St Albans rail freight campaign: is county powerless to prevent sale of land?
PUBLISHED: 06:00 05 November 2015
On the eve of the presentation of an 11,500-plus petition at County Hall next week, Herts council leader Robert Gordon has confirmed that there has been no formal approach from prospective railfreight developers Helioslough.
But he stressed that if and when Helioslough made an offer for the land at Radlett Airfield in Park Street, the freehold of part of which is owned by the county council, the authority would not be ‘free agents’ in terms of a decision about its sale however much it did not want to see the site taken out of the Green Belt.
And it would be that “fiduciary” duty to act in the best interests of the whole area the county council represents that would have to be at the heart of any decision it takes.
Cllr Gordon was speaking prior to next Tuesday’s meeting of the county council when a petition signed by more than 11,500 people will be presented to councillors.
It calls on the county council not to see the Green Belt site to Helioslough and to recognise its duty to local residents. It also wants the county council to acknowledge that it is not obliged to sell any part of the Radlett Airfield site.
Helioslough was granted planning permission in July this year after all legal avenues taken by St Albans council to prevent it going ahead had been exhausted.
Cllr Gordon said that if and when an offer was received from Helioslough, the county council wouold not be free agents over the decision they took.
He explained: “There is a duty of law for public authorities and it is established by statute, to act rationally in the best interests of the totality of the area of people we serve.
“Any decision which is judged as irrational could be struck down by the courts.”
Consequently, he went on, if the county council has an offer from Helioslough or anyone else interested in developing the land at Radlett Airfield, they would have to take QC advice.
Cllr Gordon said: “Our preference is not to see this land lost to the Green Belt at all.”
He explained that concerns about the site being compulsorily purchased because the railfreight depot was regarded as being of strategic importance were not valid.
He said: “It is only the track of the railway which could be subject to a compulsory purchase order. The rest of the site can’t be.”
The definition of ‘fiduciary’ duty was the key, he said, adding: “We can be forced to sell against our will and the will of the people who do not want it there. There is no getting around the fact that circumstances could arise when we are told by the court that we must do this.”