Radlett rail freight debate heats up

PUBLISHED: 11:55 04 December 2009 | UPDATED: 14:44 06 May 2010

A WAR of words is well underway between opposing factions involved in the rail freight inquiry. Witnesses ranging from members of the action group STRiFE (Stop the Rail Freight Exchange) to concerned local residents and a noise expert gathered at the dist

A WAR of words is well underway between opposing factions involved in the rail freight inquiry.

Witnesses ranging from members of the action group STRiFE (Stop the Rail Freight Exchange) to concerned local residents and a noise expert gathered at the district council offices in St Albans on Tuesday to voice their opposition to Helioslough's proposal for a rail freight depot on Green Belt land in Park Street.

Adrian Wallace, who moved to Park Street from London in 2005 to escape the noise of the city, told the hearing that the building of a rail freight depot on 172 hectares of Green Belt land would be, "vandalism on an extraordinary scale".

He added: "The local residents make great use of the beautiful Green Belt land surrounding Park Street and I cannot stress enough how devastated we would all be should we lose it. The industrial insanity proposed by Helislough would result in noise, air and light pollution and I do not think St Albans would recover from it."

Mr Wallace also suggested that nearby Hedges Farm, which he regularly visited with his young daughter, was "likely to disappear" should the freight scheme go ahead, and that replacing it with the proposed country park would give the countryside a "plastic and plainly hollow" appearance.

But Helioslough's junior barrister David Forsdick, who was standing in for the company's barrister Martin Kingston, said that only a quarter of Hedges Farm would be sacrificed to accommodate the terminal and maintained that it could survive as a working farm despite the interruption of the rail freight.

Encroachment

Mr Wallace also argued that the Green Belt land, "safeguards the countryside from encroachment" and that building a freight depot on it would "virtually merge" Park Street and London Colney from East to West, and St Albans and Radlett from North to South.

He added: "The Green Belt is the last barrier preventing urban coalescence and building a rail freight on it will eat significantly into the separation of London Colney, Park Street, St Albans and Radlett. For the inspector to practically dismiss this point at the first inquiry is hard to believe."

But in his cross-examination, Mr Forsdick maintained that it was "quite plain" why the coalescence issue was thrown out at the first inquiry, arguing that "reducing the gap" between the settlements was not the same as "merging neighbourhoods".

Picking up on an earlier point made by Mr Wallace, STRiFE member Doug Hirst, who was also a witness during the first inquiry in 2007, told planning inspector Andrew Mead that there had been "significant changes in circumstances" since the first inquiry such as the development of nearly 200 new residential units at Frogmore.

But Mr Forsdick told the hearing that, "the full implication of those 183 units was assessed at the last inquiry" and accused Mr Hirst of repeating the same arguments he made at the first inquiry, stressing that there have been "no substantial changes in circumstance between then and now".

Mr Hirst, who also argued that a rail freight depot would "severely increase congestion" in and around Park Street, suggested several alternative sites including the "genuine alternative" of the Colnbrook site in Slough, which is already owned by the developers and away from residential settings.


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