New hope in Radlett rail freight battle

NEW national planning policies should help Communities Secretary Eric Pickles refuse permission for a giant rail freight depot in St Albans according to the district council and the city’s MP.

Both the council and MP Anne Main have responded to an invitation to comment on the relevance of the new National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) to the scheme for a Strategic Rail Freight Interchange (SRFI) on Radlett Airfield in Park Street.

And both parties believe that the case against the Helioslough scheme has been strengthened by the NPPF with its strong emphasis on sustainability.

Mr Pickles had been due to announce his decision on the SRFI in Park Street this month after being told by the High Court to review his decision to overrule his planning inspector on the grounds that a similar proposal for a rail freight terminal in Colnbrook, Slough, would potentially be less damaging.

But it has now been put off until June and interested parties invited to comment on the relevance to the application of the new NPPF.

St Albans council maintains that the advent of the NPPF does not “fetter” the Secretary of State’s ability to reach the same conclusion as previously with regard to an SRFI at Colnbrook.

It singles out the fact that planning should be plan led and empower local people to shape their surroundings, pointing out that local residents are overwhelmingly against the scheme.

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And it also comments on a reference to community forests which says they, “may be a material consideration in preparing development plans and in deciding planning applications”, highlighting the fact that Radlett is within the Watling Chase community forest but Colnbrook is not within a forest.

The council’s planning portfolio holder, Cllr Teresa Heritage, commented: “The NPPF strengthens what the Green Belt is all about and it is the first time a community forest has been mentioned in planning as such.”

She was also hopeful that the council’s case had been strengthened by the conflict between the NPPF and the so-called strategic gap policy in the Slough core strategy which had played a major part in Helioslough’s objection to the Colnbrook development.

In her response, Anne Main also highlights the fact that sustainability is integral to the new planning framework and the SRFI at Park Street had always been regarded as unsustainable by local residents and the council.

She went on: “Not only does the SRFI criteria highlight the need for access to a reliable skilled workforce but also stresses the importance of proximity. However it was accepted at the appeal stage that given the lack and indeed deficit of blue collar workers in and around St Albans, it would be necessary to recruit and transport a suitable workforce from areas as far afield as Luton, North London and wherever they could be found.”

Colnbrook, she went on, not only had a ready pool of blue collar workers in neighbouring areas such as Slough but was also far better connected to the existing infrastructure of motorway and rail services.

Mrs Main said this week: “I think it is very important that we get a chance to comment on the new framework particularly as the statement is supposed to be encouraging sustainability.”