Developers planning to purchase Park Street land for Rail Freight depot enter negotiations

Put the Brakes on Freight - Herts Advertiser campaign

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

Developers behind the loathed proposed mammoth rail freight depot have confirmed they are to enter negotiations to purchase the Green Belt site from the county council.

Green Belt land in London Colney

Green Belt land in London Colney - Credit: Archant

And in an interview with the Herts Advertiser, the company boasted that it was ‘confident’ of success, despite a lack of a contract with the authority.

Green Belt campaigners in a long-running battle against the strategic terminal, first proposed 10 years ago to be built at the former Radlett airfield in Park Street, are unimpressed after being alerted to two crucial steps taken to bring it to fruition.

Segro, which owns Helioslough, the original promoters of the scheme, will not only ‘shortly’ make a formal offer to Herts county council but next week the firm will also ask St Albans district council for the go-ahead to turn 600 acres of Green Belt land around the airfield and in nearby London Colney into a country park.

Part of the land earmarked to be turned into the managed park is owned by Tarmac, including green space near Colney Fields and the Broad Colney Lakes Nature Reserve, while another tract is farmland on the Gorhambury Estate.

A Park Street bypass is to be built through Hedges Farm on the estate, off the A414, to the terminal.

Both key steps were revealed in the first interview Segro has had with this paper since Eric Pickles sided with the developer two years ago, and granted outline planning permission, despite fierce local opposition and a protracted legal fight.

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Gareth Osborn, business unit director at Segro, said that as part of conditions attached to that permission, “we have to put a country park management plan in place” as mitigation against the loss of Green Belt.

He said that with about 400 acres of the 1,000 acre site being developed into a terminal “we had to come up with a strategy for parkland, as a consideration against the loss of Green Belt to rail freight. We are in discussion with St Albans council about that at the moment, to create open space with public access.”

Segro already has agreements in place with Gorhambury and Tarmac, but has yet to enter into negotiations with the county council to purchase the former airfield.

While Gareth refused to disclose how much money would be offered to the council, he said: “If it’s not market rate, I’m sure the council will say ‘no’.”

When asked what would happen should the council refuse to sell – particularly as local campaigners including Stop The Rail Freight Exchange (STRiFE) have been urging the authority to block such a move - Gareth said he was positive the authority would do so.

However this would be after “local democracy has run its course, and they [the county council] will consider it carefully in the context of local issues; they have to reflect on how the offer sits within their obligations to discharge best value for the land, and provide facilities across Park Street and Herts county.”

An unimpressed rail freight campaigner, Cllr Sandy Walkington, said: “Now is the time for Cllr Robert Gordon and the Conservative cabinet at County Hall to stand up and be counted. Are they going to take 30 pieces of silver or act in the best interest of Herts residents – which clearly means continuing to oppose a massive lorry terminal with its terrible impact upon St Albans and the wider A414 corridor.

“As for the ‘country park’, if the whole project looks like a pig and snorts like a pig, a bit of lipstick is not going to make the slightest difference.”