St Albans MP leads debate on Radlett rail freight plans
PUBLISHED: 06:07 04 February 2013
ANTI-rail freight campaigners are pushing ahead with their 10,000-signature target on a petition calling on the county council not to sell Radlett Airfield to developers Helioslough.
That is despite a decision by the county council’s cabinet to discuss the situation at its meeting on February 25.
The petition, set up by action group STRiFE, was aiming to reach 10,000 signatures to trigger a public debate on the issue of the sale of the Green Belt land in Park Street.
But even though the potential sale will now go before cabinet, STRiFE still wants as many signatures as possible on the online petition calling on the county council to reaffirm their long-held position of refusing to be bound to any planning obligation in respect of the former airfield and commit to retain the land in public ownership.
The petition (which can be found at https://consult.hertsdirect.org/petitions/petition?petition_id=74614) is due to be presented to a full meeting of the county council on February 26.
Developer Helioslough, which has effectively been given permission by Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, Eric Pickles, to develop the massive Strategic Rail Freight Interchange (SRFI) in Park Street subject to planning agreements, has been granted an extension to the planning obligation deadline.
It was to have been submitted by February 28 but has now been extended to March 28 for the county council cabinet to discuss the matter.
In the meantime St Albans MP Anne Main managed to secure a Westminster debate on the SRFI issue on Tuesday at which she and Hertsmere MP, James Clappison, spoke out strongly against Mr Pickles announcement just before Christmas that he was “minded” to given planning permission to Helioslough.
Planning minister Nick Boles responded on behalf of the government but said he was unable to say too much as St Albans council had indicated it might go to Judicial Review over Mr Pickles’ earlier decision not to proceed with a conjoined inquiry into the Radlett Airfield scheme and Colnbrook in Slough.
Mrs Main questioned whether the government was as committed to preserving the Green Belt as it claimed to be.
She said: “I am concerned that the coalition Government may now be using a flatlining economy as a justification to take a less than robust view on Green Belt protection – to ditch protection of our countryside in a massive push for activity.”
She went on: “I am very concerned that the mood and rhetoric around planning and development has changed.
“We have a new Minister in place, and I am sorry to say that I do not have confidence that he truly understands the value communities up and down the country place on the Green Belt, nor does he have the confidence of my constituents, who will be unsure of what we as a Government stand for if this departure from Green Belt protection goes ahead.”
Mrs Main said her constituents now regarded the decision to be minded to grant a desecration of 300 acres of local green belt as somewhat “hypocritical.”
And she went on: “It might be life for some, namely my constituents living cheek by jowl with a noisy intrusive 24/7 industrial development but it is not life for privileged Ministers fortunate enough not to be affected by their aggressive decisions to build on Britain’s beautiful landscapes and Green Belt.
Mr Clappison added: “Any reasonable person observing the contortions of ministerial decision making in such a short period of time would be driven to the conclusion that the process has been thoroughly perverse.
“The Minister owes it to those affected by the decision to give a proper explanation.
“As matters stand, the process bears the marks of a capriciousness that one would more readily associate with a mediaeval despot than a Minister in a modern democracy.
“I know the Minister and I do not think that it is in his nature to be a despot but on this occasion, he is giving a passable impersonation of one.”