Rail freight terminal inquiry underway

PUBLISHED: 11:07 07 November 2007 | UPDATED: 12:45 06 May 2010

A PUBLIC inquiry into the council s refusal to grant developers permission to build a massive rail freight terminal on Green Belt land near St Albans is underway. Proceedings began on Tuesday in St Albans District Council chamber and are expected to last

A PUBLIC inquiry into the council's refusal to grant developers permission to build a massive rail freight terminal on Green Belt land near St Albans is underway.

Proceedings began on Tuesday in St Albans District Council chamber and are expected to last for at least six weeks and could cost local taxpayers £1 million.

During that time Government Planning Inspector Andrew Phillipson will hear evidence from a variety of experts called by the council, action group STRiFE and developers Helioslough together with that of local groups and the public.

Earlier this year the council rejected Helioslough's proposal for a 3.5-million-square-feet depot on the former Radlett Airfield site. It would comprise five huge warehouses with 20-metre-high lighting masts and parking for more than 2,000 vehicles together with a potential new bypass for Park Street.

Martin Kingston QC made the opening submissions on behalf of Helioslough, claiming that no other site lent itself as well to a rail freight depot development and he gave details of the country park included in the plans to mitigate the loss of Green Belt the interchange would inflict.

He maintained: "The area as it presently stands is marred by visual and environmental problems." He went on to claim that the site's ecological value and potential for public recreation was not being fully utilised as it stood.

He said that 80 per cent of the site would be devoted to landscaping which even prompted a "positive Green Belt case to be considered".

According to Helioslough, the "exceptional circumstances" required to build on Green Belt were satisfied by the identified need for freight to be taken off the roads and onto rail to reduce congestion and pollution.

But Paul Stinchcombe representing STRiFE said that Helioslough's proposal was "pre-emptive" of any strategic policy overview to decide where interchanges were to be located.

He said that many local residents enjoyed the Green Belt in question and that the development would inflict increased noise levels on their lives, as well as causing coalescence between St Albans, London Colney and Radlett, and effectively outer London.

Because of the area's high prosperity and employment, he claimed there was not a large workforce readily available for the interchange, meaning that commuters would add to the very congestion rail freight set out to reduce.

"The irony is almost painful," he said.

Mr Stinchcombe also claimed there would be 3,000 daily HGV movements routed via the A414 to access the motorways because the Highways Agency had denied Helioslough direct access onto the M25.

Additionally, he said the proposal would contravene the preservation of St Albans, another reason why the Green Belt was established, and that it would "obliterate" views of the Abbey from the Thameslink line.

Matthew Reed, representing St Albans District and Hertsmere Borough Councils', further augmented STRiFE's views and said the development would lead to the removal of animal habitats and cause light pollution.

He argued the development would adversely affect the Park Street and Napsbury Conservation Areas by blocking or obstructing a number of views.

He also said the development would be a "predominately road-based facility" and suggested other locations were better placed.

He ended by saying the "very special circumstances" required to justify the development could not be established.

Among the interested parties who will be giving evidence in forthcoming weeks are the Civic Society, St Albans Community Forest Association, the Ramblers Association and residents associations from Chiswell Green, Park Street and Bricket Wood.

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