Scandal as Radlett rail freight decision is delayed

JUST hours after angry St Albans MP Anne Main fired off a letter to Prime Minister David Cameron voicing concerns over inappropriate rail freight lobbying, an announcement was made that a decision on the Park Street scheme was being delayed.

St Albans council was notified last Thursday that a decision due to be announced on or before today (Thursday) on the future of the planned rail freight depot on Radlett Airfield had been put back until mid June.

The surprise announcement came after Mrs Main and her Hertsmere counterpart James Clappison learned that there had been a “private” meeting between Transport Minister Theresa Villiers and Simon Hoare, lobbyist on behalf of developers Helioslough, last August at which the subject of the Strategic Rail Freight Interchange (SRFI) in Radlett was discussed.

Subsequently Mr Hoare sent an email to her department entitled Radlett SRFI – The Economic Benefits, which, Ms Villiers said, she had passed on to policy officials in her department to respond to.

She stressed that it had not been sent to ministers in the Department for Transport or the Department for Communities and Local Government.

Last month the Herts Advertiser revealed that Mrs Main and Mr Clappison had been given just 15 minutes notice that a planned meeting with Transport Secretary Justine Greening about the Radlett SRFi had been cancelled because it was felt to be inappropriate with the decision pending.

So after learning that Mr Hoare had met Ms Villiers, Mrs Main went in her own words, “a bit nuclear” and had a letter hand-delivered last Thursday lunchtime to David Cameron and Justine Greening about “inappropriate meetings” on the SRFI issue.

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Only a matter of hours later, the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) announced that the decision on the SRFI was being delayed.

Mrs Main said this week: “I wrote to David Cameron saying I was concerned that if the Helioslough scheme was granted, there had been inappropriate meetings to discuss the matter, coming after access to us had been refused and to those fighting it.

“Then at 4.30pm I was sent notification that the decision was on hold to allow the new national planning policy statement to be considered.”

She added: “I am now going to fight every inch of the way to make sure that we have a fair and transparent decision.”

When she heard of the meeting between Mr Hoare and Ms Villiers, Mrs Main alerted action group STRiFE – Stop The Rail Freight Exchange. They immediately got their solicitors to question the “very serious questions raised by this episode” in a letter to the DCLG.

STRiFE are asking to see notes of the meeting between Ms Villiers and Simon Hoare, the document about the economic benefits of the SRFI – which the action group has never seen – and who it was sent to and full details of any other meetings between Helioslough and government departments.

They are also calling for an opportunity to make representations on that material prior to the decision which is now scheduled to be made on or before June 13.

DCLG Secretary of State Eric Pickles had been due to make an announcement on or before today (Thursday) on his ruling over the Helioslough submission for Radlett Airfield.

It follows his decision in 2010 to overrule his planning inspector and refuse planning permission for the 3.5 million sq m scheme taking the view that a similar proposal in Colnbrook, Slough, could potentially meet the need for an SRFI without causing as much harm to the Green Belt as it would in Park Street.

But Helioslough challenged the ruling in the High Court and it was referred back to Mr Pickles to explain his decision.

Mr Pickles is now inviting parties to comment on the relevance of the National Planning Policy Framework which came into force last week before he makes a final decision.