North Lanarkshire Council has been criticised over plans to challenge the approval of a new rail freight terminal, despite being told there is no legal case…
Labour-run North Lanarkshire Council will ignore advice given by the Queen’s Counsel regarding the construction of a new rail freight terminal. Instead, the local authority will spend more than £185,000 legally challenging the decision made by the Scottish government to approve plans.
Labour group members on the planning committee reportedly voted unanimously to lodge a judicial review. However, top lawyers from the Queen’s Counsel warned there was no case, stating: “The Scottish Ministers’ decision is legally secure and … there seems to be no productive grounds of challenge”.
The rail terminal, which is expected to generate more than 5,000 jobs, will boost capacity between the UK and European markets. The operator of the existing Mossend Railhead in Bellshill, PD Stirling, had submitted plans to expand the facility to create the Mossend International Railfreight Park.
The application also comprised of warehousing and manufacturing space near the terminal, as well as distribution and logistics facilities.
Plans were initially rejected by North Lanarkshire Council last year following objections from the local community. However, this decision was then overturned by the government and given permission to proceed.
Residents originally raised concerns about the proposal due to the impact the freight park would have on their quality of life. Additionally, there was criticism the site would remove Bellshill’s last significant open space area.
At the time, residents and local councillors questioned why the firm had failed to use vacant land on the other side of the existing Mossend Railhead, rather than building on the fields around Carnbroe Road. However, this was deemed unsuitable as the site would not accommodate the 775 metre long sidings needed for a national rail freight operation.
The firm said it would incorporate a community greenspace area in its plans, including paths for walking and cycling. This would cover 39 per cent of the site.
Speaking to The National, Scottish National Party’s (SNP) David Stocks said it was “unbelievable” the planning committee would go against legal advice and spend a substantial amount of money fighting this decision. It is particularly difficult as the council is facing cuts of £62m over the next three years.
“The SNP members who were at that planning meeting voted against it because we think it is disgraceful that, at a time when there will be further cuts in services in a few weeks,” he said.
“It will cost in excess of £185,000 if they lose this case but it does say in the report that it could go further than that, in which case the costs will just jump way up and the council cannot afford to take risks like this with taxpayers’ money.
“It is quite clear from the papers that they don’t have any grounds for a judicial review.
“There were Labour councillors sitting there saying ‘I believe we’ve got a good chance of winning this, there are flaws and arguments’ but that is not what the QC says, and they are not experts in law.
“I believe the move is purely a political one because it doesn’t make any sense whatsoever.”
Despite spending around £40,000 on legal advice, 13 Labour councillors on the planning committee voted to disregard their advice and to continue to challenge the decision. Five SNP members voted against the move, citing significant financial risks at a time when the council was struggling.
Lead SNP Member for Planning Sophia Coyle said: “I don’t know why they even bothered paying all that money for counsel’s advice if they were determined to go ahead regardless.
“None of us are lawyers and to turn around and basically ignore all the advice they paid a fortune for doesn’t make any sense, especially at a time when there are massive cuts to vital services.”
David Stirling, Director of PD Stirling, expressed his disappointment at the council’s decision to lodge a judicial review.
“We are a family-run business which has been going in North Lanarkshire for 30-odd years. We have long-term plans to invest in the area and this is very frustrating,” he said.
“We are really disappointed. All we want to do is bring jobs into the area and protect the environment with carbon savings and all sorts of things.”
Stirling added: “We remain confident that Mossend International Railfreight Park will open up new opportunities for rail freight and help to secure new investment and economic benefits both in Lanarkshire and across Scotland.”
However, the council remained resolute on its decision, starting it “believes there are grounds to seek a judicial review” of the Scottish ministers’ decision.
“We do not comment on legal advice received or any discussions which take place in private session. It is not possible to say with any certainty what costs may or may not arise from the judicial review process.
“However, it would be wholly wrong to conflate expenditure in one area of the budget with expenditure in another.”