Developer pitches to St Albans council over rail freight site housing

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Housing firm Taylor Wimpey has made an initial approach to St Albans council about its proposals to build 2,000 new homes on the former Radlett Airfield in Park Street.

The scheme arose from an initiative from the county council - part owners of the former airfield - to see if there was any other interest in developing the Green Belt site other than as a Strategic Rail Freight Interchange (SRFI).

Helioslough was granted planning permission for an SRFI by the then Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, Eric Pickles, in July 2014 after several public inquiries and attempts through the courts to prevent it going ahead.

He ruled that as an SRFI was of strategic importance, there were grounds to build it in the Green Belt even though it would have an impact on the St Albans district.

Herts county council maintains that it will have to make a decision on whether or not to sell the land to Helioslough but in the meantime Taylor Wimpey has come up with a proposal for 2,000 homes on the site in line with the Department of Communities and Local Government(DCLG) garden village initiative. It would require planning permission from St Albans council.

According to the DCLG prospectus, garden villages would have between 1,500 and 10,000 homes and government support could include a a limited amount of funding until 2018.

Harrow Estates, a subsidary of Redrow, has also expressed interest in developing the site for housing but has not yet approached the district council about its proposals.

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The site is not zoned for housing in the district council’s draft Strategic Local Plan (SLP) which has now gone to a planning inspector who will hold a public inquiry into its proposals. It was not recommended for inclusion by independent consultants employed to look for housing sites in the district

But four other Green Belt sites for hundreds of new homes are included in the SLP - two to the east of Hemel Hempstead, one off Sandpit Lane, St Albans, and another in Harpenden.

The council’s planning portfolio holder. Cllr Alec Campbell, confirmed that the council had held an initial meeting with Taylor Wimpey to hear its proposals ‘as it would with any other developer putting forward plans for the district’.

But, he went on, the Secretary of State had agreed to the site being used as an SRFI under special national circumstances, “It is the unlikely that the same justification could apply for housing.”

Cllr Campbell said this week that he thought that even housing under the garden villages scheme would probably not hold as much weight as an SRFI for Green Belt exemption.

He added: “I don’t think it does have the same strategic importance and that is the challenge we have got.”