Thousands sign petition opposing St Albans rail freight sale

Put the Brakes on Freight - Herts Advertiser campaign

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

Thousands of people have already signed a new petition calling on the county council not to sell Green Belt land at Radlett Airfield for a rail freight interchange.

The petition has been set up in the wake of a ruling from the High Court last month which confirmed a government decision to give planning permission to developers Helioslough to build a Strategic Rail Freight Interchange (SRFI) on the land.

And while county council leader, Cllr Robert Gordon, has reiterated his opposition to the loss of the land to create an SRFI, he admits that they might have no choice in the matter.

By yesterday, the petition set up by St Stephen councillor Jay Baillie had over 2,800 signatures - far and away the largest petition on the county council’s website.

It calls on the county council, as the major landowner of the site, to recognise its prime duty is to local residents, that it is not obliged to sell any part of Radlett Aerodrome and to refuse to sell the site to Helioslough.

The county council is remaining tight-lipped about its position until after April 13 - the date when the district council has to decide whether or not to go to the Court of Appeal for leave to challenge the High Court decision.

But it looks unlikely that St Albans council will take the legal challenge further because in his High Court ruling, Mr Justice Holgate rejected both grounds of appeal against the granting of planning permission by Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government Eric Pickles.

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In addition he refused St Albans council permission to appeal his decision - which would mean the council’s only option would be to go to the Court of Appeal -and awarded costs of more than £13,000 to the Secretary of State.

With attention now firmly fixed on what the county council will do, Cllr Gordon has said in response to an invitation to visit and look around the area that everyone recognised that land played an important role as part of the Green Belt and its loss to an SRFI would be ‘appalling’.

He said the county council did not not need to be convinced of that or the extent of local opposition to the scheme.

But he pointed out that the legal advice the county council had received suggested that circumstances could arise under which they would be legally obliged to dispose of the land regardless of their views about its value to the Green Belt.

Cllr Gordon anticipated it would be many months before elected members would be asked to make a decision because of the clarification needed on marketing, negotiating and the legal aspects of any sale.

The petition can be found here.