Radlett rail freight site could ease St Albans district’s housing needs

St Albans MP Anne Main

St Albans MP Anne Main - Credit: Archant

Alternative uses for the site earmarked for a rail freight depot could ease a lot of the district’s problems according to MP Anne Main.

Oliver Dowden speaking in the House of Commons

Oliver Dowden speaking in the House of Commons - Credit: Archant

She has battled long and hard against the scheme from Helioslough to build a Strategic Rail Freight Interchange (SRFI) on Radlett Airfield and now believes that the door is open to St Albans council to consider a different form of development on the 119-hectare Green Belt site.

Her belief has been bolstered by a parliamentary response to Hertsmere MP Oliver Dowden from Housing Minister Brandon Lewis about whether an existing planning permission - as Helioslough has for Radlett Airfield - precludes other applications being received.

In his question to the Housing Minister, Mr Dowden specifically referred to whether permission for “an alternative, less intrusive form of development would be permitted in that location” even though it was in the Green Belt.

He also asked whether amendments to the Local Plan - the council’s planning blueprint which is currently out for consultation - would be possible to facilitate new proposals. Mr Lewis confirmed that both would be permitted subject to planning permission.

Last week the Herts Advertiser revealed that the county council had invited developers to submit expressions of interest for the site. Among possible uses suggested in the document are residential, a solar park or hospital, subject to planning permission.

Mrs Main said this week that the possibility of an alternative development needed to be explored and urged St Albans council to consider the former airfield as a possible low density housing site in the Strategic Local Plan.

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She went on: “I believe this land is lost to the Green Belt and sad though it is, it has been blighted by the granting of planning permission. it is no longer an option of rail freight or field.”

She warned that there would be pressure for more housing in the district for the next 20 to 30 years and said there was a case for a slow release of housing on the land to meet that.

Additionally the site could be used for businesses, a park and ride scheme to take pressure off local roads and if the Bricket Wood loop on the Abbey Flyer was reopened to allow trains in both directions, it could resolve rail access difficulties for people living in that part of the district.

Mrs Main said: “This is a decision for the local authority but given the strength of feeling against rail freight, if there is an opportunity within the law to explore this, we should go for it.”

Mr Dowden commented: “The principle of development on the Green Belt with regard to the site of the proposed rail terminal has already been breached.

“Ideally I would prefer that there be no development on the Green Belt but if there is going to be some development then I would prefer that all alternatives to the rail terminal are explored.”

He added: “The rail freight terminal would clog up our roads with lorries, jam the Thameslink line with freight trains and spoil our surrounding countryside. We should do all we can to avoid it.”