St Albans City want assurance over rail freight site bid

St Albans City FC Owners Lawrence Levy and John McGowan in front of the main stand at Clarence Park

St Albans City FC Owners Lawrence Levy and John McGowan in front of the main stand at Clarence Park - Credit: Archant

Assurances are being sought from the county council that a rival bid to the controversial strategic rail freight development mooted for the Radlett Airfield is not a waste of time.

St Albans City Football Club is keen to submit an alternative plan to Helioslough’s bid to turn the Green Belt site in Park Street into a rail freight interchange spread over 3.5 million square feet.

And some neighbouring residents have already signalled their support for the club.

Co-owner of the Saints, John McGowan, has written to Herts county council, which owns the 119-hectare site, offering to buy and build a football stadium and houses there.

The council recently deferred a decision on selling the land to Helioslough, saying it would instead consider “rational” alternative schemes.

Mr McGowan has this month pressed the council to confirm whether there is a legal agreement committing the council to sell to Helioslough, should Secretary of State for Communities Eric Pickles give the green light to the rail freight scheme.

Mr Pickles had previously indicated that he was “minded” to approve it, but the council has urged him to review his conclusion as it disagreed with his assertion that factors weighing in its favour outweighed the harm.

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Mr McGowan told the council he has “investors in place” and was meeting planning officers at St Albans district council ahead of submitting a planning application.

He told the Herts Advertiser: “I don’t know where we stand. Submitting schemes costs money, so we need to know whether we are wasting our time.”

Residents said while they would rather the Green Belt was kept as an open space, they would prefer having a stadium and houses than a giant interchange.

Julie Beeton of Harper Lane, Radlett, said: “I think it would bring something to the community, and I would rather see something local using the area.”

Zenobia and Veraf Khambatta of Park Street Lane, Park Street, said that if the rival scheme included leisure facilities, it would be a better option.

A spokewoman for the county council said it would consider whether or not to sell or lease the land after Mr Pickles announces his decision, and “after any legal challenge to that decision is complete”.

She added: “If we are legally obliged to dispose of the land, while we would have to take into account that [Mr Pickles] had granted permission for the rail freight scheme and our fiduciary duties, we would then consider all offers then available, not just Helioslough’s.”