Mixed messages over St Albans rail freight scheme

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A bid to get planning permission overturned for a massive rail freight depot in Park Street in the wake of a ruling on a similar scheme in Slough has been unsuccessful.

St Albans MP Anne Main called on the new Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, Sajid Javid, to reconsider the decision by the then Secretary of State Eric Pickles to grant permission for Helioslough to build a Strategic Rail Freight Interchange (SRFI) on the former Radlett Airfield in 2014.

She took the step after Mr Javid’s immediate predecessor Greg Clarke dismissed an appeal by Goodman Logistics Development (UK) to build an international freight exchange at Colnbrook near Slough.

Mr Clarke backed the planning inspector who had conducted the public inquiry into the Colnbrook scheme that the appeal proposal would be inappropriate development in the Green Belt and as such, would be harmful and conflict with national policies.

The same arguments have been made by Mrs Main, St Albans council and objectors to the Green Belt SRFI scheme over the past 10 years and before she contacted Mr Javid, the MP said: “This shows that whilst railfreight interchanges may be considered within the national framework of policy, the substantial weight of harm that would be inflicted in St Albans and the surrounding areas of Park Street and Radlett would have to be seriously considered.

““It is my strong opinion that it has never been demonstrated that the SRFI proposals in Radlett outweighs the damage that will be inflicted upon these communities by a railfreight terminal.”

But in his reply to Mrs Main on behalf of Mr Javid, housing and planning minister Gavin Barwell said it was not appropriate to reconsider the SRFI decision on the basis of a subsequent decision on the Colnbrook scheme and that each scheme had to be judged on its merits.

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Mrs Main commented: ‘Although this was not the answer I wanted to hear, I do find it baffling that the former Secretary of State refused Colnbrook for reasons similar to our own in Park Street.”

A petition calling on Mr Javid to overturn the SRFI planning permission has been set up online by campaigner Andy Love. It will require 10,000 signatures to be considered by government and the link is https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/163853

* Network Rail has admitted it cannot give the St Albans MP its ‘final position’ on the impact of freight traffic on passenger services should the SRFI be built.

Mrs Main and Hertsmere MP Oliver Dowden had sought assurances from Network Rail that freight access to the SRFI wuld not adversely affect services on the Thameslink route.

And while Network Rail has confirmed that Helioslough’s parent company Segro had provided the first draft of their pathing evaluation study for the rail company to consider, the developers had been asked to commission further evaluation work.

Consequently Network Rail said that it would be premature to establish the viability of overall timetable and pathing solutions for the SRFI - although the rail company was ‘optimistic’ that accommodating the SRFI traffic within existing unallocated freight paths on the south end of the Midland Main Line was viable.

But Mrs Main said this week that on the issue of timetabling, “this simply confirms something that we’ve believed all along.

“We’ve never seen any evidence of how a railfreight [interchange] would work in practice. Despite many questions for over a decade now, it doesn’t appear that we’re any closer to seeing a comprehensive timetable for freight and passenger services on the line.”