More reaction to Radlett rail freight decision

ERIC Pickles has been branded a Scrooge after delivering St Albans’ residents the Christmas present they feared most: the loathed Park Street rail freight depot has effectively been given the go-ahead.

Last Friday’s announcement by the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government to approve the application for a mammoth Strategic Rail Freight Interchange (SRFI) on the Green Belt subject to a planning agreement between St Albans council and developers Helioslough has shocked campaigners, residents and councillors who united to oppose the scheme.

Helioslough’s proposal for an international rail freight exchange, including a road and other infrastructure, will take up 331,665 square metres of land at the former Radlett Aerodrome – the equivalent of over 50 international football fields.

Mr Pickles’ decision comes despite a six-year campaign against it that included two public inquiries.

His announcement was made just days after he rejected options to either reopen the public inquiry into the Radlett appeal, or hold a joint public inquiry into schemes for Radlett Airfield and Colnbrook in Slough.

Defending his decision, Mr Pickles said in his ruling that noise generated by activity on the site during the night “would not be unacceptable”.

He admitted the appeal proposal would be “inappropriate development in the Green Belt and cause further harm through loss of openness and significant encroachment into the countryside.

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“In addition the scheme would contribute to urban sprawl and it would cause harm to the setting of St Albans.”

But he maintained that when the harm to the Green Belt was compared to the need for a SRFI to serve London and the south east, the latter outweighed the impact on the area.

Mr Pickles said he would allow the scheme because of “special circumstances” and the lack of more appropriate alternative sites for such a terminal.

He also took into account proposed improvements to footpaths, bridleways, and a Park Street and Frogmore bypass.

Among the many condemning the Minister’s decision was St Albans district Councillor Robert Donald, Lib Dems leader, who said he was “totally dismayed”.

He added: “I am very angry that this decision was announced just before Christmas since it is treating the public with utter contempt. Deliberately trying to bury bad news over the coming holiday period to avoid adverse publicity and wider media attention is both cynical and insulting.”

Campaign group Stop The Rail Freight Exchange (STRiFE) described it as “devastating news” for the district and south west Herts.

A spokeswoman said that legal advice would be sought about further options available to fight this “monstrous proposal”.

Cllr Teresa Heritage, the council’s portfolio holder for planning, said she was disappointed as the interchange would harm the Green Belt and was contrary to St Albans’ Development Plan.

The council is also taking legal advice regarding the Secretary of State’s ruling.

MP for St Albans Anne Main said she was “devastated on behalf of constituents who fought long and hard against this mindless act of vandalism.”

She went on: “When the Minister discussed this with me I made it clear how angry I was and I find the decision incomprehensible.”

Lib Dem prospective candidate for St Albans, Sandy Walkington, added: “This is a terrible Christmas present for local residents. The timing is disgraceful.”