EXCLUSIVE: St Albans stabbed in the back over Park Street rail freight site

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Betrayal – that was the word on people’s lips this week after it emerged that the county council is prepared to sell Radlett Airfield to rail freight developers Helioslough.

Papers for the crucial county cabinet panel meeting on Monday week, December 9, reveal that officers are recommending that the council disposes of land which, if Helioslough gets planning permission for its massive rail freight scheme, would be worth millions of pounds to them.

The recommendation flies in the face of years of campaigning by local people, two public inquiries and several legal challenges in a bid to prevent Helioslough getting planning permission for and acquiring Radlett Airfield to build their Strategic Rail Freight Interchange (SRFI) in Park Street.

The development of five massive warehouses – one of which would be bigger than Heathrow Terminal five – and a rail connection to the Midland Main Line had been condemned for the huge impact it would have not just on the local area but also the whole of South West Herts.

Secretary of State Eric Pickles, who had previously turned down the Helioslough application, did an about-turn in December last year and said he was minded to approve it subject to planning agreements.

But it was always felt that if the county council decided not to lease or sell the land to Helioslough, the SRFI would be a non starter.

Final hopes had been resting on the county council cabinet meeting on December 9 which pressure group STRiFE – Stop the Rail Freight Exchange – described last week as D-Day for this “monstrous proposal on our Green Belt”.

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Lib Dem prospective candidate for St Albans and county councillor, Cllr Sandy Walkington, said yesterday that the county council had “betrayed St Albans for 30 pieces of silver.”

He went on: “St Albans and Park Street were stabbed in the front by Eric Pickles when he suddenly reversed his previous decision and said he was minded to approve the scheme. Now we are being stabbed in the back by his Conservative colleagues at County Hall.”

County Cllr Aislinn Lee, who represents the St Stephen division of St Albans which takes in Radlett Airfield, said she would oppose “this terrible recommendation by all possible means.”

And Cathy Bolshaw of STRiFE commented: “I am extremely sad that this monstrous development is now looking likely that it will really go ahead. St Albans and the surrounding villages will never be the same again.”

The county council has taken independent legal advice about the future of the 119-hectare Radlett Airfield. In his report QC Rhodri Price Lewis said that because Mr Pickles had reached a conclusion on the planning merits of the scheme, all that was left was for the county council to look at the purposes for which it holds the land.

He said it was difficult to see a rational reason for not making the land available and if the county council decided to hold on to it they could be challenged in the courts.

Officers say the former airfield is currently valued at £1.785 million but with planning permission it would be worth at least a minimum of 10 times that value.

STRiFE is urging people to turn up at County Hall at 10am on December 9 in a show of strength to demonstrate that the local community does not want the SRFI.