'Ray of hope' for rail freight campaigners as land sell-off decision delayed

St Albans & Harpenden Review: Protesters outside county hall this morning Protesters outside county hall this morning

The people of St Albans have been given “a ray of hope” by the county council, which has delayed its decision on whether or not to sell the land for a rail freight terminal.

At a meeting of Hertfordshire County Council’s cabinet, leader Robert Gordon said the sale of the site should be put on ice until Secretary of State, Eric Pickles, made an “absolute decision” on whether or not to grant planning permission for the terminal.

During a special cabinet panel, councillors heard from a local campaign group, Helioslough, St Albans District Council and Anne Main MP.

Councillors were also presented with a 10,000 strong signature petition against the proposals by campaigner Victor Silkin.

He said: “I am quite sure that you are under no illusion as to the amount of opposition to this horrendous proposition.

“So I am now asking, were you listening to the people then? Are you listening now?

“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.”

The meeting today came as the latest twist in the long-running battle over the former Radlett Airfield site, which is owned by Hertfordshire County Council.

Developers, HelioSlough, have submitted two planning applications, which were both rejected by St Albans District Council, to turn the area into a rail freight interchange.

The Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government has also previously rejected the plans but has been told to reconsider them following a High Court decision.

The current Secretary of State, Eric Pickles, is yet to return his final decision but has said he is “minded” to approve the rail freight plan.

Today the ruling Conservative politicians had to decide on whether to sell the site to HelioSlough, a course of action county council officials have recommended.

Adrian Wallace from local campaign group STRiFE, said: “We believe the recommendation to be falsely premised.

St Albans & Harpenden Review: Adrian Wallace

“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.”

St Albans MP, Anne Main, also spoke against the plans saying the site could have other uses for such as recreation, housing or a new school, would be more acceptable.

She added: “The county doesn’t have to decide today just because someone is pressuring you, the housing market it taking off, the economy is taking off, I would argue it is not a good idea at all.

“This site may well be an asset that will grow in value and does not need to be disposed of today. For the future of our families we wish to retain this site for future housing or schooling potential.

“The county would be wisest to serve its electorate by choosing to use its asset at a time best for Hertfordshire and not Helioslough.”

St Albans & Harpenden Review:

Anne Main MP.

Gareth Osborn, from Helioslough, argued that the benefits of the terminal would bring long-term employment, capital receipt for the council, and local and county benefits.

He added: “We support the local community, we are a responsible developer.”

Leader of the council, Robert Gordon, presented his own recommendation to the council.

He said he was willing to enter into a section 106 agreement, which the council was legally obliged to do, but no more.

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.”

St Albans & Harpenden Review:

Robert Gordon.

These include the impact of the London Gateway, representations received by him, and the “relative merits” of alternative sites.

He suggested that 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.

“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."

The council leader also expressed annoyance at reports in another local newspaper that valued the rail freight site at around £1.7million. He said the site was worth closer to ten times that amount.

Following the decision, Liberal Democrat county councillor, Sandy Walkington said: “The first recommendation on the order paper was a betrayal of the people of St Albans.

“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.

“This is a ray of hope. We live to fight another day.”

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4:43pm Mon 9 Dec 13

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