Earl of Verulam makes deal with rail-freight company

PUBLISHED: 16:56 26 March 2009 | UPDATED: 14:03 06 May 2010

Lady Verulam is Lord-Lieutenant of Hertfordshire and involved with the National Trust

Lady Verulam is Lord-Lieutenant of Hertfordshire and involved with the National Trust

LAND owned by Lord Verulam is part of the proposed rail freight terminal site — and a deal has been reached to sell it to the developers should the controversial plans get the go-ahead. The bypass to the huge site on Green Belt land in Park Street would r

LAND owned by Lord Verulam is part of the proposed rail freight terminal site - and a deal has been reached to sell it to the developers should the controversial plans get the go-ahead.

The bypass to the huge site on Green Belt land in Park Street would run across land at Hedges Farm off the A414, which is owned by the Seventh Earl of Verulam, John Grimston.

This week the agents managing the land, Strutt and Parker, confirmed that an option agreement existed with developers Helioslough, which has been trying to get permission to build the 3.5 million-square-feet depot on the former Radlett Aerodrome site for two years.

The company lost the first bid following a seven-week public inquiry which cost local taxpayers nearly £400,000 - but they are coming back with an identical proposal by the end of this month.

While the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, Hazel Blears, turned down the original application, her major ground for refusal was the lack of an alternative sites assessment which Helioslough now claims to have done in full.

The land at Hedges Farm provides the much-needed access to the site from the A414 and the bypass would link the rail freight depot to the south side of Park Street.

Strutt and Parker, which acts as agents for Lord Verulam who leases the land to a farmer with a farm shop at the site, could not say how much the deal was worth or the amount of land involved.

But Simon Hoare, of Helioslough, insisted that Hedges Farm would be retained if the rail freight depot scheme went ahead.

Lord Verulam lives on the Gorhambury estate in St Albans as his family has done for generations. His wife, Lady Verulam, is also the Lord-Lieutenant of Hertfordshire and has been involved with a number of local groups as well as the National Trust.

District councillor Chris Brazier, the planning portfolio holder, said he was "disappointed" that any agreement had been entered into prior to the planning process being completed.

As reported in the Herts Advertiser last week, Herts County Council (HCC) - which owns the vast majority of the proposed rail freight site - has faced criticism for not refusing to sell the land to Helioslough if they got the go-ahead.

HCC, which is under covenant to restore the land to its former agricultural status, has always supported the district council in its fight against the proposal along with numerous other objectors, including train operator First Capital Connect.

But it argues that the scheme should continue to be strongly opposed on planning grounds as the Government could back a compulsory purchase order because a rail depot is a strategic development which would be considered exceptional grounds for stepping in.

Helioslough's revised application is expected to be with council planning officers by the end of the month. As in the previous submission, it includes five huge warehouses with 20-metre-high lighting masts and parking for more than 2,000 vehicles.

A country park alongside the terminal is also proposed, which Helioslough insists will mitigate the loss of Green Belt land.

The proposals were put on display at a public exhibition at the Noke Hotel earlier this month, at which protesters from STRiFE (Stop the Rail Freight Interchange) appeared. The campaign group fought their own case at the inquiry last year with funding from the local community and they are preparing to fight the proposals again.

Those interested in helping should contact info@strife.biz or call 07710 327969.

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