Has Pickles changed his mind over rail freight?

A NEW government statement about the need for a network of rail freight interchanges, particularly in the south east, has renewed fears about the future development of Radlett Airfield.

Last week Transport Secretary Justine Greening and Communities Secretary Eric Pickles issued a joint statement about the need for Strategic Rail Freight Interchanges (SRFIs) to support growth and create employment.

It was prompted by concerns that despite support for more freight going by rail, the industry was facing problems developing SRFIs in appropriate locations to serve major conurbations.

But the statement comes at the same time as Mr Pickles is seeking views on how he should respond to a High Court Order quashing a decision he took last year to dismiss a second appeal by developers Helioslough which wants to develop the former airfield in Park Street as an SRFI.

The appeal was into St Albans council’s decision to refuse planning permission for the scheme but the High Court judge found that Mr Pickles had not properly explained his reason for disagreeing with the recommendation of his planning inspector’s recommendation that the SRFI on the Green Belt site in Park Street should be allowed.

Mr Pickles had argued that a similar proposal in Colnbrook, Slough, could potentially meet the need for such a development without causing as much harm to the Green Belt as it would at Radlett Airfield.

The joint statement in Parliament stressed that it was important that SRFIs were located near the business markets they would serve and linked to key supply chain routes.

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Both ministers made it clear that the statement should be used in decision making on any applications for SRFIs while a national policy statement is formulated and agreed.

But local action group STRiFE - Stop The Rail Freight Exchange - believes that nothing has been announced that alters the current situation regarding Radlett Airfield.

They maintain that the interim statement, while shorter and more concise than the new consultation document when it is published, does not in their opinion differ fundamentally from the SRFI policy document published in 2004.

Spokesperson Cathy Bolshaw said: STRiFE was seeking legal advice on the invitation by Mr Pickles to submit further representations on the national policy statement and would make them public in due course.