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THE BIRMINGHAM POST: Is there really a case for more development?

After almost a decade of uncertainty, those campaigning against plans to build motorway service stations in the Solihull green belt might be forgiven for wondering whether the planning system in this country is fit for purpose.

It is now almost six years since the Deputy Prime Minister said he was "minded to approve" a proposal for an M42 service station on 65 acres close to the village of Catherine-de-Barnes, and nearly ten years since applications for three services were first lodged.

The latest delay in reaching a final decision, which involves holding a new lengthy and costly inquiry, can be blamed partly on the failure of Government departments to talk to each other. The proposed expansion of Birmingham International Airport, as envisaged in the 2003 White Paper on The Future of Air Transport, is likely to impact on the M42 sites proposed for service stations. In essence, land identified for the service stations may not be available if the second BIA runway is built and the existing runway extended.

The possible expansion of BIA was very much on the cards when the Government said in 2001 that it was probably going to approve the Catherine-de-Barnes services. This must also have been clear to those who drew up the White Paper but it is only now, four years later, that any serious attempt is being made to decide whether the Catherine-de-Barnes services and a second service station at junction 4 of the M42 should go ahead.

Even then, there are likely to be further delays. Birmingham Airport has said it will not announce the fine detail of expansion plans until the result is known of a public inquiry into the growth of Coventry Airport. That result may not be announced until the end of this year, several months after the new Catherine-de-Barnes public inquiry is scheduled to finish. The inspector overseeing the new inquiry may therefore be in the invidious position of having to make a number of assumptions about BIA's growth plans.

At the bottom of all this lies the nagging question whether, after all this time, it is still necessary to build a service station in the Meriden Gap? After all, services on the M42 already exist within a 15 mile drive to the south of Catherine-de-Barnes and ten miles to the north. It is difficult to see that there is really a case for yet more development at one of the most sensitive locations in the West Midlands.
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Title Annotation:Leaders
Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Feb 15, 2007
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