Worries over rail-freight go ahead

PUBLISHED: 14:35 10 January 2008 | UPDATED: 12:45 06 May 2010

THE Government inspector currently deciding the fate of the proposed giant rail freight depot on Green Belt land in Park Street, has approved a similar scheme in Kent. Hazel Blears, the Secretary of State for the Department of Communities and Local Govern

THE Government inspector currently deciding the fate of the proposed giant rail freight depot on Green Belt land in Park Street, has approved a similar scheme in Kent.

Hazel Blears, the Secretary of State for the Department of Communities and Local Government, accepted inspector Andrew Phillipson's recommendation which overturns the decision of Dartford Borough Council and Bexley Council to refuse Prologis permission to build a two million square feet depot on Green Belt land in an area called Slade Green in Bexley.

Just before Christmas, the same inspector finished hearing evidence in the seven-week inquiry into Helioslough's proposal to build a 3.5-million-square-feet rail freight terminal on the former Radlett Aerodrome site. If approved, it would consist of five huge warehouses with 20-metre-high lighting masts and parking for more than 2,000 vehicles, along with a potential new bypass for Park Street.

Mr Phillipson felt that the proposals for the site in Bexley provided the very special circumstances required to justify building on the Green Belt.

Like St Albans District Council and local pressure group STRiFE, the councils there argued that the development would create coalescence but the inspector felt a big enough green space would remain between the site in Bexley and its surroundings to, "maintain a clear physical and visual separation".

The Kent councils voiced arguments on air, noise and light pollution, road infrastructure inadequacy, as well as the ecological and environmental impact the loss of Green Belt would inflict but their points were discounted.

There were also arguments that the Bexley site would become more of a lorry terminal, which many objectors believe could also happen in Park Street.

But there are some defining differences between the two sites, one of which is that the railway line in Bexley currently runs at a much lower capacity to the Thameslink line, which would be used to service the proposed terminal near St Albans.

The line at Bexley also runs to the Channel Tunnel.

Cllr Chris Brazier, the district council's planning portfolio holder, described the decision on Bexley as a double-edged sword.

He said: "There are two ways of looking at it. It can be good for us because we can put in a further submission to the Secretary of State saying they have got Bexley so they don't need St Albans. We will be saying that is a better location with not so much of an impact. But at the same time the inspector discounted the Green-Belt issue and will he do the same here?"

Despite his concerns he believes that St Albans District Council argued a much stronger technical case and he pointed out that Bexley had better road links and more open space.

But Sandy Walkington, the Lib Dem prospective Parliamentary candidate for St Albans, fears a bleaker picture for St Albans following the news on Bexley. He said: "It sounds very depressing. The inspector has ignored the Green-Belt argument but we have to hope that St Albans is considered to be even more special. But this is a worrying precedent.

"The inadequacy of the road-traffic infrastructure was a very strong point. We have to hope that holds water because the inspector is prepared to drive a coach and horses through the Green Belt."

The verdict on the Radlett Aerodrome site is likely to be revealed within the next few months.

For a comprehensive series of articles on the recent planning inquiry, visit www.hertsad.co.uk where we have a dedicated page.

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