St Albans rail freight scheme faces a third inquiry

IN a shock move yesterday, Secretary of State Eric Pickles announced that a third public inquiry would be held into railfreight proposals for Park Street.

But this time the inquiry will be heard in conjunction with another scheme for Colnbrook in Slough, consideration of which led Mr Pickles to refuse the second appeal into the Helioslough scheme for a Strategic Rail Freight Interchange (SRFI) on the former Radlett Airfield.

Mr Pickles, Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, who has twice deferred a decision this year on the Helioslough proposal, has decided that the two schemes should be considered together because they, “raise similar and inter-related issues.”

He maintains it is no longer appropriate for him to determine the Radlett Airfield appeal and is now proposing reopening the inquiry and conjoining it with the planned inquiry into the proposed SRFI at Colnbrook, which was to have been heard in early October but was cancelled pending the Radlett decision.

Mr Pickles believes that it is likely that the comparative merits of the two schemes would be a significant material consideration in his decision on the Radlett proposal and the reasoning for that decision might in turn have a significant bearing on his determination of the Colnbrook proposal.

Mr Pickles had turned down the second appeal from Helioslough to build the SRFI in Park Street because he felt that building it at Colnbrook would cause less harm than on Radlett Airfield which is in the Green Belt.

But Helioslough went to the High Court to get the decision overturned and Mr Pickles was told to reconsider the issue. Decisions were expected in both April and June but were put back.

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St Albans MP, Anne Main, who had voiced cautious optimism when she heard that the Colnbrook appeal had been cancelled, said this week: “I am surprised at this new development, however I am firmly of the opinion that when the two sites are compared Colnbrook is certainly a far more suitable location than Radlett.

“I do not believe that the case has ever been made for the railfreight terminal to be placed in Radlett and we have argued this all along. Even at the inquiry stage we argued that Colnbrook would be a more suitable location.”

She added: “I am disappointed that this terrible potential development is still hanging over my constituents and I will marshal every resource to strengthen the case for an alternative site to be used.”

Leader of St Albans council, Cllr Julian Daly, said: “I would rather he had made a decision and refused the planning application but I do understand where he is coming from.

“I am sure we will want to participate in the new inquiry as we have always done before.”

Cathy Bolshaw, of local pressure group STRiFE - Stop the Rail Freight Exchange - admitted she was shocked by the decision but was looking on the positive side of things.

She added: “The not so good side of things is that we will have to go through another public inquiry. I hope people will still support us and raise funds.”

Lib Dem spokesman, Sandy Walkington, gave a cautious welcome to, “what seems to be the least worst outcome” and said he and fellow campaigner David Parry had been pushing for another inquiry because of a material change in circumstances.