'New strategy' for St Albans rail freight fight

PUBLISHED: 16:00 13 August 2009 | UPDATED: 14:22 06 May 2010

CAMPAIGNERS are calling for the rail freight terminal application to be put on hold after new information from the Government came to light this week. The Department for Transport will be setting out the strategy for establishing such sites within a Natio

CAMPAIGNERS are calling for the rail freight terminal application to be put on hold after new information from the Government came to light this week.

The Department for Transport will be setting out the strategy for establishing such sites within a National Policy Statement on National Networks, which will be going out to consultation later this year.

And it has emerged that this new document will supersede the Strategic Rail Authority's (SRA) policy for rail freight interchanges published in 2004, on which Helioslough have based their case to develop Radlett Airfield into 3.5 million sq ft of warehousing with associated rail and road infrastructure.

The news came from rail minister Chris Mole in a letter to St Albans MP Anne Main after she wrote to him raising concerns about the proposal, which was unanimously rejected by a planning committee for the second time last month.

Although it remains unclear when the new statement will be implemented as policy, action group STRiFE are calling for Helioslough's application and pending planning inquiry to be put on hold until that time.

Cathy Bolshaw, who has spearheaded the campaign, said it was important to wait for the new statement to be published because it will include up-to-date information on where is best to locate strategic rail freight interchanges (SRFIs).

She said: "We knew that the new policy was coming out towards the end of the year, but what we didn't know was that it is actually going to supersede the current SRA document.

"Because of this, all pending planning applications for SRFIs should be put on hold until this new policy is published."

But Helioslough are pushing for the public inquiry to determine their appeal against the rejection of the plans to start on October 20, and had approached the council with the date a month prior to the application even being decided.

STRiFE believes that the imminent new policy statement is one of the reasons Helioslough are so eager to secure an early public inquiry, as it could jeopardise their proposal.

They also think the developers are concerned about an imminent application for a site in Colnbrook, Slough, which is in the same strategic area as Park Street.

In addition, they believe Helioslough are apprehensive about an application for a site in Kent going to public inquiry in October and a General Election resulting in a change of government, and therefore a change in policy.

But if nothing else, STRiFE are confident that the letter from Mr Mole can be used as strong evidence in the planning inquiry to prove that the application is premature.

Mrs Main said she supported putting the planning inquiry on hold to take into consideration the new policy document rather than using one "nearing the end of its sell-by date."

St Albans planning portfolio holder Chris Brazier said it was "welcome news" that the new policy would overhaul the existing one and thinks Helioslough should wait for it.

Cllr Brazier has already said the council won't allow the developers to pressurise them into agreeing to a date for a public inquiry before they are ready.

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