Unusual meeting about rail freight plans in St Albans

Computer-generated image of the proposed rail freight terminal in Park Street

Computer-generated image of the proposed rail freight terminal in Park Street - Credit: Archant

Tensions rose in the district council chamber during an unusual meeting about the controversial rail freight plans for St Albans.

The planned Strategic Rail Freight Interchange (SRFI) in Park Street was given outline planning permission in 2014 as long as the developers, Helioslough, adhered to conditions such as creating a new country park and a relief road in the surrounding area.

This planning application was originally blocked by St Albans district council (SADC) in 2009 but then approved on appeal by former communities secretary Eric Pickles.

SADC has since taken their case to both the High Court and appeals court to try and challenge this decision, but their claim was rejected both times.

In the planning referral committee on Monday, February 27, councillors were asked to put forward what points they would like considered by officers in their negotiations with the developer.

It was unusual because councillors could not protest the outline planning permission which had been granted – and when they did the chair of the meeting, Cllr Salih Gaygusuz, knocked them back, arguing the decision had already been made.

Cllr Eileen Harris reacted: “Is there any point in us being here then?”

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When Cllr Gaygusuz said they should work to make the changes to the proposals “better”, Cllr Yates retorted: “I am not the slightest bit interested in making it better, what I would like to do is have something that is not worse, and the change makes it worse.”

Issues the officers are discussing with the applicant include newly proposed buildings which fall outside of the agreed permission, that the relief road is double the size it should be, concerns about provisions for lorry parking once it is finished and worries about the lack of details in the planned footpaths.

One issue that kept arising in the meeting was the feeling that things promised in the original planning application are being thrown away now it has been granted, such as removing the visitor centre and sports pitches in the new country park.

Cllr Gaygusuz summarised by thanking members for the meeting, which he described as a “first of its kind”, “new to me” and “new to you”.

He said councillors were “not totally satisfied” with conditions of the planning application being discussed.

He said: “As members we are not willing to lose out on what we were promised as part of the original planning application, using various tactics, promising us the world and qualifying for very special circumstances to get the planning application through and later trimming away what was supposed to be the reason for qualifying for the special circumstances - which I believe is wrong.

“We shouldn’t be losing out anything as far as I am concerned.”