Has county council shifted its stance on St Albans rail freight scheme?

Herts Ad editor Matt Adams, Anne Main MP and Cllr Sandy Walkington with rail freight campaigners out

Herts Ad editor Matt Adams, Anne Main MP and Cllr Sandy Walkington with rail freight campaigners outside County Hall - Credit: Archant

A petition signed by 11,500 people against rail freight proposals for the St Albans district may have led to a ‘significant shift’ in the county council’s view on the issue according to MP Anne Main.

The St Albans MP felt that last Tuesday’s debate triggered by the petition calling on the county council not to sell land at Radlett Airfield in Park Street to developers Helioslough had sparked recognition that it was not just the district which would be affected by a rail freight terminal but the whole of Herts.

Mrs Main said afterwards: “When Oliver Dowden [MP for Hertsmere] and I wrote to all Hertfordshire county councillors back in September, we made the point that there would be “potential devastating county-wide consequences”.

“Today was the perfect opportunity to discuss the consequences on the county and the impact on businesses, commuters, infrastructure and local residents.”

She added: ‘I was pleased to see the council adopting a motion stating that they would proactively seek alternative uses for the site if they were legally obliged to sell the land. This is a clear statement of intent and is a significant shift in the county’s opposition to rail freight.”

The Herts Advertiser has been at the forefront of the campaign against a rail freight depot for the past decade and promoted the petition which had to reach 10,000 signatures to trigger the debate at County Hall.

It called on the county council not to sell the 300-acre Green Belt site to Helioslough - which finally has planning permission after years of public inquiries and legal action - and to recognise its duty to local residents.

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Matt Adams, editor of the Herts Advertiser, addressed the packed meeting at County Hall and handed over the petition.

He told councillors and members of the public: “The impact of this scheme goes beyond the district of St Albans and will affect thousands of people across the county and further afield. It will completely transform this part of Hertfordshire forever, and there is unprecedented grassroots opposition to the scheme and the sale of this Green Belt site.

“Related lorry movements alone will impact on the county as a whole, with major routes clogged up by increased amount of traffic, leading to congestion and delays which will potentially damage wider city and business community and also further reduce air quality, which is already poor in this part of the county.

“We believe the county council should strive to protect this site as part of the Green Belt but if this is not possible then it should proactively seek alternative uses which would secure at least equivalent public value, instead of relying on the one option of development for a rail freight depot.”

During the debate, Lib Dem Cllr Sandy Walkington, another long-time opponent of the scheme, said: “It is the biggest single issue to have confronted this county and this council in modern times. It goes way beyond party politics.”

Looking towards members of the county council’s cabinet, who will make the decision once Helioslough make a formal offer for the land, he added: “With all legal avenues exhausted, you are where the rubber hits the road.”

In response to the petition county council leader Cllr Robert Gordon received unanimous support for his proposal that the authority recognised that its prime duty was to local residents and Herts.

He wanted that legally they might not have any choice but to sell the land but should that time come, they would seek alternative uses for the site to secure at least equivalent value.