District stands united against rail freight plan

OVERWHELMING opposition to Helio-slough s rail freight terminal plans was voiced at this week s packed meeting. Much the same as at 2006 s meeting to determine the previous application, numerous people slammed the proposals for the Radlett Airfield site,

OVERWHELMING opposition to Helio-slough's rail freight terminal plans was voiced at this week's packed meeting.

Much the same as at 2006's meeting to determine the previous application, numerous people slammed the proposals for the Radlett Airfield site, while just one spoke in favour.

It was also heard that more than 1,200 residents and stakeholders had objected in written representations, compared to just two supporting the scheme.

The main bone of contention, as with the last application, is that there are far better sites to the north-west of London to support such a scheme.

Although Helioslough maintain that their its alternative sites survey proves that Park Street is the best location, councillors and STRiFE (Stop the Rail Freight Exchange) argue that it remains flawed.

Speaking on the subject at the meeting, STRiFE's Adrian Wallace, said: "It is not a truly objective report as it was produced to support the choice of the site, rather than a tool to assist the site selection.

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"In other words, they chose the site and then worked backwards."

The Alban Arena audience was also told that different developers are due to submit an application later this year for a rail freight depot in Colnbrook, Slough, which forms part of Helioslough's alternative sites survey.

St Albans MP Anne Main, who spoke on behalf of STRiFE, also highlighted the concerns that the Midland Mainline would be unable to cope with the additional freight trains and warned that the site would become a massive lorry park instead if that were the case.

Mrs Main argued that Helioslough had failed to take into account the Thameslink programme which will see more passenger trains on the track to improve services and warned that services would be "decimated" if freight train pathways were shoehorned in and the tracks adjusted to facilitate them.

Speaking about the Green Belt issue, Bill Price, of St Stephen Parish Council, told the meeting "The land there is sacrosanct and must be preserved as such for the health, welfare and enjoyment of the present and future generations, at the same time providing open space for flora and fauna to flourish.

"We owe it to future generations to preserve this land in an area where open space is already becoming a rarity and the ability to roam freely is restricted."

Simon Hoare, of developers Helioslough, was met with jeers from the crowd when he stood up to speak in favour of the scheme.

He expressed disappointment that the officers' report contained the same reasons for refusal as it did the first time around as the Secretary of State had only turned down the application on the grounds of the alternatives sites assessment.

And he insisted that the new assessment was robust and said that Helioslough wouldn't be pushing ahead with the scheme if they didn't think the rail pathways were available.

Mr Hoare also warned the council that a Government circa indicated that local authorities can be liable for costs if they persistently turn down planning applications which the Secretary of State has indicated is acceptable.

n Helioslough has come under fire for trying to organise a date for the next planning inquiry before the outcome of the council's decision was known. The district council has confirmed that Mike Lovelady, head of legal services, was approached before Monday's meeting by Helioslough asking to fix a date in October.

A spokesperson for the council said: "He told Helioslough and the Planning Inspectorate that it was premature to discuss it until the outcome of the planning decision was known."

St Albans MP Anne Main said she was "disgusted" by the revelation and said that Helioslough were "completely out of order" to pre-empt the council's decision in that way and to try and organise an inquiry before even lodging their appeal. She is now investigating the matter further to find out if action can be taken.