Rail minister condemned for ‘chaotic’ approach to Park Street rail freight scheme

Put the Brakes on Freight - Herts Advertiser campaign

Put the Brakes on Freight - Herts Advertiser campaign - Credit: Archant

As a vital petition calling for a public debate on the loathed rail freight terminal inches closer to its target of 10,000 signatures, local politicians are seething over the government’s “piecemeal and chaotic” approach to the scheme.

The proposed site of the Radlett rail freight depot

The proposed site of the Radlett rail freight depot - Credit: Archant

St Albans MP Anne Main has recently received a letter from rail minister Claire Perry, after an announcement to delay the electrification of the Midland Mainline.

Commenting on how this could affect Helioslough’s scheme to build a Strategic Rail Freight Interchange on the former Radlett Airfield in Park Street, Ms Perry said, “there may be an indirect impact arising from a temporary pause”.

Despite huge public interest - and widespread angst - in Helioslough’s push for the interchange on Green Belt land, Ms Perry said it was not possible to draw any conclusions on what, if any, impact there would be locally.

Mrs Main said: “This builds on our suspicions that the site will be turned into one big lorry park, and on my concerns that this could potentially have a huge negative impact on Herts commuters.

“First, Network Rail’s funding for major infrastructure improvements was paused, after the chairman was ‘replaced’. Next they were fined by the regulator for mishandling of scheduled works.

“Now we’re told we don’t know the impact of any gauge clearance work until the new chairman [Sir Peter Hendy] has looked into how Network Rail will deliver their upgrades.

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“The lack of clarity surrounding this development must surely mean this cannot go ahead amidst such uncertainty. The whole approach to rail freight has been piecemeal and chaotic.”

Hertsmere MP Oliver Dowden added: “Clearly there appears to be a degree of confusion between government departments, Network Rail and the developer regarding the division of rail improvement works. This needs to be addressed urgently.”

Mr Dowden said that he was “extremely disappointed” to discover that a planning inspector blocked a “very reasonable suggestion” by St Albans district council, which has been fighting against the scheme, to add a condition requiring that the start of works associated with the terminal be put on hold until full feasibility studies into improvement works is completed.

He added: “For this project to be truly a state of the art terminal as opposed to a lorry park, it is important to know whether rail improvement works needed are viable, how much they will cost and what impact there will be.”

Meanwhile, at the time of going to press, an online petition pleading for Herts county council to halt the sale of land to Helioslough had garnered 7,449 signatures.

The Herts Ad along with many locals, including Arsenal legend and football pundit Alan Smith, are backing the petition to compel the authority to discuss the issue in public.

You have until September 26 to add your signature. Click here or Google “Herts petitions Don’t sell the green belt”