The wait now begins for planning inspector Andrew Phillipson's report on whether or not to allow a giant rail freight depot to be built on 155 acres of green belt. LINDA PIPER hears the closing arguments.

BEXLEY Council claims if global logistics company ProLogis was allowed to build its giant rail freight depot at Howbury Park, Slade Green, it would damage one of the most fundamental of British planning policies - the protection of the green belt.

Representing Bexley, barrister Richard Grounds claimed the project would put two million sq ft of warehousing which were not needed on green belt land.

He said the lion's share of the 155 acres in a part of the green belt where it was narrow and vulnerable, would be lost just to provide warehouses which were not needed.

He claimed the warehousing would be worth more than £200m against construction costs of just £73m and all planning policies sought to put warehousing on brownfield sites.

Mr Grounds said the project offered only the uncertain benefit of transferring some freight from road to rail and most of the proposed warehousing would not be served by the rail links.


TIMOTHY Comyn, for Kent County Council, which is supporting the project, said the Howbury Park development would have strategic benefits for Kent in encouraging freight onto rail.

He said only 21 per cent of the freight train paths available through the Channel Tunnel were currently being used and only 40 per cent were being used at Ashford, Maidstone and in south London, so there was considerable scope for expansion.

Mr Comyn said Howbury Park fitted the criteria for being close to major road and rail networks.

He added the compelling need to realise the benefits of transferring freight from road to rail would justify taking green belt land for the project.


SPEAKING for the residents of Slade Green, Roy Hillman from the Slade Green Community Forum said opposition to the project was for two reasons, its location on green belt land, and the scale of the development.

Mr Hillman said the location was wrong because it was taking land at a very narrow point in the green belt which was next to residential developments.

He claimed if the proposal was half of its proposed size, the impact on the green belt would not be so great, it would not be next to a conservation area and the loss of an amenity for residents would not be so great.

Despite the prospect of more jobs in the area, the forum asked the inspector to refuse ProLogis' appeal against Bexley Council's decision to refuse the project planning permission.


A DECISION by Dartford Council to refuse planning permission for an access road and a lifting bridge over the River Cray will also be decided at the public inquiry.

On behalf of Dartford, Sophie Weller said ProLogis had to prove very special circumstances before being allowed to develop in the green belt.

She said while there were lots of planning policies to protect the green belt, there were none in support of strategic rail freight interchanges.

And she said the proposed road and lifting bridge would have a big visual impact on the open landscape and claimed ProLogis had failed to prove its case.


JEREMY Cotton spoke for Bexley's natural environment focus group about the importance of the site for flora and fauna.

But he said the offer of an area of marshes to be managed by a trust was not enough to justify taking 155 acres for the depot.

He also expressed major concerns about the flood defences of the area.

Mr Cotton added some of the marshes may need to be flooded to save other areas upstream from flooding.


PROLOGIS says its accepts the development would harm the green belt. But it says with no alternative to Howbury Park available, it is accepted by London's Mayor Ken Livingstone green belt land will have to be taken to build strategic rail freight depots near London.

Chris Katkowski, speaking for the company, denied the boundaries of Dartford and Bexley would merge if the development went ahead.

He said ProLogis had included measures to reduce the impact of the development on the landscape and did not accept the traffic from the site would cause any major traffic problems on roads in the area.

Mr Katkowski said the Government and Mr Livingstone accepted more strategic rail freight depots were needed to take more freight off the road and claimed there was a market for a depot at Howbury Park.