Rail freight decision day looms, and these are the nine people who will decide the fate of St Albans

PUBLISHED: 06:00 03 September 2015 | UPDATED: 16:12 07 September 2015

Herts County Council cabinet: Front from left: Chris Hayward (Deputy Leader and Cabinet Member for Resources and Performance); Robert Gordon (Leader); Derrick Ashley (Cabinet Member for Environment, Planning and Transport). Back from left: David Williams (Cabinet Member for Enterprise, Education and Skills); Teresa Heritage (Cabinet Member for Public Health, Localism and Libraries); Terry Douris (Cabinet Member for Highways); Richard Roberts (Cabinet Member for Children’s Services); Colette Wyatt-Lowe (Cabinet Member for Adult Care and Health); Richard Thake (Cabinet  Member for Community Safety and Waste Management)

Herts County Council cabinet: Front from left: Chris Hayward (Deputy Leader and Cabinet Member for Resources and Performance); Robert Gordon (Leader); Derrick Ashley (Cabinet Member for Environment, Planning and Transport). Back from left: David Williams (Cabinet Member for Enterprise, Education and Skills); Teresa Heritage (Cabinet Member for Public Health, Localism and Libraries); Terry Douris (Cabinet Member for Highways); Richard Roberts (Cabinet Member for Children's Services); Colette Wyatt-Lowe (Cabinet Member for Adult Care and Health); Richard Thake (Cabinet Member for Community Safety and Waste Management)

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Will they save the district or damn it?

A decision on whether or not to sell land in St Albans for a massive rail freight depot will be taken by the county council’s nine-man cabinet - only two members of which represent the district.

The ‘executive decision’ on the sale of the 119-hectare portion of the former Radlett Airfield site owned by Herts county council has come under fire from St Albans MP Anne Main and pressure group STRiFE - Stop The Rail Freight Exchange.

They are both calling for the whole county council to give full consideration to any sale of the land to developers Helioslough which, after years of public inquiries and legal action, now has planning permission to build a Strategic Rail Freight Interchange (SRFI) on the Green Belt former airfield in Park Street.

But Mrs Main has been told by a chief legal officer at the county council that a decision on the future of the land and whether it should be sold would be made by cabinet following a recommendation from a cabinet panel - which would effectively exclude the full county council from any input into the outcome.

The only two local members of the county cabinet are Cllrs Teresa Heritage and David Williams, both of whom represent Harpenden divisions. The remaining seven represent other parts of Herts.

Mrs Main said this week: “Given that such a momentous decision will have terrible consequences for St Albans and wider implications for Hertfordshire, I think it’s clear we need all the county council’s elected representatives to give this full consideration.

“With the massive impact on commuters, local people and our city, we should call on the county to make sure councillors are fully part of the decision-making process - not just the county’s cabinet. The decision to sell the land for rail freight will have huge consequences for the rest of Hertfordshire.”

Mrs Main added: “By taking time to fully consider the implications of selling the land, councillors would not only be able to discuss the harm that rail freight would cause but, crucially, how any possible alternatives would generate a greater community benefit. The county as a whole must think through all possible consequences.”

Cathy Bolshaw for STRiFE said that the pressure group fully endorsed Mrs Main’s views about the process the county council proposed to adopt to decide whether or not to sell ‘a key piece of land’ to Helioslough.

Describing the SRFI scheme as one of the largest planning applications ever to have been considered in Herts, she said it was unique in the way it has unified and galvanised public opinion as well as generating opposition from all political parties, councils, special interest groups and residents associations.

She said: “Our county councillors are elected to represent the people of Hertfordshire and now, more than ever before, it is imperative that they should collectively decide this matter.”

No date has yet been confirmed for consideration of the approach from Helioslough to buy the Radlett Airfield land in county council ownership. The remainder of the site is in the ownership of Lafarge Aggregates and Gorhambury Estates which are understood to have reached agreement to sell to Helioslough.

The online petition, which can be signed by anyone living in Hertfordshire, can be found here.

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