Wednesday, July 16, 2014

The Rail Freight Controversy at Radlett Emits a Death Rattle - or is that Just Another Cough?

The 'Final Decision' is to Proceed with Development
Shipping News Feature

UK – The long, ongoing dispute over the controversial rail freight terminal in St Albans once again seems to be over, with the Communities Secretary Eric Pickles once again ruling in favour of the Strategic Rail Freight Interchange. The ‘final’ decision has been welcomed by industry bodies, the Rail Freight Group (RFG) and the Freight Transportation Association (FTA), but criticised harshly by the local council which said that it is a ‘slap in the face for residents’.

Anyone interested in the history of this dispute can simply type a suitable keyword (eg Radlett) into the News Search facility at the top of the page, but a précis is that developers Helioslough, who have poured money into lawyers as well as plans and presumably land, have been fighting a very strong case against a local populace, enraged for the most part and which has repeatedly pointed out individually and through a protest group, STRiFE that many believe there are other more suitable sites available nearby.

The decision, which comes almost five years after the public inquiry and almost a decade in the planning system, clears the way for the major redevelopment of the site, which according to the RFG is ‘vital for growing rail’s share of the freight and logistics market in the London and the South East’. The planned redevelopment comprises of an intermodal terminal and rail and road served distribution units, including 5 warehouses ranging from 44,592m2 to 111,480m2 together with ancillary vehicle maintenance units and a recycling centre totalling 331,655m2.

The plans do show some consideration to the community with the provision of publically accessible open land and a community forest at land in and around the former aerodrome, but some locals understandably aren’t happy with any plans of development on the Green Belt land, nonetheless a small glimmer of light at the end of the seemingly unending tunnel remains for the campaigners, as St Albans MP, Anne Main, explains:

“Just because the developers have been granted planning permission, doesn’t mean the land can be built on if they do not own the site. As owners of the part of the land which would be developed under these proposals, I will be urging Hertfordshire County Council to sit down with St Albans District Council [SADC] and consider the best option available for the site.

“SADC is currently deciding where it should place development to meet its housing targets, and a hasty, knee-jerk, decision to sell to Helioslough for potential short-term gain would not be the best option for the local taxpayer, nor would not help solve our local housing need. We have to bear in mind that there is still chance for the council to have a judicial review, but given SADC is currently considering its Green Belt boundaries, it may be that the site is prioritised.

“As far as Network Rail are concerned, I am deeply disappointed they don’t believe any other site would substitute for Radlett, considering the more appropriate alternatives that are available. They have not been helpful with providing information that I have requested, and I disagree entirely with their assessment of the suitability of the site. Given its Green Belt status, I do not welcome any development. Leaving my concerns aside, it may be more appropriate for the council to consider if a small but limited development, reflecting the village environment, would be beneficial for the area. This would offer the opportunity for local young people to get on the housing ladder, and would certainly be more preferable than a monstrous rail freight terminal.

“This has been a very long battle, and I am gutted about the Minister’s decision to grant planning permission, it’s a slap in the face for residents, although I can’t say I’m surprised, after all we did previously have a ‘minded to grant’ decision. I’d like to take this moment to thank all the local campaigners for all their hard work, but we are not at the end of the road yet.”

Both the FTA and the RFG welcomed this ‘final’ decision by Mr Pickles, with the FTA stating that it meet certain target and requirements within its ‘Agenda for More Rail Freight’ which identifies areas where progress is required for rail freight to fully realise its potential. The RFG, on the other hand, highlights the benefits for the surrounding roads, with Maggie Simpson, RFG Executive Director saying:

“This decision is welcome news and is a sign of Government’s ongoing commitment to helping the market build vital strategic rail freight interchanges that are so important to the future of the sector. As the M25, M1 and other roads become ever more congested, this facility will help rail freight to play its part in efficient and low-carbon distribution for London.”

Photo: The airfield facilities have lain idle since the demise of Handley Page in 1969. This photograph is a scene from the unfinished BBC TV sci-fi series 'The Tripods' Series One Episode 4 circa 1983.