Parish Council hits out at “wasteful absurdity” and “corporate greed” as Goodman says it will build SIFE even if a Third Runway gets go ahead!
Credit where credit’s due, and the Parish Council deserves plenty for its robust defence to SIFE at the public inquiry on Friday.
Cllr Dexter Smith gave a calm and comprehensive account on Friday of why it would be wrong to impose the massive development on the parish. He also used the opportunity to blast Goodman’s “indifference towards local people and their welfare” by announcing it would proceed with building the development even if it has to pull it down shortly after to support a Third Runway.
The address to the inquiry was by far the best thing to come out of the Parish Council in recent years and provided a far more robust defence to the scheme than anything previously put forward to oppose Heathrow expansion. It proudly advocated the importance of the Strategic Gap to the history and identity of Colnbrook, while noting that the development would also see a merging of the urban sprawls of Slough and London.
But Cllr Smith also drew on his previous experience with the LIFE inquiry and his role as previously Commissioner of Planning and Transport Commissioner for Slough Borough Council to highlight huge holes in the project.
He told the inquiry that the “exceptional need” for SIFE had not been justified:
- SIFE would not be on a main freight line; all rail freight in or out of SIFE would have to go via West London first. It would be unlikely to take any freight from the Port of Southampton, South Wales or the West Country as a result.
- London, and its nine million consumers, is deemed to be too close to the SIFE site for rail freight between the two to be economically viable. Hence, Goodman’s proposal envisages a much lower proportion than the previously rejected LIFE proposal.
- The close proximity to already-approved SRFI at Radlett meant the two schemes are going after the same market despite Radlett better position on existing freight routes to the Midlands and the North, and there is no direct freight route to allow the two schemes to work as part of a network as claimed.
- Crossrail, WRAtH, the relocation of the Heathrow Express Depot to Langley, and future HS2 link to Heathrow would all make it difficult to run freight slots on the already congested Great Western Line.
Cllr Smith insisted that the freight onto rail benefit trumpeted by the scheme was simply a ruse to justify building super-sized warehouses on the Green Belt:
It is the long-held view of the Colnbrook with Poyle Parish Council that this development proposal uses the promise of achieving a significant modal shift of freight traffic from road to rail as a justification for building huge warehouses on Green Belt land.
Counsel for Goodman Mr Williams opted not to question Cllr Smith following his statement. He said points raised would be addressed as Goodman’s own witnesses were called later in the inquiry.
There was some barely concealed nodding at a couple of points from the normally unreadable inspector (make of that what you will, we certainly did), who was seen making a number of notes as he spoke.
Cllr Smith’s address will go some way to mitigate the baffling stance of the Parish Council and ‘Heads of Groups’ forum to launch a new campaign. Just days before the start of the inquiry Cllr Angell refused to explain the decision, responding with abuse to this website. “Stop SIFE Again!” did not offer up any speakers to the inquiry, and laminated posters were left on the floor by mid-week.
Cllr Smith also used the opportunity of his address to the inquiry on Friday to blast Goodman’s stated intention to proceed with building SIFE even if a Third Runway is approved. Hitting out at the “wasteful absurdity” of building the complex only to tear it down before ever becoming operational, he said this illustrated the difference between “profit-seeking and corporate greed” and “Goodman’s indifference towards local people and their welfare”.
You can read Cllr Smith’s full statement below, along with the statements delivered by the Colnbrook Community Association and stopSIFE. We will bring you others as we can.
It is accepted by all parties that the SIFE proposal is an inappropriate development in the Green Belt, and that its location in a Strategic Gap within the Green Belt requires that it pass a higher test of “need” if approval is to be granted.
SIFE would have a devastating impact on the communities within the parish of Colnbrook with Poyle in terms of loss of amenity, traffic congestion, air pollution, and noise, plus damage to the character of a historic village and the viability of a semi-rural community between London and Slough where there is very strong demand for competing land use, including for agriculture, mineral extraction, landfill and waste management, light industry, distribution, airport expansion, hotels, housing and leisure amenities.
Three major developments under or around the edges of the SIFE site, overlapping the same haul routes in the immediate vicinity, are going ahead pending current passage of either a Hybrid Bill or a Development Consent Order – these are: Western Rail Access to Heathrow (WRAtH), under the SIFE site; construction of the Heathrow Express Depot at Langley, routing construction traffic through the A4 at Brands Hill and onto Sutton Lane; and the M4 Smart Motorway conversion, impacting particularly on residents of the Westfield Estate at Brands Hill long-term, impinging on the north of the SIFE site, and closing for 12 months the bridge over the M4 at Old Slade Lane (part of the Colne Valley Trail).
The cumulative impacts upon Colnbrook with Poyle’s residents and businesses of WRAtH tunnelling, Heathrow Express Depot construction, and the M4 widening of the Smart Motorway scheme, deserve consideration by the Appeal Inspector as a factor in terms of what it is reasonable to ask the local community to bear in terms of current development pressures and loss of amenity.
The essence of Government Green Belt Policy is to prevent urban sprawl, preserving the permanent openness of the landscape. All five of the guiding principles, or objectives, of the Green Belt apply in the case of the SIFE Appeal.
The first of these is to check the unrestricted sprawl of large built-up areas. The SIFE development site falls within, and is a significant part of, the last piece of open green space between London and its surrounds along the busy A4/M4 corridor, (the main vehicular route out of London to the West), which is why it has been designated as a “Strategic Gap”. This area is under constant development pressure, and already has been salami-sliced with the temporary consent for the Colnbrook Logistics Centre, (supporting Heathrow development work), now well over-running its original 10-year consent; and by the location of the Iver South Sludge De-watering Works, (a T5/Perry Oaks replacement facility), much larger than the 1920s Iver South Sewage Farm previously there. These were, of course, justified by the “national need” for Heathrow Expansion, and should not be regarded as setting a precedent. They, and other developments proposed for the area, refused by the local authority and at Appeal, show the location to be a “vulnerable strategic gap”.
Secondly, Green Belt exists to prevent neighbouring towns from merging – this would be the case with the merging of Greater London with Slough, both fast-growing urban areas, each having their own distinctive features and characteristics.
Green Belt, additionally, exists to safeguard the countryside from encroachment – this Strategic Gap is the largest part of Green Belt green-field open space within the Borough of Slough; it has an agricultural history, (as Tan House Farm), and those bits that are not being farmed are supposed to be being returned to agricultural usage. The development site is predominantly grazing land, which has supported cattle, but currently has over 100 horses grazing. It is also parkland, originally part of the Richings Park country-house estate, with an entrance at The Lodge, next to the Ye Old George Inn, on High Street, Colnbrook; and, latterly the land (including the development site) has come within the Colne Valley Park, (CVP), and has been opened up for public amenity, including with footpaths, bridleways and watercourses for fishing.
Green Belt is intended to preserve the setting and special character of historic towns and villages. Colnbrook retains the features of being a coaching village, (the first stop on the coaching route from London to Bath and Bristol), with 27 listed buildings, including the third oldest public house in England, twice receiving town status by Royal Charter, latterly responsible for 11 miles of public highway from Cranford Bridge to Maidenhead Bridge. Colnbrook’s current semi-rural character, (similar to the neighbouring villages of Horton and Wraysbury), requires green open farmland for its setting.
The visual impact of SIFE would completely dominate the surrounding landscape with its two 25m high gantries and the three giant warehouses, each more than three times bigger than any building in the Borough of Slough currently, plus a container park with up to 1000 multimodal freight containers stacked three units high. If ever built, the physical presence and appearance of the SIFE site would surely convince most local residents, and passers-by, that strolling or riding round the perimeters of the site was not going to take them into the countryside, no matter what improvements to rights of way are being offered in mitigation. These impressions are important, and were referred to in respect of the London International Freight Exchange (LIFE) proposal on essentially the same location by both the Planning Inspector recommending dismissal of the LIFE Appeal, and the Secretary of State’s decision letter in 2002; both refer to the visual impact “from elevated viewpoints east of the M25” upon “the function of the open land”. This, applies to SIFE also, in respect of the view down onto the site from Harmondsworth Moor, and for those travelling north on the M25 and west on the M4, as well as those using the A4 and visible from many homes in Colnbrook on the skyline. It makes using the Colne Valley Trail, in this part of the CVP, less attractive.
Green Belt status is, finally, meant to assist in urban regeneration – deterring development pressure away from green-field open space, and towards brown-field redevelopment, refurbishment or even restoration. The development site is on restored agricultural land used for mineral extraction and landfill. Its restoration has not been to the same quality as that achieved at Harmondsworth Moor, just the other side of the M25; in some places its restoration has had to be re-done, but the land is not unattractive. It looks like exactly what it was naturally meant to be – flat flood plain in the Colne Valley. It has the potential to look a lot better than it currently looks; as part of the Richings Park estate, the land was described in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries as one of the most attractive garden parklands of one of the nation’s most celebrated country houses – not surprising that in nearby Colnbrook, Richard Cox was cultivating the Cox’s Orange Pippin Apple about 150 years ago.
National Need for SIFE
To justify an “inappropriate development” on the Green Belt, in a part of the Green Belt that has been repeatedly recognised as a “vulnerable Strategic Gap”, the appellants have to demonstrate that there is an exceptional need for SIFE. They say there is a “national need” for SIFE because SIFE is “part of a national network” of Strategic Rail Freight Interchange (SRFI) terminals. But SIFE, off of the Great Western main-line out of Paddington, is not on a major rail freight route. All freight going to it or coming out of it by rail would have to go into West London first before proceeding to its destination. London, and its nine million consumers, is deemed to be too close to the SIFE site for rail freight between the two to be economically viable. Hence, Goodman’s proposal envisages only 25% of freight coming into the site by rail and 0% leaving by rail, on full operation. This is a much lower proportion than the previously rejected LIFE proposal.
So far there is only one other new-generation SRFI termini approved, and that will be at Radlett. The developers of Radlett, HelioSlough, have sort of agreed with Goodman, recently, that SRFIs at Radlett and Colnbrook would be complementary, and serve the interests of each other, but that is not explicitly stated in their Statement of Common Ground. No compelling evidence has been presented to support this, whereas for years before, the two developers, HelioSlough and Goodman, argued that the Radlett and SIFE SRFIs would be competing alternatives to each other; their close proximity means they are largely going after the same market, but Radlett is better placed on existing freight routes to the Midlands and the North, and its greater size gives it the edge with economies of scale.
There is no direct freight route by rail linking the two – Radlett and SIFE – Transport for London say (in their 7th July 2015 observations) that rail paths are “possible” but “not very credible”. There is a promise from the Thames Gateway deepwater port that it is possible that the fledgling Thames Gateway SRFI might send freight by rail to the proposed SIFE terminal, but for Thames Gateway (East of London) to do this they would have to bypass Radlett. Like Radlett, Thames Gateway, might never actually send freight to SIFE by rail; these claims are highly speculative – as are the actual routes and costs. Thames Gateway and Radlett are to some extent potential clients of SIFE and vice versa – given this “client relationship” it is in their interest to say that they might do business with each other. Then again they might not – presently, over a two week period (timetables visible by registering on the Thames Gateway website) it is possible to see that where four trains enter and/or leave the Thames Gateway hub daily, only one train in the entire period went to any destination outside of the Midlands and the North, going to an LPG depot in Bristol.
In addition, Goodmans themselves acknowledge that SIFE is unlikely to take any freight from the Port of Southampton, South Wales or the West Country (because of the added journey into West London). All of this does not amount to much of a Network! It is hard to see with any clarity where exactly the rail freight for SIFE will come to fill the 4 trains per day that Goodmans claim they will run in the first four years of operation; let alone where the rail freight will come from to fill the 9x775m trains a day that Goodsmans claim SIFE will handle thereafter. Of course these trains could run part empty, but the Government has set the bar for SRFIs to run at least 4 of these 775m trains per day, full of freight, in order to demonstrate the required level of modal shift in freight from road to rail that will produce a net benefit nationally.
Without a credible position within a network of SRFIs SIFE does not serve a national rail freight need. SIFE’s arguments in this respect are not robust; Goodmans cannot demonstrate that SIFE is an SRFI within a national network, nor that it serves any national need, or that there is even a regional need for SIFE. Since the original SIFE planning application was refused, a number of new rail projects have come forward utilising the western main line out of Paddington to a much greater degree than before – extension of Crossrail; WRAtH; moving the Heathrow Express Depot to Langley. It would appear that it is still theoretically possible to find time-slots for freight trains to access the proposed SIFE site, but what can be achieved in practice is often different to what is possible in theory, or that what is economically viable if time delays cost money. Moreover, the background picture in respect of time-slots on the Paddington main line is that there is a steady and substantial background increase in demand for passenger train space and, additionally, there are still further new rail projects in prospect, like HS2 and HS2 phase 2 to Heathrow, that will crowd out freight capacity on the main line that would have to serve SIFE – availability of slots looks questionable, and similarly, not robustly guaranteed.
It is the long-held view of the Colnbrook with Poyle Parish Council that this development proposal uses the promise of achieving a significant modal shift of freight traffic from road to rail as a justification for building huge warehouses on Green Belt land. This is where the profit will come from for the developers, and building these huge warehouses on green open space is the most profitable way of achieving it, especially when that piece of green open space is next to an international airport. Indeed, this unbridled push towards profit maximisation is also evident in Goodman’s admission to this Inquiry that if given approval for SIFE they would press ahead with building it immediately even if the Government were minded to approve a Third Runway for Heathrow Airport on the same land – the wasteful absurdity of building the entire SIFE complex in this case, even though it would probably have to be torn down again before ever becoming operational – motivated by gaining more compensation – show the difference between profit-seeking and corporate greed, and Goodman’s indifference towards local people and their welfare.
The Parish Council contend that SIFE’s promise to significantly shift freight from road to rail is not deliverable. We agree with SBC that SIFE will struggle to run four trains per day, and believe that Goodmans have only committed to this because this is the minimum requirement of the Government to demonstrate a modal shift – the only real test is whether there is the demand to actually fill these four freight trains each day; whether this can be sustained after the first four years; and whether, indeed, Goodmans can fill the three giant warehouses they propose, without subdivision (which would promote more HGV traffic on the roads). Conversely, SIFE will by its very nature act as a magnet for HGVs – 3230 extra lorry movements per day in Colnbrook alone, and this in an area where road congestion and vehicular air pollution are at their worst anywhere in the country. The adjacent stretch of the M25 is the most congested stretch of motorway in the country, and already the busiest stretch of motorway in Europe. It is part of a designated Air Quality Management Area, (AQMA), as is the A4 at Brands Hill – both with carbon dioxide (NOx) emissions already well above EU Directive maximum permitted levels due to motor vehicle congestion. In excess of a thousand people live in the vicinity of the Brands Hill AQMA, and their health is at risk as a consequence – their interests should be paramount!
Traffic Congestion and Air Pollution
Despite EU Air Quality Directive limits becoming effective since January 2010, the number of Air Quality Management Areas in the parish of Colnbrook with Poyle has increased, and the levels of exceedance of these NOx limits have grown rather than diminished. Monitoring data does not give any indication of our current poor air quality, around Colnbrook and Poyle, being brought under control; and this is against a backdrop of the average level of roadside NOx emissions falling by 15% since 2010 within the UK as a whole, according to DEFRA. The failure to turn the tide in poor air quality locally is all the more worrying as this remains the case in spite of it being a “surface access” mitigation condition for the building of Terminal 5 a decade ago that Heathrow’s operators should take steps to reduce the number of private car movements in and out of Airport, using this stretch of the A4 and the M4 and M25, by reducing car-parking spaces at the Airport, and improving bus and rail services serving it. If Heathrow Airport’s road congestion and air quality mitigation measures cannot be made to work, what chance is there that SIFE could do any better!
The Parish Council observes that extra freight vehicles (HGVs) generate more traffic movements than other road users. Also, freight journeys often have multi stops and starts, which make them give off greater emissions per journey; and they are more likely to be powered by diesel engines than the average road user. DEFRA’s evidence to the Airports Commission recently pointed to the failure of modern diesel engines to deliver expected NOx emission reductions; it warned that accepting arguments that next-generation vehicles (including HGVs) were likely to be less polluting would seriously understate the pollution they will cause due to over-ambitious assumptions about the extent to which technology will produce less polluting vehicle engines in the future.
Additionally, the Parish Council has grave concerns about the viability of the A4 at Brands Hill to accommodate the extra traffic that SIFE will generate; indeed the Parish Council has in recent months been complaining to the local highways authority, SBC, that this stretch of road, from Junction 5 of the M4 to the Colnbrook By-Pass is overloaded even beyond peak times and, in its new three land configuration, is unsafe. It has failed three independent safety audits commissioned by SBC, and on 3rd September 2015 SBC councillors from all parties unanimously agreed at SBC’s Neighbourhoods and Communities Scrutiny Panel that they would recommend to SBC’s Cabinet that urgent action is needed because this stretch of road is, in their words, “not fit for purpose”. It is, therefore, even more alarming for the Parish Council to learn that a promised Section 106 SIFE mitigation measure of turning the A4 through the Parish into a duel-carriageway has been dropped. The A4 at Brands Hill is already presenting major problems with regard to congestion, air pollution and road safety; Goodman’s proposal, adding another 3230 HGVs to it per day, plus other vehicles for those working and visiting SIFE, takes the local road network to breaking point
The Parish Council notes that neighbouring Hillingdon Borough Council say that, “Considerable concern exists over the robustness of the [SIFE] Transport Assessment and the modelling which [nevertheless] fails to demonstrate that the development would not result in unacceptable impacts on the highway network in the London Borough of Hillingdon”. As a parish council we do not have the resources to do our own Transport Assessment or modelling, but we suspect that what is true for Hillingdon is equally true for us, and, of course, Hillingdon point to how this all, thus, amounts to a breach of the National Planning Policy Framework.
Quality of the Land and its Amenity
The quality of the land upon which it is proposed to build the SIFE complex and its associated elements is repeatedly described by Goodman’s as “low value” and “poor quality” Green Belt land. The Parish Council disputes this description. Moreover, we wish to point out that this is not how the land was originally; nor is it what the land still has the potential to be, as neighbouring higher quality restorations at Harmondsworth Moor and the Arthur Jacobs Nature Reserve (near Poyle) indicate. We accept that the quality of the restoration on the land here could have been better, but that does not mean that it does not offer valuable habitats for flora and fauna, plus birdlife and insects, or that it fails to perform its function as open flood plain.
One man’s featureless landscape may be appreciated by another for conveying a sense of openness that is the very essence of the countryside itself. The Parish Council agree with the evidence from Colne Valley Park CIC that Open Mosaic Habitats (OMHs), as we have on the SIFE development site, are a naturally occurring consequence of basic restoration after landfill, and that years of dormancy since landfill restoration can produce a high biodiversity value through natural maturing. Every year the land is gaining in terms of its green value; and this is separate from its high amenity value.
It should be pointed out that Old Wood was never subjected to extraction, landfill or restoration; it was previously designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest before the number of SSSIs in the area become more plentiful. If the green value of Old Wood has deteriorated, it has deteriorated through the ownership and lack of care lavished upon it by its owners Goodman/Argent. This makes less credible the mitigation offer of Goodman to improve Old Wood through its ongoing management. Likewise, it was Argent/Goodman who frustrated attempts by Grundons and the Parish Council to enhance the educational amenity of the land off of the Colne Valley Trail just north of the Colnbrook ByPass by refusing permission for bridge to be built by Grundons to access their floating Education (and Monitoring) Centre at Lakeside from the west.
Nevertheless, the Parish Council observes, as have the Colne Valley Park CIC, and residents groups like the Colnbrook Community Association (CCA) and the Stop SIFE campaign that residents, and those from further afield use this land and its watercourses as “an informal multipurpose recreational facility for walking, dog training, family picnics, fishing, nature study, and many other activities”. There is a long established use by a clay pigeon shooting club, and for grazing a herd of over one hundred horses. Users include individuals and organisations like Colnbrook Youth Club, local schools, Scouts and Guides, anglers and angling clubs, ramblers and the Ramblers Association. We have no reason to doubt the survey results of the CCA indicating that in the region of 150 persons per day use these facilities. The importance of maintaining the integrity of the Colne Valley Park and its open green spaces, as well as the access to the countryside it affords is recognised in the South East Plan and the Mayor of London’s 2015 London Plan.
As development in the area intensifies, and traffic congestion worsens, the amenity value of this land will increase because of its scarcity and closeness; it is very much our piece of open countryside, as it – like the parish as a whole – is confined by the M4 to the north and the M25 to the east. The Parish Council and bodies like the Colnbrook Community Partnership (CCP) have talked to the Colne Valley Park CIC, SBC and Biffa about developing plans of our own for the enhancement of this public amenity land north of the Colnbrook ByPass, with the finalisation of Biffa’s restoration of adjacent lands to the west of the proposed development site, and to the east of Sutton Lane. These include footpath and bridleway access across both sites. The restoration to the Biffa land, currently in progress, is back to agricultural land, as with the SIFE site, but will be to a much higher standard.
Of course, Goodman have their own plans to enhance footpath and bridleway access, around the edges of the SIFE complex. However, there is simply no way that walking round the perimeter of some huge over-bearing buildings and their security fencing, with the noise of occasion long trains and ever-present reversing HGVs and forklifts beeping, will ever substitute for walking through open countryside, which has the added benefit of freedom to roam and open views across the landscape.
The Parish Council also recognise the importance of the natural purpose and form of the open countryside at this location, which is as flood plain. Goodman’s plan is to cover a very substantial area of our flood plain – about 40 hectares – with 400,000msq of concrete. Substantial flooding occurred last year in Colnbrook at the same time as when the River Thames burst its banks several miles away. The 2014 flooding in Colnbrook was as bad on the Toll House estate and around Albany Park as it was more than a decade previously, when the 2001/2 flooding was said to be a “once in a hundred years event”, and was followed by a substantial set of flood alleviation works. Indeed, in 2014 some new areas in Colnbrook were flooded in addition to those flooded before. Our experience of flood alleviation schemes signed off by the Environment Agency is that they do not necessarily work, and they may just succeed in pushing the flood water somewhere else. The purpose of flood plain is to provide an area where large amounts of ground water and standing water can drain off naturally, instead of damaging nearby areas with rising flood water; preserving natural flood plains is the most obvious answer to avoiding new flood threats from large-scale building projects, and it leaves the countryside to do what the countryside does best. Even today it is possible for the SIFE Inspector to go through the neighbouring village of Longford and see sandbags around home entrances, for example, opposite the White Horse public house, indicating a current threat of flooding in late summer!
Recommendations and Mitigations
The Colnbrook with Poyle Parish Council recommends to the Planning Inspector that she refuse Goodman’s SIFE Appeal because it is inappropriate development in the Green Belt, for which there is no national need. It is not essential on the site proposed, and it will cause significant harm there to the countryside, to the Colne Valley Park, to the existing road networks, and to local people. It is contrary to many Local Plans and Planning Policy Guidelines.
If the Inspector, however, is minded to recommend that the Secretary of State approve the Appeal, certain restricting conditions and mitigations should be placed upon Goodman and the SIFE project. The remainder of the Strategic Gap in the Green Belt at Colnbrook should be safeguarded, and conditions placed on Goodman requiring that they pay for significant enhancement of access and amenity on this remaining (SG) land. Also, Goodman should be required to pay for making the adjacent stretch of the A4 a duel-carriageway all the way through the parish of Colnbrook with Poyle, from Junction 5 of the M4 through Brands Hill and along the Colnbrook ByPass, all the way to the junction with the A3044 in London Borough of Hillingdon, and Goodman should improve the junctions off this new duel carriageway, including at Sutton Lane, and the junction with London Road down to Colnbrook Village and Horton, as well as at the junction with Lakeside Road and the A3044. Moreover, Goodman should provide and be bound by a more robust travel plan by road.
There should be limits on the number and timing of HGVs accessing and leaving the SIFE complex until EU Directive air quality emissions limits are achieved on the Brands Hill AQMA. There should be no sub-dividing of SIFE’s three giant warehouses, because that will only generate additional numbers of smaller HGVs accessing the SIFE complex. If there are less than four 775m trains coming into and exiting the SIFE complex daily, or if those trains are not full, restrictions should apply to the served occupancy of each of the three giant warehouses in proportion, so that, for example, 25% of the warehouse space should be unused if there are is an average of only three full SIFE trains per day. Each of the occupiers of three giant warehouses should have to sign an undertaking to use rail to service their operation on site or they will reduce capacity accordingly.
Finally, there should be a condition that no building work on the SIFE site commence until Parliament has ruled out building a Third Runway at Heathrow on the same land, so as to minimise waste, and to minimise harm to the environment and to local people.
Cllr Dexter Smith, BSc(Econ)
SBC Councillor for Colnbrook with Poyle ward; former SBC Planning & Transport Commissioner (2004-8); Member of Colnbrook with Poyle Parish Council; founder member of the Parish Council, and its Vice Chairman, (1995-2000).
My name is Charles Burke and I am the secretary of the Colnbrook Community Association which I represent here today.
We have some 230 members and 520 friends across all communities of the Colnbrook with Poyle parish.
I am not here today to add to any technical arguments about SIFE; that is your function.
I am here to plead for the residents of Colnbrook in order to save the last of our greenbelt; correct some perceived errors on both your parts, and explain the impacts of this ginormous development on the residents.
Ginormous, according to a young lad, lets call him “Joe”, at the Youth Club on Tuesday evening, and in response to a question from his sister, means “Fucking Big”. Youth clubs are very educational.
Colnbrook has frequently been described as a carbuncle on the eastern end of Slough. We are surrounded by the M4, M25, and two reservoirs, and quite honestly do not, as a community, fit in with Slough town. We are still a series of villages.
Slough as we know it today was originally a collection of villages; now all identities have been lost and subsumed under the name “Slough”.
No separation, no identity, no community spirit, NO HEART.
If SIFE goes ahead all lines are blurred and we will melt into an anonymous spread of concrete; the rot started with Grundon and Lakeside, it will not stop if this development is allowed.
Slough will then subsumed into “outer London” in reality perhaps, rather than name.
Colnbrook is a collection of individual village like neighbourhoods.
We are poorly served by SBC who seem to dump any money making scheme possible on our greenbelt without a jot of thought for the human element; us, the residents.
We have no proper sports facilities, a Village Hall which in some minds is not fit for purpose.
Entertainment is sought in Staines, Uxbridge, Slough and Windsor.
I now refer to “Tim Jackson Rebuttal 0” document, Appendix 2 – 1.40 on pages 9/10 where reference is made to the StopSIFE letter of 11th August. Within this, I include the “Tim Jackson Rebuttal 2 appendix”.
Our survey was not highly technical as we do not have the resources to mount a fully blown exercise; it was pen and paper, two or three set of eyes, and reports from users. The aim was to enable us to get some idea of the usage, and we are happy with our figures.
I will point out that your own surveys begin at 7.30am and end at 7.00 pm, which is rather unfortunate.
Use of the facility begins well before sunrise and continues well into the late evenings particularly during the lighter months. Our usage figures reflect this additional use by joggers, dog walkers etc plus of course the owners of the horses.
Some of our members are dog walking or jogging at 5.00am. A similar pattern takes place in the late evening.
I would also add that users include members of the community who would run a mile if they spotted any “official” looking persons; Gavvers I think they are called.
We have a partly resident and partly transient traveller community who are happy so long as they have the freedom to roam open countryside and get involved in country pursuits.
Take that countryside away as you propose and immediately ASB issues will skyrocket. Vandalism will again raise its ugly head.
The scale of this monstrosity only came to light on Tuesday when comparison was made to T5 and other very large buildings locally. One of your buildings equates to 11 full size international football pitches making 33 in total inside the buildings.
The attempt to suggest that you can hide this development with a few trees is, to say the least, disingenuous; some might say downright dishonest.
I don’t know of many trees that are 75 metres tall at planting.
Let us retain this treasured bit of green belt. It is strategically important.
It may be poor land but it’s all we have, and our residents see it as an area of fresh air, reduced noise, running water, nature, wildlife; and a view across open countryside.
Not the best admittedly, but its all we have.
I move on now to the general concerns express by our members and friends regarding developments in Colnbrook.
We are currently blighted by;-
- Heathrow Expansion
- Slough International Freight Exchange (SiFE)
- Brands Hill A4 road “improvements”
- Underground connection from Langley/Iver to Heathrow Terminal 5
- Smart Motorway on the M4
- Solar Farm at Poyle
All of these are due to commence construction within the next five years
In addition we have to endure;-
- Three Waste processing plants
In addition to the award winning, but highly toxic, Grundon plant we also have waste processing plants at DHL on Waterside, and Lanz in Poyle.
I can only conclude that our elected representatives care not for the health of our infants or even people like me, of “a certain age”.
We are dying too early and yet receive no consideration at all when SBC Councillors and Officers decide to dump their waste in Colnbrook.
- Air quality and pollution
It is a well established fact that areas of Colnbrook and Brands Hill are amongst these most polluted in Europe.
SBC’s own statistics show that infant mortality rates are far too high, and as for us older people, we are dying far too early. I would like to treasure the last years of my life; and so would my grandchildren.
I have not seen any mention of costs for cleaning up the site. An Environment Agency staff member, when asked, said “a proper clean up is unaffordable”.
Heathrow have budgeted £500,000,000 – said to be a drastic underestimate.
This comment was made after the EA taking core samples from the site.
I ask you to disallow this speculative project.
I ask that the Inspector recognises that this meeting was insisted upon by Goodman despite the knowledge of the pending Heathrow decision, and that you order that they, Goodman, bear the full cost to the taxpayers, directly or indirectly, of this hearing on the basis of wasting every bodies time, both in terms of hours spent in preparation for; attendance at; relevant travel and also refreshment expenses.
If you were so minded to allow this grotesque development I ask for these mitigation measures;-
- That construction is not to commence until air and noise quality meets WHO limits, and it is demonstrated that these, and any new limits introduced, will not be exceeded on penalty of closure.
- That a section 106 agreement is reached with SBC to pay for top of the range air and noise monitoring equipment from the M4 junction to the Harmondsworth junction for the lifetime of this monstrosity.
- That a section 106 agreement is imposed to cover the full cost of any and all local infrastructure changes required to roads, drainage, schools,
- That a section 106 agreement be imposed on Goodman to provide the community with freehold land sufficient to house sports facilities, club houses as appropriate, and a new Community Centre to house dedicated and permanent facilities for young people, the older members of our community, and local social groups. The land and buildings to be held in trust for the Colnbrook communities.
- That any permission is deferred until the Heathrow Airport expansion issue is resolved after all court actions are exhausted. I do appreciate this could be 5 to 10 years but it will stop this blatant speculative development abusing the system simply to increase land values.
- That the SBC, and community groups costs of this hearing be immediately chargeable to Goodman at rates to be agreed by the Inspectorate, and treated as reimbursement of costs. We would not wish to accept donations.
I don’t intend to present the inquiry with any new facts but I would like to discuss a few points if I may to describe how Colnbrook residents perceive SIFE, and the impact of it, because I don’t think the inquiry has heard much about that yet.
I promise I will be brief, and I only have five points to make …
<on living with blight and the fatigue of the local community …>
Shortly after stopSIFE was set up 6 years ago I looked up “SRFI” like most of you here probably did and the first article I found – in a freight journal – said for every SRFI proposed a “Stop xyx SRFI” campaign automatically followed the next day set up by local NIMBY’s.
I want to assure the inspector that we are not NIMBY’s in Colnbrook. Far from it.
We are a community that is suffering from a sheer and continuous onslaught of one huge development after another … from developers who never give up, who keep coming back again and again and again.
We’ve suffered blight in Colnbrook for at least the last 6 years as a direct result of SIFE.
I moved to Colnbrook nearly 18 years ago. For the first half of that Colnbrook was as it was when I moved there, a beautiful semi-rural village. For the second half there has been one scheme proposed after another and the village has changed completely.
Home ownership has plummeted from among the highest in Slough ten years ago to the lowest as people move out.
I used to live right opposite the SIFE site, so close I could take photographs of the fly tippers who regularly dumped rubbish outside of the main gates. (The main gates to the site haven’t opened in 20 years and are seized up).
I watched it steadily decline due to neglect from Argent and then Goodman. I sold up in 2012 after the permission was refused and moved. Not away from Colnbrook but to the centre of the village … because I knew SIFE would come back. All bar one of my old neighbours – we’re talking about ten or so homes – have also left for the same reason.
Whether you say yes or no to SIFE I know somebody will come back to try again for that piece of land.
Who can live like that indefinitely, with that threat that never goes away?
Mr Stimpson spoke on Tuesday about the constant pressure of development. A show of hands from the back will give you an indication of just how many public inquiries we’ve all been involved with over the years. I’ve been involved with two, there are others in this room who have been involved in many more.
There is a fatigue, resignation, acceptance that even if you say no to SIFE this time around, next year we will be back here for Heathrow and the year after it will be son-of-SIFE. It is simply not right that residents have to live under these conditions.
<on the Statement of Common Ground between Slough & Goodman …>
I’ve seen a little of the proceedings so far and been impressed at how friendly and humorous it’s all been particularly between the two legal teams who I expected to be at loggerheads … However as the inspector alluded on Tuesday while common ground may have been reached by the two parties it has not been reached with residents.
It is quite disturbing that deals can be hammered out behind closed doors without any involvement from those who actually live there or will be affected by decisions made.
I would like the inspector to be clear that residents are REALLY, REALLY ANGRY about this scheme and about some of the common ground apparently agreed between Slough and Goodman.
I was STAGGERED to learn on Tuesday that air quality is one of the areas where common ground has been established … and that it does not, therefore, need to be discussed at this inquiry. This wasn’t mentioned at all in the document I saw, dated 15th August, and as a point of information I do not feel that interested parties have been provided with access to all the information submitted.
Leaving that aside, you CANNOT put 1 million HGVs on the by-pass (and presumably the same again in employee car trips) and say there is NOTHING MORE TO TALK ABOUT. One of the Davies recommendations for Heathrow, should it get the go ahead for expansion, is that air pollution needs to meet EU levels or the thing should never open.
I hope the inspector will propose something similar for SIFE if she is minded to recommend that it is approved.
Restrictions on travelling west towards Brands Hill after 11pm are not going to make a jot of difference!
Neither can you look at the Colnbrook Bypass on a Friday evening (or let’s face it Colnbrook High Street which remains the rat run when motorways seize up) and say local roads can accommodate this with the addition of a few “flare” lanes outside the site itself.
These deals done over air quality and highways STINK!
<on the loss of access to countryside …>
Our updated submission focused on the loss of amenity and I would like to make a brief point about that.
I thought Mr Ground summed up beautifully what it would be like walking along the enhanced nature trails … around warehouses three times bigger than Terminal 5, so I won’t dwell on that.
Mr Jackson’s rebuttal, which I only saw yesterday, does need a mention.
He can pull figures out from … well wherever he likes – but I suspect even the inspector would have seen more than the claimed average of 3 users a day even in October.
But when you read that there is no public access to Old Wood or that you have to cross the M4 via “a dangerous underpass” (instead of Old Slade BRIDGE) you realise that some of those on the table opposite will say what they like to make a point to the inspector! He is certainly no local boy from what he has written, even if he has claimed to regularly cycle there.
We also touched on the physical barriers that isolate Colnbrook residents from other parts of Slough.
Suffice to say in 2011 our parish council successfully argued against a merger of ward boundaries with Langley – the other side of the M4 – on the basis of the geographic separation and physical barriers that prevent those in Colnbrook from accessing facilities elsewhere in Slough.
We are not so proud to have some of the worst deprivation in Slough, particularly on the Westfield estate, among the highest levels of childhood obesity – and a lack of recreation and sport facilities in the area …
Please, do NOT take away the last open countryside!!!
All I would say is, don’t underestimate the local use of the site. And remember that there is no access by car, no car parking, lay-bys have been blocked off due to fly-tipping, and access is by foot across the busy Colnbrook By-Pass. In spite of all that the site is still heavily used.
<on the lack of large warehouses locally ...>
I would like to reference Mr Stimpson’s point on Tuesday about the lack of large warehousing space locally.
It is really disappointing that Green Belt continues to be such a target when there is so much brown field land still available. You only have to take a wonder around the rundown Poyle Industrial Estate and view all the to let signs … and I strongly urge the inspector to take a site visit there.
In our submission however many years ago it was we referred to a huge list of the available warehouse properties and brown field land available locally for let and sale. It was immense, and we somewhat naively suggested that with something a little more creative than just plumping for Green Belt was needed.
Well actually it wasn’t so naive. Mr Stimpson mentioned some pretty large buildings in the area to show the scale of the new warehouses. But actually, bigger than Terminal 5 will be the new DHL hub which is already under construction. DHL did exactly what we were hoping somebody like Goodman would do – buy up the small unlet units and replace them with something fit for purpose. DHL has replaced 17 units with a single warehouse that will be 22,000 square metres and is set to operate a road to road hub for the whole country from there.
If DHL can do it, why can’t you? If you reinstated the railway line there you have a ready-built SRFI too, with traffic going straight onto the motorway. Plus you would have the backing of the community which you most certainly do not have currently.
Building on the Green Belt should be a last resort. There is no need to build on the Green Belt. There IS a need for some more imaginative thinking.
<on SBC's support for Heathrow ...>
There is one final point I would like to make. Although we may appear to be on the same side today, we know that SBC is not our friend here.
(No offence to any of you present from SBC, and it’s not the officers I am referring to but the bloody politicians).
Clearly they will be arguing the opposite soon in league with the gentleman from Heathrow at the back. Mr Ground made a very, very pertinent point on Tuesday, which I was so pleased with I wrote it down:
“Sacrifice of Green Belt or strategic gap cannot be justified by economic benefit; employment cannot be a driver for sacrifice of Green Belt”.
I hope the inspector will uphold that principle and include it in her final report. It will help enormously when we have to come back here to defend the same site against Heathrow’s plans.
Because we know we are going to have to.