Rail Freight Battle Enters Round Two

PUBLISHED: 16:39 24 November 2009 | UPDATED: 14:41 06 May 2010

Aerial image of what the Park Street rail freight depot would look like

Aerial image of what the Park Street rail freight depot would look like

OPENING submissions from all three sides involved in the rail freight inquiry were heard as proceedings kicked off this morning (Tuesday.)

Helioslough defended their 3.5 million-square-metre proposal for Green Belt land in Park Street, while the district coun

OPENING submissions from all three sides involved in the rail freight inquiry were heard as proceedings kicked off this morning (Tuesday.)

Helioslough defended their 3.5 million-square-metre proposal for Green Belt land in Park Street, while the district council and action group STRiFE (Stop the Rail Freight Exchange) spoke out fervently against the plans.

The council's decision to reject the first planning application for the scheme was upheld following a public inquiry in 2007 which lasted nearly eight weeks.

But in her decision letter, the then Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, Hazel Blears, indicated that the harm to the Green Belt could have been outweighed if it had been proved that there were no alternative sites in the northwest quadrant of the M25.

Helioslough barrister QC Martin Kingston referred to this letter in his opening speech and criticised the council for initially trying to fight the application on the same 14 grounds which they used during the first inquiry.

Although the council has dropped a number of those grounds on the advice of the inspector Andrew Mead during a pre-inquiry hearing, Mr Kingston said the process had not been "graceful or timely". But he said he was "heartened" by the approach taken by the county council in withdrawing their highways objections.

Mr Kingston dismissed most aspects of the council's case and accused them of using different witnesses to present old arguments in a different form.

He concluded by saying that he saw no reason why planning permission should not be granted following this appeal.

But the council's barrister, Matthew Reed, pointed out that a number of material changes had come to light since the last inquiry.

Those include SFRI (strategic rail freight interchange) applications being passed for Howbury Park in South East London and the London Gateway in Thurrock, Essex, where implementation has already started.

Mr Reed said that eliminated any pressing need for a new terminal in the region and that further developments should not precede pending studies which would comprehensively analyse the appropriate locations for SFRI to serve London and the South East.

Furthermore, Mr Reed argued that Helioslough's alternative sites report should encompass an area wider than the northwest quadrant of the M25 as any such development would serve London and the South East as a whole.

The council has undertaken its own alternative sites assessment on this wider area which shows there are a number of sites better than Radlett.

Barrister Paul Stinchcombe, on behalf of campaign group STRiFE, said current national policy supported the development of three to four SRFIs to serve London and the South East by 2015 which could be met by 400,000 square metres of rail-related warehousing.

But he pointed out that the two schemes passed since the last inquiry amounted to well over 1,000,000 square metres of such space already - more than 2.5 times what was required.

He said: "The grant of those planning permissions must amount to a very considerable change in planning circumstances since the Secretary of State's previous decision letter. The entire need case has, quite simply, been transformed."

In addition, the district council and STRiFE both argued that there were inadequate rail paths available to enable the site to perform as an SFRI which would result in it being a road-to-road terminal. They also raised concerns about noise pollution, the destruction of 172 hectares of Green Belt and the harm to ecology.

The inquiry, which is taking place in the district council chamber, is set to last 16 days and will hear from a range of witnesses.

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