development of the Parkside Site.
We have covered some of these previously on the OLV site but feel it would now be appropriate to pull them all together in what could be referred to as “The Story to Date”.
We believe all the information in the article is factual and endeavours to cover both positive and negative aspects of the expected plan.
We hope you find this interesting.
In particular you will find, at the end of the article, a brief outline of what happens when a plan is published and the timescales involved.
If you wish to be involved, either to support or to oppose the plan, you will need to act quickly once it is published.
Don’t be caught wishing you’d been involved when the deadlines are passed.
We will, of course, update the article as new factual information is published.
Parkside is an area of green belt land east and west of the M6 Motorway between Newton-le-willows, Lowton and Winwick being over 600 acres or 243 hectares in size. For some time this has been under consideration for commercial development, in particular a large scale rail freight park. The actual area bought by the joint venture between the council and langtree is 232 acres the exact area owned by the previous developer although then, as now, there are options to increase the area to the full scale, see diagram below within the St Helens Core Strategy.
The advocates of the scheme point out it will bring much needed employment into an area now de-industrialised and, if a rail freight scheme, will contribute to the fight against climate change by removing from the nation’s roads around half a million HGV journeys a year.
Locally though this is controversial, not just because the building would be on green belt but because of the suggested scale and the nature of the operation. Those against the scheme point to the local environmental impact and, although conceding these HGV miles will be taken off the nations motorways they point out they will actually be concentrated at this location. They also raise issues about local traffic congestion, the increase in the local air pollution and will result in loss of a substancial area of the boroughs green belt which will have an impact on the range of wildlife species in the local area. They also believe the suggested number of new jobs are also open to much interpretation leaving the fear the high local environmental damage will be for marginal employment gain.
In 2010 after many years of trying to make the scheme viable in the then market conditions the previous developer Astral / Pro Logis withdrew their planning application for the scheme. Four years later they put the land up for sale. Almost immediately the land was acquired by local developer Langtree with £6 million funds provided by the St Helens local authority by way of £1.5 cash and £4.5m loan in a joint venture arrangement with St Helens Council named Parkside Regeneration.
To see details of that arrangement with the council click HERE
Langtree have a head office in Newton-le-Willows and are a totally different scale to the previous developer Pro Logis (the global San Francisco based developer).
However Langtree (although significantly smaller) are developers in the UK with a number of successful operations in the North -West region and across the UK. Langtree set about developing a master plan, obviously with a recognition of the difficulties Pro Logis / Astral had experienced in the past. The question is whether the master plan was a complete blank sheet of paper for the site or whether it is a master plan to re-develop the long standing planned rail freight park.
The things we do know very clearly indicate this being the latter perhaps not exactly as in the 2006 Astral scheme but certainly a variant of it. And, if it is to be a freight scheme like the previous, its almost certain to be a large scale operation due to the necessary high infrastructure costs to accommodate the traffic and environmental impacts., requiring large economies of scale to return the capital outlay.
Change of ownership
Recent news in the press HERE is that there has been a management buyout of the public sector partnerships element of the Langtree Business. This includes the Parkside Regeneration joint centre and three other similar arrangements in the region. The majority shareholder is John Downes, the former chief executive of Langtree. This new organisation is to be called Langtree Property Partners. We have assumed the current funding arrangement between St Helens Council and Langtree is to be assigned or novated to Langtree Property Partners. The new company is to be chaired by Tim Johnston the current chairman of AMION consulting group, website HERE. AMION specialise in strategic business planning advice, in particular larger scale projects, and perhaps this aligns stronger with the apparent aims for the Parkside site which we discuss below. The Langtree Group had a diverse range of business interests, the new company seems to be very much focussed on Public / Private sector infrastructure provision. It is not unusual in these situations for some form of further external venture capital funding and / or Partnership arrangements, particularly with large scale projects, although we wait and see.
A rail Enabled Logistics Scheme or Strategic Rail Freight Terminal
Despite contrary rumours we believe it is likely to be for a rail enabled freight scheme of whatever description, for the following reasons.
Firstly planning. The 2010 coalition government introduced major changes to the planning laws and introduced a much simplified act called the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF). One significant change was that developments were to be planning led, local authorities had to submit plans to government called core strategies (St Helens council submitted theirs in October 2012). Legally these were the framework for significant new developments, major new housing estates, major commercial developments and so forth. Any developments outside of this framework were ultra vires (beyond the power) and would be refused. A rail enabled freight development on Parkside is a significant part of St Helens core strategy and actually has a whole chapter of the Core Strategy, referenced as CAS 3.2. It is explicit in the core strategy that only operations that appertain to a rail freight terminal can be built on the site. So if a developer came forward and wanted to build say a car factory, a new prison, a shopping mall or anything but a rail enabled freight scheme on Parkside it would be refused. Of course a Council can change a core strategy. However this can involve a period of years to enact, typically three to four . This is because changes have to be agreed with government, the public , other local authorities and commercial and public stakeholders, a huge task. We are not aware of any plans to change the St Helens Council Core Strategy.
Another change, the 2010 coalition government made was to close regional development agencies, remember the North West Development Agency in Warrington? However these re-formed as Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) which were funded by regional growth funds as the government started to devolve powers from central government to the regions. The Liverpool City Region (LEP) growth deal report mentions Parkside within the context of the regions desired freight and logistics hub. “A scheduled programme of key site investments in sites capable of housing logistics facilities to capture jobs and growth, including Halton. Liverpool, St Helens, Atlantic Park, Parkside. Futher information HERE
And the third factor again from the 2010 coalition government is the concept of the Northern Powerhouse. The Northern Powerhouse is a vision of integrated transport infrastructure funded by central government that acts as an enabler for private sector commercial development. This covers the cities of Liverpool, Manchester, Leeds, Sheffield, Newcastle, Hull, and Cumbria, Lancashire, Cheshire, North Yorkshire and the Tees Valley. The government has noted the success of the Randstad region of the Netherlands and the Rhine-Ruhr region of Germany where this model has proved successful in generating economic growth. The northern powerhouse has quite a large section on freight and logistics and refers to the previous lack of an integrated plan for logistics sites with previous planning being very fragmented. The government is proposing a northern multi modal freight and logistics strategy to inform of future logistics plans. We would be most surprised if Langtree and St Helens council are not trying to include Parkside in this report which is due to be published in 2016. The Northern Powerhouse also talks at length about the importance of free running motorways in the north and this is seen as one of the biggest barriers to economic growth in the North, in particular the M62 and M6.
It’s also worth mentioning here HS2, the proposed new high speed rail network due to be completed 2026 / 2033. The original 2006 Parkside scheme relied upon rail freight using the West Coast Main Line. However this is hopelessly over capacity and was likely one of the reasons that the previous scheme failed. Under Astral / Pro Logis, there was simply not enough train paths free to meet the capacity. HS2 would relieve this although it’s some way into the future.
Some other points
Parkside has also been mentioned in relation to the ATLANTIS Project development of Liverpool Super port by the St Helens Council Leader Barrie Grunewald HERE
In July 2014 when the Chief Executive of Langtree,John Downes, was interviewed by Radio Merseyside he stated he was aware of the local opposition but spoke of the forthcoming Newton interchange as an enabler for the Parkside Development but was not related to an operational rail link to the site. He stated he was hoping to consult with residents later in 2014 although this turned out to be a photo shoot at the site published in the St Helens Star with little new information. However Mr Downes did state in the radio Merseyside interview that he was hoping for a planning application next year which would make it this year, 2015. He also referred to building the site within two years of 2014, hence by 2016.
In April 2015 St Helens council issued a three year tactical plan 2015 / 8 HERE this refers to Parkside being a major priority for the borough and refers to completion of master plan and planning application within 2015 / 6 and that the commencement of on site development to be within the life of the plan e.g. by 2018.
Although there is not an exact consistency between the dates from Mr Downes and the council we must bear in mind there is almost 12 months between these statements and things move on. However clearly there is broad consistency and from these statements its clear there is an intention for tangible progress in the short to short medium term with the possibility of a Parkside announcement at any time.
It’s also appears from these timescales there is no intention to amend the core strategy significantly (given the number of years to amend a core strategy) hence we can safely assume any development is likely to be as described in the St Helens 2012 Core Strategy (see public consultation below) and hence it will be some form of rail enabled logistics scheme.
One note of caution. It is one thing to have a written set of objectives, but quite another before the bulldozers and earth movers move onto the green belt.
The proponents of the Parkside scheme have stated in the past it is an ideal location for a rail freight scheme being intersected by excellent motorway (M6/ M62) and rail (West Coast Main Line / Chat Moss Line). In fact its anything but, the motorways in this location are some of the most congested in Britain and both rail lines are almost full to capacity in both commuter and freight. The site currently also has no access other than the old colliery site access on Winwick Road. This would seem to be wholly unsuitable for large scale freight access. Freight access to the site would have to be by direct access from either the M6 or M62 and this will involve substantial further local infrastructure investment beyond what the government have provided to date. (See station smart motorway below.) There are also a number of competing freight facilities in the region with critical sea based cargo transfer facilities. Where these challenges not in place it seems certain a rail freight facility would have been developed on Parkside a decade ago.
The original decision by Langtree to purchase the site would have been made with all the factors described in the paragraphs above well understood both by the council and Langtree. Plus the economy is not as it was a decade ago. There are now many more public funds available to develop enabling infrastructure and more support today in public / private sector partnerships than in the days when Astral / Pro Logis went alone with private sector investment as the only driver.
There are two projects recently approved under the Liverpool City Region Growth Scheme which are said to be enablers for Parkside. The development of a transport interchange at Newton-le-Willows station and an upgrade of the M6 to a smart motorway with hard shoulder running from J21A to J26 (Orrell). Although these are certainly not going to harm the case for Parkside it is perhaps a little tenuous to position them as a major enabler as was the case in the local press.
The Newton interchange is to upgrade an old station which has poor facilities and, in particular, substandard facilities for those with disabilities, the upgrade of which is now a feature of European law. The northern hub project is about upgrading and developing rail facilities in the North of England and an integrated bus and rail interchange has been needed for many years in Newton-le-willows where the existing bus station in Southworth Road is separate from the rail station. This interchange will (in principle) support an employment centre at Parkside by enabling some employees to access the site by public transport. However experience in other local stations such as Preston and Runcorn clearly demonstrates that demand quickly fills capacity and we can reasonably expect substantial additional usage of the interchange with the new 440 car park facility filling to capacity very quickly and the installation of a further set of traffic lights at Alfred Street likely to increase traffic congestion. We also expect local towns to take advantage of Merseytravel free parking policy again increasing the demand at the station. Even without Parkside it’s likely the station would have gone ahead in any event and it’s hard to envisage the use of the interchange as a significant public transport enabler for site employees as anything other than a nominal environmental mitigation strategy in the master plan.
It’s the same situation with the smart motorway. The smart motorway is not being developed because of Parkside the need is simply because it’s one of the most congested motorway networks in the United Kingdom. Our Local Voice initiated a freedom of information request to the highways agency when the smart motorway proposal was mooted.
This was their answer.
“The schemes are still in the development stages. The additional capacity on the M6 between J21a and J26 will be provided by the installation of a Smart Motorways scheme. This will be further complemented by further improvements at J22 itself to help facilitate local growth aspirations. The final details of these schemes together with their likely commencement dates is still to be finalised due to their relatively early stage of development”
When pressed about J22 and local growth aspirations, this was their answer
“M6 J 22: upgrading the M6 junction 22 by providing additional capacity; extending and signalising the current gyratory and provision of new facilities for Vulnerable Road Users”
For the local M6
“M6: J 21a (M62 Croft interchange) to J 26 (Wigan): upgrading to Smart Motorway including hard shoulder running this links to the Smart Motorway scheme on the M62 junctions 10-12 to the east”
In other words normal upgrade of the motorway system and rail facilities, which are needed, because of congestion and lack of capacity for the existing demands. Of course further capacity on the M6 by running on the hard shoulder and a larger car park and interchange at Newton station will marginally support the case for Parkside but it’s hard to envisage this being a significant enabler particularly with the natural organic increase in traffic and rail demand likely in the next few years.
But what about the benefits of Parkside?
It is recognised by most people that Newton-le-Willows is an ex industrial town and there are few local employment opportunities. In bygone times the Parkside Colliery itself, the Vulcan works, T&T Vicars and the Viaduct all provided local employment which now is only served by the Deacon and a few jobs in local retail.
Parkside, as a Rail Enabled Logistics Terminal would provide a huge boost to employment in that exact location, of that there is little question.
However the wider employment market and economic growth on which local jobs depend is more complex. It is very unlikely that everyone employed at Parkside would live in the local town. People will commute from Warrington, Wigan, St Helens, Leigh, Haydock, Ashton and the wider conurbations of Merseyside and Manchester. This is similar to how local people also work and commute to these other areas. So the impact on employment for such a strategic scheme as this must be considered as part of that wider employment market rather than simply the local employment market at that location only.
In terms of employment in logistic freight parks operators constantly shift sites to those offering the biggest most efficient sites often supported by favourable local authority rates. Existing operators migrate into the new sites often moving into better premises with increased robotics and automation. The overall volume of regional business is broadly constant. The effect on employment in the local catchment therefore may be only marginal. Furthermore the impact of severe motorway and local road congestion in the area may have a long term negative impact on local growth reducing the aggregate jobs total.
Therefore caution needs to be used with the gross numbers claimed and nor should we take a snapshot but look at the longer term implications on the catchment.
However there is little doubt there will be new jobs, even in the freight aspect, as our economy grows and over time the overall volumes of freight business will slowly grow as demand increases and our population expands. It’s also not just about the jobs employed on the site, the operation will require facilities and local services. This will help the local economy and creating jobs here will enhance the local employment multiplier putting money in people’s pockets which will be spent locally. Unfortunately this may be countered be countered by the loss of services at other local sites which move to the site reducing the overall positive impact.
It’s also fair to say that maybe not all of the operations on the site might be freight related, although that would be in clear contravention of the core strategy which specifies very clearly that only rail freight related operations are to be on the site.
We obviously wait to see the exact designs for the site but we would expect a logistics rail related warehouse scheme to have a marginal impact on the local employment in terms of the catchment.
Why have a Strategic Rail Freight Terminal?
Let’s look at what a Strategic Rail Freight Interchange (SRFI) is, as the name is somewhat misleading.
The basic problem it is trying to solve is reducing long range road freight on the motorways.
The proposal is that goods are brought in huge quantities by rail to a central destination where they are distributed by road to their wholesale or retail destination (Replace large HGV’s with small white van man vehicles for local distribution.)
So it does not move HGV freight off the roads it reduces the overall time it’s on the road and changes the location where the HGVs are.
With logistics time is money and the aim is to shift the maximum number of goods at the lowest unit cost. Economies of scale are key, therefore the storage areas are huge (some the size of small towns) and there is a constant throughput of goods which involves continuous HGV journeys in and out of the site 365 x24 x7. Because space on the rail network is limited freight trains are likely to come into the site overnight. For the nation the impact is relieving the motorways (north to south) but for the local towns of Newton-le-Willows, Winwick and Lowton and surrounding areas the impact will be to concentrate them, night and day.
Assuming the development is as in the Core Strategy and is a Rail Enabled Logistics Terminal or Strategic Rail Freight Terminal (the names change in the local press) what will be the local environmental impact ?
Strategic Rail Freight Terminals of the nature likely to be at Parkside are intermodal meaning container based. In all cases we are aware of these operations are located far away from residential areas and are in rural locations or industrialised areas or ports. Such as 3MG (Ditton), Port Warrington (Moore). Port Salford (Barnton), Trafford Park, Daventry, Cardiff (Went Loog), Doncaster Rail Port, Tyneside (Wilton), Tees Dock, Leeds, Wakefield Euro port Castle Donnington, Grimsby, Grangemouth Should a new SRFI be built at Parkside it is likely to be the first in the UK (we believe) built in a residential area abutting three towns Newton-le-willows. Lowton and Winwick.
In general terms therefore what we can expect is a very large area of green belt, potentially both sides of the M6 and an area potentially almost to 600 acres, under phased development . The M6 (even under smart running using the hard shoulder) is likely to suffer substantive additional localised HGV traffic to what it receives today (which is already considerable).
We are told the HGV traffic will be restricted to direct access from either the M6 or M62 on new access roads across farmland via the village of Winwick. The previous Parkside plans for Astral / Pro Logis involved substantial changes also to the local road infrastructure and this has been the case for most of the other SRFI,s see example Port Salford HERE
Although HGVs will be restricted to direct M6 access we could reasonably expect service traffic to add considerably to local roads which will also have to accommodate additional housing being built in the area and Newton station interchange which will have further traffic lights along Mill Lane. There are also ongoing traffic issues raised by the local community in Lowton (Particularly in the areas around the A580) and also at Winwick Village which suffers severe congestion at peak times.
Localised Air Pollution
There are two air quality receptor machines in the management zone one on the High Street (AQMA 2) and one (AQMA1) on Southworth Road. The pollution readings on AQMA1 Southworth Road are almost double those of AQMA2 High Street demonstrating clearly the M6 is the main contributor and adding the scale of localised HGV journeys concentrated in this location would be likely to add to the air quality issue locally. In general terms the air quality problem peaked in 2009 and has reduced due to the local authorities action plan. Clearly any gains are at risk of being reversed. We also note St Helen’s MBC’s recognition of the issue over the M6 by plans to install physical barriers by the side of the M6 to negate the pollution. See St Helens 2013 Air Quality Action Plan HERE
Air Quality and the dangers to public health have been regularly on the national news and are well understood as a risk and causes more deaths than alcohol and obesity combined see Air Quality risks HEREThe UK’s highest court also ruled that the UK government has to take immediate action to cut air pollution and has ruled a target date of 31st December 2015 for action, see HERE
There will be an enormous loss of local green belt. Green belt has a fundamental purpose to check unrestricted sprawl of urban areas, neighbouring towns merging into one another. To protect the countryside from encroachment. Green Belt is not Parkland therefore it is irrelevant whether public have access or not for that is not its purpose. Should the full scale of the Parkside development be enacted the area will suffer a huge loss of green belt and the already small barrier between Newton-le-willows, Winwick and Lowton will be reduced to a few fields.
Brown Hare, Stoats, Weasels, Barn Owl, Short Eared Owl, Long Eared Owl, Little Owl and many other species of birds and animal such as this charming Roe Deer Image kindly provided by Martyn Jones of Leigh Ornithology society.
All these animals not only inhabit but rely on protected areas of wild green space such as the large expanse of green belt at Parkside both for habitat and corridors. But to be fair wildlife including species that cannot tolerate human disturbance do thrive in industrial environments. Examples might be Sizewell Power Station, EDF Energy, Hanson Building Products which have all won awards for protecting rare and endangered species. The key is habitat and lack of human disturbance often creatures that can tolerate industrial activity cannot tolerate human presence.
If the plan of the council is for the local area to be housing, development and only public parkland for green space then it’s clear much of the biodiversity in the local area which has been here for centuries will become extinct.
That’s a huge price to pay for local people for generations to come and we trust should a scheme of forward for Parkside both the developer and the local council will honour the biodiversity objectives of the borough strategy. Not a few token pond dipping pools and sapling planting but a real comprehensive assessment of the biodiversity not just on the site but the immediate surrounding land in respect of habitat / corridors and the overall impact of the connecting land towards Winwick and Lowton in terms of biodiversity.
To see an example of an industrial project mitigating wildlife impact see community living landscapes project on Wrexham Industrial estate HERE
Those living close to the site are likely to experience noise and light pollution although the previous Astra / Pro Logis Plans did encompass an earth barrier to shield some of these issues.
The grade two listed Newton Park Barn may be demolished and moved to another site.
The environmental impact is the biggest local concern of the towns surrounding the threat of a large scale development on Parkside. However it is packaged by the developer and the council the inescapable fact is the local landscape will be fundamentally physically changed for local people and not just those living close to the site.
This was outlined by the Planning Inspector into St Helens Core Strategy
“It is very likely that an SRFI scheme at Parkside would be inappropriate development in the green belt (as defined by section 9 of the NPPF) it is inevitable that it would transform the appearance of the mostly open countryside site and that its presence would alter the character of the surrounding area and impact on the lives of local people to a significant degree” See link to the inspectors report in the next section below.
Public Consultation & Engagement / Core Strategy
A developer and or the council cannot simply go ahead and do as they wish. There is a process and the public have a legal right to input to that process. That right is there for everyone irrespective of your address and many thousands of people will be impacted across local towns due to the scale of these operations and in particular its impact on local infrastructure both roads and green belt.
Given the scale of the development it is likely to be governed by the Planning Inspectorate and be signed off by a government minister rather than LPA (Local Planning Application.
It will be subject to a process known as Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects (NSIP’s). The NSIP process was devised to speed up significant infrastructure projects so they do not drag on for years. This means for anyone concerned with the local environmental impact you need to act swiftly if you wish to be involved the process in particular the pre application stage.
The six stages of an NSIP are but from the start of the “ticking clock” (the acceptance phase) its normally 12 to 18 months to the application being granted.
Pre- Application - the most important stage and driven by the developer this can take as long as required by the developer but is normally a few months. This is the most important stage because once an application goes into the next stage the acceptance stage there is very little scope for change. As well as the design of the application this stage also defines the scope. This is designed to stop the process of salami slicing where a developer adds a bit then another bit over time starting with a more modest application but with the intention of over time creating a bigger development by stealth. This is particularly important with the Parkside Application with its scope to go east and west of the M6. The developer will invite comment from interested parties including the local public.
Acceptance – the stage where the application is formally admitted to the Planning Inspectorate with the inspectorate having 28 days to assess whether all the documentation is in place.
The clock now starts to tick. (approx 15 months)
Pre Examination – the developer must advertise the application has been accepted with the inspectorate and the public and interested parties are able to register interest by submitting written representation you may be invited to a preliminary meeting chaired by the inspector. Your local authority may also submit a representation and you have a right to submit your views to your local authority to help shape their representation.
Examination - The planning inspectorate review the application a process normally taking up to 6 months. People who have registered in the pre application stage may be invited to give further details in writing.
Decision - report by the planning inspectorate is made to the Secretary of State who has three months to make a decision.
Post Decision – six month challenge where the decision may be challenged in the high court. Although in practice due to the legal sums involved this is unlikely to be anything the local public will be involved with.
The planning inspectorate will be guided by the local authorities core strategy both the base core strategy and the planning inspectors report into that strategy
Those documents are here
St Helens MBC 2012 Core Strategy HERE
Government inspectors report into St Helens MBC 2012 Core Strategy HERE
Thanks to the past efforts of ordinary members of the public fighting for your locality there are already some environmental protections built into the Parkside scheme under both CAS3.2 and also the inspectors report. These concern matters such as wildlife, historic buildings, traffic, air quality and these are very important lever to the local public to ensure the protections are delivered.
Of course these are all subject to interpretation but the good news is they exist.
We are sure news will continue to filter out over Parkside but the council (via their recent issue of a plan) and the developer have made their intention clear on Parkside which is to develop the site.
Unfortunately from an environmental perspective all indications appear that it is Plan A they intend to develop potentially a variant of the Pro Logis / Astral large scale freight scheme as described in St Helens Councils core strategy.
That may not be the case and the Council and Developer may have plans to amend the core strategy and develop alternative proposals that bring incremental employment and retain the local environment and heritage. Any plans will have to be looked at on their merits of course and the most significant next stage will be the Pre Application stage by the developer.