Proposed Park Street bypass will have “little benefit”: St Albans MP

Anne Main

Anne Main - Credit: Archant

There has been a backlash against the developers of the loathed rail freight depot after they announced plans to push ahead with their Green Belt scheme.

cllr Robert Gordon

cllr Robert Gordon - Credit: Archant

The Herts Advertiser broke the news two weeks ago that, ahead of building a 400-acre Strategic Rail Freight Interchange (SRFI), Segro expected to lodge an application with St Albans district council for the go-ahead to turn 600 acres of fields around the depot’s site, at the former Radlett airfield, and in nearby London Colney, into a country park.

This was described as mitigation against the loss of Green Belt, in line with conditions attached to outline planning approval controversially approved by former Secretary of State Eric Pickles in 2014.

The developer’s business unit director, Gareth Osborn, spoke of benefits to the community, including thousands of jobs and a new bypass for Park Street, through Hedges Farm on the Gorhambury Estate, adjacent to the proposed terminal.

He also said it would shortly make an offer to Herts county council to buy the former aerodrome.

St Albans MP Anne Main said: “I wasn’t at all surprised to see Segro building up their public profile.

“There are many things that I would take issue with. The bypass will have little benefit to Park Street and will act mainly as a service point to the site.

“I take issue with the use of [the word] ‘strategic’. The government’s original criteria was being close to its workforce and away from communities – this proposal fails miserably on those fronts.”

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Anne added: “It was telling that Mr Osborn did not know how much had been spent on the development. St Albans council has had to use significant resources fighting a deeply unpopular and inappropriate development.”

She said that Gareth’s statement about replacing the Green Belt with a managed country park was, “bizarre, and shows a fundamental lack of appreciation of what the green belt is, and why it is important to St Albans.

“This has done nothing to reassure me or local people that a rail freight site in Park Street is appropriate, and shows just how out of touch Segro are with public opinion.”

Cllr Robert Gordon, the leader of Herts county council, said: “I have said on previous occasions that the council does not wish to dispose of this land for the interchange and will do so only if legally obliged to. We cannot take legal advice until we have an offer.”

He disputed comments in last week’s Herts Advertiser by anti-rail freight campaigner, Cllr Sandy Walkington, that the authority would “take 30 pieces of silver” for the site despite local opposition.

Cllr Gordon asserted the council had never said it wished to take the land out of the Green Belt.

He pointed out that it had called for possible alternative schemes to the depot, which had resulted in two housing developers signalling their interest – such a development could be seen as “less objectionable”.

Cllr Gordon said he was well aware of local residents’ opposition to the rail freight scheme, and that when Segro did make an offer, “anything we do will not be done in a hurry. We will take our time and get it right.”

A local campaigner, Andy Love, who has an online petition calling for a reconsideration of Mr Pickles’ approval of the interchange, told Cllr Gordon: “Please show us that you care about the thousands of Herts residents who will be blighted by such a massive development. I have faith that you and your council will do the right thing for the people of St Albans and this part of the county – please don’t let us and future generations down.”