Where do we go now in fight against St Albans rail freight scheme?

The proposed site of the Radlett rail freight depot

The proposed site of the Radlett rail freight depot - Credit: Archant

Has St Albans council reached the end of the line in its battle to prevent a huge rail freight interchange being built in the district?

That was the question on many lips after last Friday’s announcement that a High Court challenge to a government decision to grant planning permission to developers Helioslough to build a Strategic Rail Freight Interchange (SRFI) on the former Radlett Airfield in Park Street had been unsuccessful.

Although St Albans council has until mid April to decide whether to seek permission from the Court of Appeal to challenge the High Court ruling, Mr Justice Holgate rejected both grounds of appeal against the decision to give the green light to Helioslough by Eric Pickles, Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government.

As well as refusing permission for the council to appeal his decision - which would mean the council’s only option is an application to the Court of Appeal - Mr Justice Holgate awarded costs of more than £13,000 to the Secretary of State and is assessing further costs.

St Albans council leader, Cllr Julian Daly, declined to say more than that the council would be taking advice from their legal advisors about whether to apply for permission to appeal the decision which has to be done by April 13.

But he admitted that there was nothing to stop other interested parties applying for permission to develop Radlett Airfield even though consultants considering sites that could potentially be released from the Green Belt for housing in the draft Strategic Local Plan (SLP) had rejected it.

Attention now will focus on the role of the county council which owns the majority of the land on which the SRFI would be built.

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It could block the scheme by refusing to sell to Helioslough but in the background is the suggestion that the land could become the subject of a compulsory purchase order because of the strategic national value of an SRFI being built there.

A spokesperson for the county council said: “Given that St Albans district council have until 13 April in which to seek permission to appeal against the High Court decision, the final outcome of their legal challenge is not yet known.

“Our position therefore remains as at 9 December, 2013, when cabinet decided that the county council defers any decision on the possible disposal of its land pending an absolute decision by the Secretary of State and the final outcome of any legal challenge to such a decision.”

St Albans MP Anne Main, who fully supported the council’s High Court challenge, has already arranged a meeting with the county council to “decide how best to continue the fight.’

But she admitted: “Sadly it appears we are nearing the end of the road in this David-and-Goliath battle, but I will not stop opposing the development until the fight is over.”

Both her opponents in the forthcoming General Election, the Lib Dem’s Sandy Walkington and Labour’s Kerry Pollard, have pledged to press the county council not to sell to Helioslough.

Mr Walkington pointed out: “All the judge could do was determine whether the Conservative Secretary of State had exercised his powers lawfully and sadly it seem that Mr Pickles did.”

Cathy Bolshaw of campaign group STRiFE - Stop The Rail Freight Exchange - which has backed the district council in all its attempts to get the scheme stopped said it was ‘probably unlikely’ that the council would take any further legal action.

She added: “We have a meeting with the county next week to put pressure on them not to sell the land. While they have fiduciary duties, what is the value of Green Belt land? It is more than monetary and once it has gone it has gone.”