St Albans loses rail freight appeal

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

Anti rail freight campaigners are reeling after the dismissal of a High Court appeal against a government decision to give the scheme planning permission.

St Albans district council, backed by campaign group STRiFE and local MP Anne Main, contested last year’s ruling by Eric Pickles, Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, that developers Helioslough should be granted planning permission to build a Strategic Rail Freight Interchange (SRFI) on the former Radlett Airfield in Park Street.

But today (Friday) it was revealed that the appeal had been dismissed.

The battle to prevent the SRFI being built on Green Belt land has been going on for the past seven years and has cost local council taxpayers nearly £1.5 million. Following the latest appeal the council has been ordered to pay the Secretary of State’s costs of £13,269. Further costs are currently being assessed.

The council challenged the Secretary of State’s ruling on three points of law - the legality of his approach in making his decision, interpretation of the National Planning Policy Framework and procedural irregularity and inconsistency with particular reference to a recent decision to refuse permission for a waste incinerator on Green Belt land in Hatfield.

Anne Main said: “‘I am left stunned by the judge’s decision. We’re still going through the document to digest the judgement and what our options are. I would welcome the council’s views, but they were right to challenge the decision and follow through on their objections in court.

“Sadly it appears we are nearing the end of the road in this David-and-Goliath battle, but I will not stop opposing the development until the fight is over.

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“I am now seeking a meeting with Herts county council at the earliest opportunity, where we can decide how best to continue the fight.”

Other disappointed with the decision is Lib Dem parliamentary candidate for St Albans, Sandy Walkington, who said: “With one stroke of the pen, Mr Pickles has stabbed St Albans in the front, sides and back”.

He added: “With the news that the council has lost its court case against Eric Pickles’s decision to approve the Park Street lorry terminal, it really has been Friday 13th for local residents.

“All the judge could do was determine whether the Secretary of State had exercised his powers lawfully and sadly it seems that Mr Pickles did.

“Although the immediate impact if the scheme now goes ahead will be on the residents of Park Street, south St Albans and the villages, the ripples will go far wider.

“The setting of the city and Abbey will be irrevocably damaged. Increased traffic congestion will affect the far wider highway network and impact on the attractiveness of our community to other businesses and organisations. And there will be massive disruption to rail commuters.

“I will be working with county councillor colleagues to press the Conservative leadership of Herts county council not to be Eric Pickles’s puppet and not sell its part of the land unless it is forced to do so by compulsory purchase.”

Labour candidate Kerry Pollard added: “As a St Albans resident I feel badly let down by the coalition Government - this could and should never have got to this if the Ministers had stood by St Albans - all is not lost however as the county council, as main landowners are not obliged to sell the land, which is publicly owned.

“A much better option would be to use a portion of the land for public open space, some housing and perhaps a football stadium. HeliosSlough still need to get the agreement of Railtrack for the substantial track alterations that will be required where two lines will be out of commission for many months. In addition the county council are obliged to get “best value” for the disposal of a publicly owned asset - selling to HelioSlough for a rail freight terminal will not achieve that.”

Oliver Dowden, the Conservative parliamentary candidate who is hoping to replace James Clappison as Tory MP for Hertsmere, has also responded to the High Court’s rejection of the latest appeal against the rail freight terminal.

He said: “This looks like very disappointing news. I remain completely opposed to this development. The last thing Radlett and the surrounding area needs is an entirely inappropriate rail freight terminal that threatens to clog up our roads with lorries, jam the Thameslink line with freight trains and spoil our surrounding countryside.

“I believe our local area deserves better than this.”

District council leader Cllr Julian Daly, who is also portfolio holder for planning and conservation said: “The council is, of course, disappointed with the court’s decision. Our position remains that building a freight interchange at this site will be harmful to the district’s Green Belt. We are taking advice from our legal advisors before deciding whether to apply for permission to appeal the decision.”

The council made an application to Mr Justice Holgate for permission to appeal his decision. As this was refused, the council now has until April 13 to decide whether it wishes to apply for permission to appeal to the Court of Appeal.