Update: Is Radlett Airfield homes scheme final blow for rail freight?

Put the Brakes on Freight - Herts Advertiser campaign

Put the Brakes on Freight - Herts Advertiser campaign - Credit: Archant

Campaigners are celebrating the possibility of a 2,000 home development instead of a rail freight depot on the former Radlett Airfield site in Park Street.

Landowner Herts county council (HCC) has offered the site for housing and supporting infrastructure to St Albans district council for its new Local Plan.

If a new 2,000 home garden village is built on the site, the much-reviled Strategic Rail Freight Interchange (SRFI) would obviously not proceed, but the Green Belt land will be lost forever.

Developer Helioslough first proposed building a rail freight depot more than a decade ago and the scheme has fuelled controversy ever since, especially after outline planning approval came through on appeal in 2014.

County council leader David Williams said although he wants the site to remain Green Belt, HCC recognises the urgent need for housing in the St Albans district: “We know that developers are interested in this idea and we feel it could be an alternative to using the land for a SRFI.”

He said the land could make a significant contribution to providing new homes for a growing population.

Campaigner Andy Love, who created a 10,000 strong petition against the SRFI in 2015, said it is great news: “I know there are those who wish for the land to remain as it is but that is looking extremely unlikely with Helioslough’s continuing pursuit to achieve full planning permission for a SRFI.”

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He thanked Mr Williams, the late HCC leader Robert Gordon, Hertsmere MP Oliver Dowden, and the Herts Ad for our support and coverage.

The Herts Ad has run our Put the Brakes on Freight campaign against the SRFI since 2009.

Protest group STRiFE (Stop The Rail Freight Exchange) is cautious, noting that any housing developer still needs to prove special circumstances to release the protected land from Green Belt and get planning permission.

The St Albans Local Plan is planning blueprint for housing development within the district between 2020-2036. It includes provision for 15,000 homes, a 25 per cent uplift on existing housing.

To make up a shortfall of 3,000 homes not included in the plan, SADC asked developers and landowners to identify other sites to fill the gap.

Head of planning for SADC Tracy Harvey said: “As part of the Local Plan consultation, we asked landowners and developers to put forward sites in the district that might be suitable for development in the future.

“We have received a number of suggestions including sites for new homes. We will consider them carefully along with other feedback before a draft Local Plan is put before the full council this summer. It is too early to say what sites will be recommended to councillors.”

As well as the airfield, HCC has offered seven other sites for housing, including rural estate land south and north of Napsbury, land east of Kay Walk, land at Stephens Way and Flamsteadbury Lane in Redbourn, rural estate land at Waterdell adjacent to Mount Pleasant JMI, rural estate land at Highfield Farm in Tyttenhanger, and the Carpenter’s Nursery in Sandridge.

Long-standing SRFI opponent and HCC councillor Sandy Walkington said the ball is now back in SADC’s court: “It’s not realistic that all [eight sites proposed by HCC] should be developed, this would have a dramatic impact on the Green Belt south of St Albans and turn the A414 into one big traffic jam.”

Adding: “It’s going to be a balancing act weighing up the different sites against the need for housing, likely traffic congestion and how to keep some semblance of green space between neighbouring communities.”