Park Street rail freight: Alternative uses for Radlett Airfield sought by Herts County Council

06:00 04 February 2016

Computer-generated image of the proposed rail freight terminal in Park Street

Computer-generated image of the proposed rail freight terminal in Park Street

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Alternative uses for Radlett Airfield are being sought by the county council - in line with a pledge made when a petition against a rail freight depot on the Park Street land triggered a county council debate on the issue.
An invitation to developers to submit expressions of interest on the 119 hectare former airfield has been advertised which is expected to appear in Estates Gazette this week.

Herts Ad editor Matt Adams, Anne Main MP and Cllr Sandy Walkington with rail freight campaigners outside County HallHerts Ad editor Matt Adams, Anne Main MP and Cllr Sandy Walkington with rail freight campaigners outside County Hall

It explains that planning permission has been granted to Helioslough for a Strategic Rail Freight Interchange (SRFI) on the site but invites interest from developers interested in promoted an alternative form of development ‘which would secure for the county council a value at least equivalent to that of an SRFI’.

Possible uses, the document suggests, might be residential, a solar park or a hospital, subject to planning permission for the Green Belt site.

Would-be developers would need to provide ‘strong evidence’ to support deliverability in planning and market demands terms and as a real option for the county council.

The pledge to seek other uses was made at a meeting at County Hall in November after a petition signed by 11,500 people calling for the site not to be sold as a rail freight terminal triggered a debate on the issue.

The proposed site of the Radlett rail freight depotThe proposed site of the Radlett rail freight depot

Council leader, Cllr Robert Gordon, received unanimous support for his proposal that alternative uses to secure at least equivalent value should be sought for the site.

At the same time the county council warned that legally it might not have any choice but to sell the land.

A county council spokesperson confirmed this week that they had not received an offer from Helioslough to purchase the land despite the company getting planning permission last January and the district council finally exhausting all legal avenues to stop it in September.

The spokesperson said that so far the county council had not received any proposals from developers with alternative ideas for the use of the site.

St Albans MP Anne Main commented: “I am pleased that the county is showing a willingness to listen to potentially interested parties. I hope viable alternatives that wed the aspirations and needs of the community are seriously considered and brought forward.

“This is an important Green Belt site; sadly it’s succumbed to planning permission for a rail freight site. But, if we are going to lose this open space, then I’d much rather see something that enhances rather than spoils the local area.

She added: “All potential alternative proposals need serious consideration, and any decision must not be rushed headlong into.”

Several alternative proposals have been mooted in recent years including building a new superhospital on the site, a major housing scheme and transferring St Albans City FC from Clarence Park to Park Street with housing supporting the building of a new stadium.

* Local MPs Anne Main and Oliver Dowden are seeking clarification from Network Rail after receiving a commitment from train operators Govia Thameslink that future timetables would give priority to the passenger service should an SRFI be developed at Radlett Airfield.

A spokesman for the St Albans MP’s office said that Thameslink had received a commitment that freight would not interfere with the busy Thameslink service which serves St Albans City, Harpenden and Radlett.

But, he went on, both Mrs Main and Mr Dowden, the MP for Hertsmere, would be contacting Network Rail direct as it was responsible for freight services and infrastructure work in connection with an SRFI.

Mr Dowden said: “I am keen to clarify whether Govia are able to make this pledge, especially in light of the problems that have been caused to the Thameslink service by the Network Rail-led infrastructure works at London Bridge.

“At our meeting with Govia we were told that Network Rail had promised Govia that the London Bridge works would not have a detrimental impact on passenger services. This has not been the case. I am concerned that this will also be the case with the infrastructure works associated with the proposed rail freight terminal.”

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