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Councils backs down in battle over rail freight interchange


24 July 2020

A major barrier to building a  new rail-served freight depot in Hertfordshire appears to have been removed, with St Alban City & District Council agreeing to revise its local plan to support the proposal.

The strategic rail freight interchange (SRFI) facility is proposed for the former Radlett Airfield in Green Belt land south of St Albans. The facility is close to the M25 and will have a connection to the Midland Main Line. 

A lengthy planning battle to build the facility has pitted promoter Helioslough against St Albans Council.  

In 2014 communities secretary Eric Pickles granted planning permission for the SRFI after concluding there was no other suitable location to build it. London and the South East has a recognised shortage of rail-served warehousing.

St Albans subsequently tried to kill-off the development by designating the land in its local plan for what it called the Park Street Garden Village (LTT 22 Jul 16 & 15 Feb 19). 

In January, planning inspectors examining the local plan halted further hearing sessions after raising “serious concerns” about the plan’s legal compliance and soundness. They wrote to the council in April saying the draft plan would probably have to be withdrawn, and describing the council’s approach to the SRFI as “illogical” (LTT 01 May). 

St Albans Council has now written to the inspectors, accepting that this is the only suitable location for an SRFI and proposing to remove the garden village  from the plan. 

“The council has reconsidered this issue and concluded that it is appropriate to seek a main modification of the plan, which would remove the Park Street Garden Village broad location policy and include a policy supportive of the SRFI and a broad location policy for the SRFI,” says the council’s letter. “The council accepts that the balance in this case, in order for the plan to be sound, should be in favour of the SRFI since there is the potential to identify alternative sites for housing in the Green Belt but no realistic alternative location for the SRFI, as the inspectors noted.” 

St Albans hopes that, with this modification, the inspectors will allow the local plan to proceed through examination.

“Withdrawal of the plan will lead to a further, very considerable elongation of the council’s overall plan-making process, to the detriment of the local area and its residents,” it says.

LTT contacted a representative of Helioslough for comment but had not heard back by close of press. 

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