Consider the alternatives for St Albans rail freight site, says MP

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

Changes should be made to the St Albans planning blueprint to enable alternative uses to be considered at the proposed rail freight depot site in Park Street.

MP Oliver Dowden

MP Oliver Dowden - Credit: Photo supplied

That is the call from Hertsmere MP, Oliver Dowden, in a letter to St Albans council leader, Cllr Julian Daly, calling for the former Radlett Airfield to be re-designated in the local Strategic Local Plan. (SLP).

Mr Dowden had tabled a number of written Parliamentary Questions earlier this year relating to the possibility of the land earmarked for a Strategic Rail Freight Interchange (SRFI) being used for another purpose.

He has now heard from Housing and Planning Minister Brandon Lewis that amendments to the SLP can be made to change the planning designation of the land in question. That would effectively enable the district council to consider planning applications for alternative developments on the same site.

After years of wrangling, developer Helioslough now has planning permission to build an SRFI on the Green Belt site. But a proportion of the land is owned by Herts county council which has been marketing the land for other uses before making any decision about its future.

Mr Dowden said that he had tabled the questions to secure government confirmation that there remained alternatives to the proposed rail terminal. He went on: “The responses from the Minister confirm that even at this late stage there are alternatives.”

He had written to Cllr Daly to ascertain the district council’s position and whether councillors are open to the possibility of making amendments to their SLP to open up the site for alternative uses

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Mr Dowden pointed out that the St Albans SLP had been criticised by a number of neighbouring local authorities for under-estimating the number of homes they needed to build over the next decade.

A housing report commissioned by the four authorities, Hertsmere, Watford, Three Rivers and Dacorum, argues that St Albans should be building between 650-700 new homes a year as opposed to the 436 figure that is currently within the SLP.

Mr Dowden said: “I have personally been clear all along that I don’t want any development on this site and I know that similarly, St Albans council and ieader, Cllr Julian Daly, have been very supportive of the campaign to resist the proposed rail terminal, particularly because the site remains designated as green belt.

“However, now that all appeal avenues have been exhausted and development in the form of the rail freight terminal is being forced on us, I believe that it would be prudent to at least allow alternatives to be considered. Almost anything would be better than a rail terminal that would clog up our roads with lorries and jam the Thameslink line with freight trains.

“I believe that St Albans district council can lawfully alter the designation of the land question in their Strategic Local Plan. I would urge them to consider doing so in order to allow other users to be considered and developed.”

He added: “At the same time, I will continue to work to expose the inadequacies and lack of preparedness for this disastrous scheme.”