MPs back housing on St Albans rail freight site

Mr Dowden and Mrs Main meeting with rail freight campaigners.

Mr Dowden and Mrs Main meeting with rail freight campaigners. - Credit: Archant

MPs have thrown their backing behind calls for housing on Green Belt land earmarked for a rail freight depot.

St Albans MP Anne Main, Hertsmere MP Oliver Dowden and Harpenden MP Bim Afolami, have written a joint letter to Herts county council (HCC), who own the controversial site of the former Radlett Airfield.

Developers HelioSlough are ploughing forward with plans to build a Strategic Rail Freight Interchange (SRFI) on the land but it is likely to be included in the St Albans Local Plan as a 2,300 home development.

The letter asks HCC to refuse to sell the land to HelioSlough: “We are therefore writing to again urge you not to consider commencing any steps towards the sale of the land until St Albans council has an agreed Local Plan which has been approved by planning inspectors.”

HCC said it does not want to sell the land to HelioSlough, but has a duty to make the most money for the taxpayer.

The letter argues housing would be better value for money than an SRFI.

Mrs Main said: “We have to make the case for housing over the completely unwanted rail freight interchange.

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“There is a proven housing need in St Albans with many young people and families crowded out of the market.

“We must deliver the homes my constituents need and this site provides a good opportunity to do just that.

“I hope the council are able to push ahead with housing on this site instead a rail freight terminal that would have little benefit to St Albans residents and could have a major detrimental impact on rail users.”

HelioSlough has tried to take control of the situation by threatening SADC with legal action if it continues to consider the site for housing.

Mr Dowden added: “Any premature sale of the site risks significantly undervaluing it and would not achieve best value for the taxpayers of Hertfordshire.”

Both the SRFI and the Local Plan have had a troubled past - the depot was approved on appeal by former Communities Secretary Eric Pickles in 2014, after a hard fought battle and a trip to the High Court for SADC.

The council had to start a new Local Plan after the previous document was thrown out by the High Court last year.