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Live blog: Rail freight land sell-off decision
Updated 2:05pm Monday 9th December 2013 in News
This live event has finished
- Hertfordshire County Council cabinet to vote on whether to sell Radlett Airfield site to rail freight developers
- Campaigners say rail freight terminal would have "catastrophic" impact on the area.
- MP Anne Main tells cabinet to "hold your nerve" and reject rail freight sell off
- HelioSlough say "we are a responsible developer"
Video: County Councillor Sandy Walkington explains why he thinks today's decision gives hope to anti-rail freight campaigners.
That's it, it's all over. The council will not defer its sale of the airfield until Eric Pickles has made an "absolute decision" on whether to allow the site to go built.
BREAKING: The decision to sell the site has been deferred. Sandy Walkington said: “This is a ray of hope for the people of St Albans.”
The tension in the council chamber as Robert Gordon goes through his points one by one, edging closer to the deferral of the sale, is quite palpable.
Back in for cabinet now.
Helioslough bench looking a bit gloomy.— @Adam_WatfordObs 09 December 2013
Quick recess now before the cabinet meets.
Panel unanimously recommends the council defers its decision to sell the land. Cabinet to make final decision.
Votes coming in now.
Robert Gordon said the deferral “forces the secretary of state to make up his mind regarding the rail freight development.”
Leon Reefe said: “We need to send a message out to other organisations that this county council will take its responsibility very seriously.
“By deferring we will be able to look at other options that are more lucrative than what we have on the table at the moment.”
Speakers so far very much in support of defering the sale of the land, as suggested by Robert Gordon.
“I am delighted that the council is now proposing to defer selling the land. I wish it was willing to defer the section 106 agreement, because it is terrible and truly inadequate.
“I worry about the legal advice. When the council acquired this land they did so in order to maintain it.
“We live to fight another day.”
12:06pm Mon 9 Dec 13
They certainly would be a "responsible developer" if this goes ahead - responsible for the destruction of a massive amount of Green Belt land and endless traffic congestion.
If HelioSlough were a "responsible developer", as they claim, they would appreciate that this development is totally inappropriate here but would actually be welcomed just a few miles up the M1.
Sandy Walkington is talking now.
He said: “The first recommendation on the order paper was a betrayal of the people of St Albans."
"By deferring you are saying we may or may not sell the land in the future, not that you will make the decision to sell another day."
“Hertfordshire must not role over and die. Eric Pickles states very clearly that this would cause significant harm to Park Street and the wider St Albans community.
“By supporting this development, as far as the council is concerned, you are saying Hertfordshire is willing to sacrifice this wonderful piece of greenbelt.
“A green lung between some of the most congested roads in Hertfordshire.
“Our residents would be condemned to pick up the cost forever, our countryside spoiled forever, our roads falling deeper and deeper into disrepair, forever.
“We are not able to turn back the clock.”
We're back and Aislinn Lee, local member for St Stephens division, is speaking.
She said: "I am absolutely delighted to hear and read this list of recommendations from the leader.
“I am also delighted to hear that he, and the county council, oppose this development. That is music to the ears for not just everyone in St Albans, and wider.
“This proposal is for the largest SRFI in Europe. Herts as a whole would be ruined by the absolute monstrosity.”
The cabinet meeting will be held straight after this and is likely to just rubber stamp the decision made by the panel.
11:37am Mon 9 Dec 13
The decision is severely flawed! If these councillors lived close by then they would do everything in their power to stop this. Now we're selling our local assets to the Saudis! Nice one!
Cathy Bolshaw from STRiFE said Robert Gordon's proposals were "the lesser of all evils".
She said: "His conclusions are fair and the council have their hands tied behind their backs.
"This is the least worst option."
Robert Gordon is suggesting these points: http://t.co/fkWLRvH2gu— @Adam_WatfordObs 09 December 2013
Having a quick ten minute break for councillors to consider Robert Gordon's proposals.
He finishes with: "We will act within the law but we do not want this to proceed. We hope that alternative proposals will crystallise over the next few months."
He states the value of the site, reportedly £1.7million, would be "ten times that" if sold to the rail freight scheme.
Councillor Gordon said he was willing to enter into a s106 agreement.
He added: “We have a legal gun pointed at our heads, but that is as far as I am prepared to go today.
“Short of the applicant changing their mind, there are only two ways this development might be stopped.
“The first is in the hands of the secretary of state. He must consider changes in circumstances during the past year.”
These include the impact of the London Gateway, representations received by him, and the “relative merits” of alternative sites.
He suggested the council deferred its decision, pending an absolute decision by the secretary of state.
Councillor Gordon added: ““An alternative scheme could allow the council to discharge its fiduciary duties for a less offensive use.
“While I have full confidence in the legal advice received, aspects of it have been challenged by STRiFE and others.
“When lawyers disagree, it is pretty unsettling for those who have to make controversial decisions on the basis of legal advice.
“We need more time to allow those differences to be analysed and resolved.”
"I believe the secretary of state has got it wrong. However we have advice from Queen's Council that the law is clear. We can disagree with the secretary of state but we cannot contradict his conclusions.
"The council is legally prevented in acting in support of its residents, we are obliged to act with the secretary of state's conclusion, even though we disagree with it.
"The panel has recommend the cabinet agree to sell the land to Helioslough."
Robert Gordon, leader of the council, is now setting out some recommendations.
He said: “The county council has very little room to impose its judgment in this matter
"It is impressive how many people have been willing to sign the petition, write letters and emails, and come here today."
Councillor Aislinn Lee has asked: “What is different now to 1985 when protections were put in place to protect this land?”
Council officer Dick Bowler has stated "exceptional circumstances" exist, which the secretary of state is minded to agree with, and that the development is in the public interest.
He added: "Occasionally something comes along which is required for a much larger area than Hertfordshire."
Into general questions and discussion now.
Sandy Walkington, a Liberal Democrat county councillor for St Albans South, said the s106 agreement is “wholly inadequate” and has asked if it can be “beefed up”.
He has been told it cannot.
Those are all the speakers we will hear today.
New evidence from STRiFE revealing previously unpublished council minutes showing Helioslough land acquired for protection of Green Belt— @sandywalkington 09 December 2013
Now Helioslough giving evidence @hertscc. Same old propaganda, nothing new, just puff.— @sandywalkington 09 December 2013
“We support the local community, we are a responsible developer."
Gareth Osborn, from Helioslough, said: “The delivery of a scheme will bring long-term employment, capital receipt for the council, and local and county benefits.”
Anne Main has summed up her argument by suggesting the site should be saved for "the future of our families", and used for housing or schooling potential.
"Hold your nerve. The county would be wisest to serve its electorate by choosing to use its asset at a time best for Hertfordshire and not Helioslough."
"There is a public need to get freight off the road and onto rail but it does not mean the public benefit has to be delivered on this site."
"This site may well be an asset that will grow in value and does not need to be disposed of today."
"The housing market is taking off, the economy is taking off, I would argue it is not a good idea at all.
"The county doesn’t have to decide today just because someone is pressuring you."
"Should this land be made available to others it may well be that the value would have been considerably higher."
Anne Main MP is setting out her argument now.
She said: "Helioslough woud like nothing better than to concern ourselves with negative planning impact, but it will not affect the decision made today."
He added: "Surely the best use of a precious and limited asset such as the green belt is to preserve it.
"Take this argument to its logical conclusion and we will see St Albans Abbey sold for flats, and the Roman Amphitheatre for a skateboard park. You can only sell the family silver once.
"If you have any doubts whatsoever, then all you have to fear is a judicial review. If you refuse to sign and sell, you may be attacked by the developer, but you will not be attacked by your electorate."
He added: "Politicians of all parties in the region, unanimous district councillors, unanimous county councillors, Anne Main MP, James Clappison MP, Mike Penning MP and Grant Shapps MP, have voiced their opposition to this planning application. So what does it take to overrule all that democratic opposition?"
He added: "The strength of the local opposition to the proposal is unprecedented. There were more than 10,000 signatories to the STRiFE petition in a matter of weeks."
"This strength of feeling must have been felt within the four, or maybe more walls of this county council.
"If you surrender without a fight you will leave an indelible stain on this county council."
Adrian Wallace, representing campaign group STRiFE, said: "We believe the recommendation to be falsely premised.
"In the very limited time available to us, we have considered the report and the background papers which were made available, and are firmly of the opinion that to follow the recommendations in the report would be wholly wrong.
"This is not the forum to rehear the 2009 planning inquiry.
"It is not for the benefit of the county that the green belt is lost. There is no discernible benefit from the proposal for the county."
He has seen council documents which state the council needs to: “Impose watertight condition to return to green belt, not subjected to threats of development.”
He added: "The roads in and out of St Albans are very congested as it is and they just cannot take any more. At peak times the a414 is log-jammed and if anything happens on the M25 or M1 then they delays and chaos is multiplied.
"The noise from the freight trains entering and leaving the site will be horrendous. Sleep deprivation will inevitably follow.
"[Residents] will look out of their back windows and see massive slate grey warehouses looming over them – one of which bigger than terminal 5 at Heathrow.
"St Albans is a historic city known world-wide and has to be preserved as such. We can’t afford to destroy that ancient heritage which has existed for 2,000 years."
He added: "The prospect of 3,000 lorries entering and leaving the proposed site is almost impossible to contemplate. It equates to just over 2 every minute of the day and night, even being generous that means 1,500 in and 1,500 out.
"The roads in and out of St Albans are very congested as it is and they just cannot take any more. At peak times the a414 is log-jammed and if anything happens on the M25 or M1 then they delays and chaos is multiplied."
"You must also remember that there was unanimous, cross party support to oppose this planning application in March this year."— @Adam_WatfordObs 09 December 2013
Councillor Bill Pryce, St Stephens Parish Council, said: "Enough land is being swallowed up for development, some of which is green belt land, without this area is being inflicted with a monstrosity such as that proposed by Helioslough.
"This development has no benefit to the people of the area whatsoever, in fact it will have a detrimental effect.
"[Eric Pickles] has failed to appreciate that there are other areas crying out for such a development and although he promised a genuine comparison he has failed to deliver."
"I am quite sure that you are under no illusion as to the amount of opposition to this horrendous proposition."— @Adam_WatfordObs 09 December 2013
There are five speakers talking today:
Councillor Bill Pryce for St Stephens Parish Council.
Adrian Wallace for STRiFE.
Anne Main, MP for St Albans.
Mike Lovelady for St Albans District Council.
Gareth Osbourn for Helioslough.
The meeting is getting underway
Victor Silkin is presenting a petition of more than 10,000 signatures. #railfreight— @Adam_WatfordObs 09 December 2013
Victor Silkin is presenting the 10,000 signature strong petition against the scheme.
He said: "I am quite sure that you are under no illusion as to the amount of opposition to this horrendous proposition.
"Therefore you must also remember that there was unanimous, cross party support to oppose this planning application in March this year.
So I am now asking, were you listening to the people then? Are you listening now?
"Of all the things that people oppose most in this monstrous proposition it is the traffic generation that is the biggest.
"These people live and work on these roads. They go to school and the shops on these roads. They know these roads, they know the problems on these roads today.
"With an extra 3,000 lorries on these roads every day, these people know that these roads will be absolutely gridlocked.
"The impact of this additional traffic on this area of Hertfordshire will be no less than devastating.
"Today, now, you have the opportunity to prevent this from happening."
First up is the policy, resources and transformation cabinet panel, which will recieve a petition, hear the evidence and make recommendations to the cabinet, which will sit afterwards.
Members of the public have been told to queue around the side of the building in order to gain one of the 67 seats in the council's main chamber.
Those hoping to protest on the County Hall steps were told they could, but would probably lose their place in the queue.
A protest took place around the side of the building instead.
The large group, waiting in the cold from about 9am this morning, has just been let in.
Our reporter Adam Binnie is down at County Hall today were protestors are gathering before the meeting.
Here is Cathy Bolshaw from rail freight oppossition group, STRiFE, who says the planned terminal will have a "catastrophic" affect on the local area.
At present the planning application, which was rejected by St Albans District Council, is with Eric Pickles, Secretary of State for Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, who has said he is “minded” to approve it.
Today’s vote is the latest twist in the longrunning saga over the rail freight plans, which have met strong opposition from people in the city.
Council officials have recommended that the sell-off be approved but the decision ultimately rests with the nine Conservative politicians who make up the cabinet.
Hertfordshire County Council’s ruling cabinet is due to decide whether it will sell the site to developers HelioSlough to build a ‘Strategic Rail Freight Interchange’.
Morning all, and welcome to our liveblog covering the meeting where Hertfordshire County Council will make a key decision that will affect plans to build a large rail freight terminal on the former Radlett Air field, near St Albans.
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