Early appeal anger in rail freight fight

PUBLISHED: 14:52 10 August 2009 | UPDATED: 14:19 06 May 2010

ANGER over an attempt to set a date for a rail freight inquiry before the planning application had been decided shows no sign of abating. Developers Helioslough, who want to build the rail terminal on the former Radlett Airfield in Park Street, had contac

ANGER over an attempt to set a date for a rail freight inquiry before the planning application had been decided shows no sign of abating.

Developers Helioslough, who want to build the rail terminal on the former Radlett Airfield in Park Street, had contacted the district council a month before last week's planning committee meeting to try and set a date for a public inquiry.

And one St Albans resident is still so furious about it that she has complained to the Planning Inspectorate about Helioslough's behaviour.

Vanessa Gregory has asked the Planning Inspectorate to hold a full inquiry into the circumstances and has warned that if she is not happy with the outcome, she will refer it to the Ombudsman.

Helioslough's application was unanimously turned down at last week's meeting of St Albans planning referrals committee on 14 separate grounds, including the impact on the Green Belt and the lack of an adequate alternative sites survey.

The company has never made any secret of the fact that it would go to appeal if necessary particularly as the then Secretary of State Hazel Blears ruled after the first public inquiry that she would have been minded to approve the application if Helioslough had been able to prove there were no acceptable alternative sites for such a scheme.

On June 24 Helioslough's agent contacted the district council to seek the date of October 20 for a public inquiry.

Subsequently the council wrote back to say it would be premature to consider the issue until after the planning referrals meeting.

The council's planning portfolio holder, Cllr Chris Brazier, said this week that he understood Helioslough was still hoping for the October 20 date for the inquiry even though it was less than three months away. He commented: "It doesn't give us any time so I would expect our counsel to say we need time to prepare our case. I am not going to be browbeaten on this."

Doug Hirst of the action group STRiFE - Stop The Rail Freight Exchange - said they believed there were three reasons why Helioslough wanted an early inquiry.

One was because developers Goodmans had sent a representation to the council last week to say they wanted to develop a site at Colnbrook in Slough as a rail freight exchange - a site which would be in the same strategic area as Radlett Airfield and was already in the local Slough plan as a potential site for such a use.

The second was because later this year the Department for Local Government was due to issue a policy statement on national networks which is expected to refer to rail freight terminals.

Mr Hirst said: "It might come up with intentions that won't suit their needs."

The third reason, STRiFE believes, is the imminent general election which could result in a change of government.

Mr Hirst added: "Last time it took eight months from the planning decision to a public inquiry and this time they are trying to railroad it through in three.


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