Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Strategic Rail Freight Interchange - Battle of the Radlett Greenbelt Site Continues

Accusations by MP's Mingle With Nostalgia and Environmental Issues
Shipping News Feature

UK – We once again return to the controversial subject of the Strategic Rail Freight Interchange (SRFI) at the site of the former Radlett Aerodrome, after St Albans MP Anne Main recently called for an investigation into fellow Conservative politician, Chipping Barnet MP and Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Theresa Villiers, for failing to declare a potential conflict of interest following a meeting with Helioslough's chief lobbyist and old university friend Simon Hoare. Meanwhile a celebration of the site’s history, open to all comers, has been arranged for next month.

Villiers and Hoare met for lunch on August 10, 2011, just weeks before the Secretary of State for the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG), Eric Pickles was again due to reassess the plans. Main’s primary objection to the meeting is that Hoare could have used that time to influence the then Minister of Transport, Villiers. In a letter to the Cabinet Secretary Sir Jeremy Haywood, Main said:

“Villiers admits that ‘matters discussed include the Radlett [rail freight] proposal’. This meeting was followed by an email from Mr Hoare to Ms Villiers on the 10th November 2011; both to her ministerial and parliamentary email addresses asking for her departments support in getting a positive decision and complaining about DCLG. At no point was this meeting lodged on her ministerial website disclosures as I believe would have been appropriate, given the subject matter discussed.”

Main went on further to quote the email from Hoare, evidence she gathered from a Freedom of Information release, which apparently says:

“While appreciating that DCLG is a quasi-judicial role vis a vis the Public Inquiry, anything your department can do to press the case for a speedy and supportive decision would be a real shot in the arm to the rail freight sector.”

Main used this email to support her claims that Villiers breached the Ministerial Code which states that ‘Ministers must ensure that no conflict arises, or could reasonably be perceived to arise between their public duties and their private interests, financial or otherwise’. Speaking about her decision to report the potential breach, Main commented:

“It is with great sadness that I have had to take this step, but I really must do the best for my constituents and I am left with the lingering feeling that there has not been a level playing field. My constituents certainly did not have the opportunity to have private lunches with the Minister to put their point of view across. I see no other reason for Mr Hoare to meet with Ms Villiers other than to make a persuasive argument and bend the ear of an old friend. The ministerial code is in place to reassure the public that this cannot be the case. Lobbying behind the scenes gives a very bad impression to the public and on this matter my constituents smell a rat.”

Defending the meeting with Hoare, a representative of Villiers released a statement saying:

“Any rail minister will have matters relating to rail freight raised with them from time to time. The conversation with Simon Hoare was published to Parliament in an answer to a parliamentary question. Nothing from that conversation was passed on to ministerial colleagues. The meeting therefore had no impact on consideration of the Radlett planning application. These matters were all thoroughly ventilated in a series of correspondence with Mrs Main well over a year ago.”

In the meantime the campaigners against the establishment of the SRFI have other strings to their bow as regards the historic site. In addition to being green belt the old aerodrome is steeped in history and to celebrate this the Handley Page Association will hold its 2013 Night of Nostalgia at The Caledon Community Centre in Caledon Road at 8pm on Friday, October 18. The event is free to attend and will feature an exhibition ‘A history of Radlett Aerodrome since 1928’ which will explore the design, construction and testing of some of the most famous British aircraft.

In four decades up to the demise of the company in 1970, the Handley Page company produced hundreds of memorable planes, including the last of the V bombers, the Victor, which ‘accidentally’ broke the sound barrier in 1956, being the largest plane to do so at that time, and which stayed in service for almost another four decades, refuelling the Vulcan bomber attack force during the Falklands conflict. The Nostalgia event will also have various memorabilia on display including many photographs, model planes and sales brochures.

For the history of this dispute simply type a suitable keyword, such as Radlett, into the News Search box at the head of the page.

Photo: A Handley Page Victor in flight.