Park Street rail freight sale deferred

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Put the Brakes on Freight - Herts Advertiser campaign - Credit: Archant

The county council has done an about-face on its proposed sale of the Radlett Airfield, deferring a decision on selling the site to Helioslough.

And it has stated that it is willing to hear of alternative “rational” uses for the Green Belt site, instead of the massive rail freight terminal being pushed by the developers.

But it has called upon the Secretary of State for Local Government Eric Pickles to make up his mind one way or the other about the future of the 119 hectare site in Park Street.

Councillors at today’s (Monday) Herts county council cabinet meeting rejected officers’ calls to immediately dispose of the former Radlett Airfield.

Instead, after several hours of debate they approved a raft of measures aimed at shelving the sale of the site - for now.

Speeches were made by St Albans MP Anne Main, the head of legal services at St Albans district council Mike Lovelady, and representatives of action group Stop the Rail Freight Exchange and St Stephen parish council, all opposing Helioslough’s proposed purchase.

Those speaking against the sale were loudly applauded by those in the public gallery.

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About 80 residents and representatives of the district council attended the meeting, held at the council’s chambers in Hertford.

After representatives of Helioslough spoke in support of the sale, council leader Cllr Robert Gordon surprised those attending by suddenly announcing a raft of alternative recommendations to those suggested by officers.

Among the measures approved, the council:

• Disagreed with the Secretary of State’s conclusion that factors weighing in favour of permitting the Strategic Rail Freight Interchange (SRFI) scheme outweighed the harm.

• Agreed to enter a s106 planning obligation in respect of the land, but signalled this does not imply its support for the scheme. The s106 agreement with Helioslough will now be finalised.

• Urged Mr Pickles, who in December 2012 indicated he was “minded” to approve the scheme, to instead review his conclusion.

• Deferred any decision on the possible sale of the land pending an “absolute decision” by Mr Pickles and the final outcome of any legal challenge.

Also, the council has called upon the Secretary of State to base his final decision on any changes in circumstances since his decision was made a year ago, such as the merits of alternative sites which may have since emerged.

The council said should planning consent be granted, it would make a decision on the sale of the site, taking into consideration “any alternative uses then available and its fiduciary duty”.

This could mean that the council “might not” dispose of the land for use as a SRFI, “if a rational alternative was available”.

After the meeting the cabinet’s sudden about-turn was hailed by local councillors.

Lib Dem prospective candidate for St Albans and county councillor, Cllr Sandy Walkington said: “There was a rare example of political unanimity in the universal condemnation of Eric Pickles. We live to fight another day, and fight we will.”

St Stephen’s Cllr Aislinn Lee said: “At last the county seems to have come off the fence over this issue. I hope it’s not too late, and we see off this development once and for all.”