Crunch time for Park Street rail freight site looms

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In just over two weeks time, the county council’s cabinet will meet to decide whether or not to sell the proposed site of a massive rail freight depot in Park Street to developers Helioslough.

A cabinet panel will discuss the issue of Radlett Airfield at 10am on Monday, December 9, followed by a full cabinet meeting, at least part of which will be in secret session.

The intention is to hold as much of the meetings as possible in public but move into private session if and when it becomes necessary, such as for commercial reasons.

Representatives of action group STRiFE, St Albans council and Helioslough will be invited to speak at the cabinet panel meeting.

As owners of Radlett Airfield on which Helioslough wants to build a Strategic Rail Freight Interchange (SRFI), the county council’s decision about whether to sell the land could well settle the long-running planning application which has been fought at every turn by St Albans council and STRiFE.

Last December, after two public inquiries had been held, Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, Eric Pickles, announced that was “minded” to approve the SRFI application subject to the provision of planning agreements.

Derrick Ashley, the county’s cabinet member for resources and transformation, said: “We are well aware of local anxiety about this application and would like to thank residents in the Radlett area for their patience over the last few months while we have carried out extensive research into this complex case.

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“We will hear the findings of this work at the panel and cabinet meetings on December 9 and this will allow councillors to make a fully informed, rational decision about this very important matter.”

Cllr Aislinn Lee, county councillor for the St Stephen division, which takes in Park Street, admitted that she was concerned that Cllr Ashley did not seem to realise that the greatest impact would fall on Park Street and not Radlett.

She said: “I am very annoyed that Cllr Ashley does not seem to realise where it is. Of course residents in Radlett are going to be affected but Park Street will be more so. If you don’t know where it is sited, how can you make a strategic decision?”

She believes that a key issue in deciding whether to sell the land is the wider impact of what she is sure will be a road freight depot rather than rail freight, pointing to the continuous disruption experienced on county roads at the moment.

She said: “If anyone so much as hiccups on the M1/M25, the whole of Park Street, St Albans and Harpenden comes to a grinding halt and it often impacts on a far wider area. It could be huge what it does to the county.”