THE shocking cost to the public to stop a huge railfreight terminal earmarked for Green Belt land could be as much as £2.5 million, we can reveal.

St Albans District Council estimates its own costs for the forthcoming public inquiry will be between £800,000 and £1 million and says it could have to pay as much as £1.5 million for the would-be developer's costs as well.

Simon Hoare of the consortium Helioslough, which is appealing against the council's refusal of planning permission, says the group won't back down.

In a warning to the council he said: "Our preparations are going well."

On the subject of the cost to the taxpayer, he added: "A lot of people in St Albans will say that is a hell of a lot of money for us to pay out of our council tax'."

But protestors remain upbeat and still believe they can see the developers off. Cathy Bolshaw of campaign group STRiFE (Stop The Railfreight Exchange) said: "We regard the possible £2.5m cost of the public inquiry as an investment for the future.

"Something as monstrous as this anywhere around St Albans would detract from the whole district.

"It would change the whole ethos of the area.

"St Albans would become renowned for its railfreight terminal, rather than as a historic city."

She said 3,000 extra lorries using the A414 every day would clog up not only the Park Street and London Colney areas, but the whole district.

STRiFE says it also objects to the noise and light pollution the development will cause as well as the loss of rural land. Helioslough, however, argues the project is essential to relieve traffic on the national road network.

Fellow protestor, district councillor Aislinn Lee, added: "This is the most inappropriate development that has ever seen the light of day in this area.

"We should be fighting this with everything we have got."

A report to this week's cabinet meeting concludes: "This is the largest public inquiry the council has ever dealt with.

"The council will need to devote substantial resources to it."

Officers are now investigating how to find the cash and are preparing a package of cost-cutting and money-raising measures.

The hearing, which will involve barristers, solicitors and a host of paid expert witnesses, will take between six weeks and three months and will be held elsewhere as the council chamber is unsuitable. The district council will therefore have to pay for a venue, possibly a rented office in Elstree.

The earliest date the hearing can take place is November but it could also be delayed until early next year.

An extra full-time solicitor will be appointed by the council for six months and other highly-paid staff will need to be brought in to cover for senior officers dealing with the inquiry, which will be heard by a Government inspector.

The eventual winners will be able to apply for part or all of its costs from the loser, although these would not be automatic.

Government proposals for speeding up major planning disputes have been condemned by critics, who fear they will favour developers rather than local opponents.