Controversial rail freight plans have been given the Government go ahead despite a 10,000-strong campaign to stop the “biggest act of vandalism to ever hit St Albans”.
The Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, Eric Pickles said the need for a 300-acre terminal on Green Belt land in Park Street outweighed “the harm to the landscape”.
This decision takes the development on the former Radlett aerodrome one step further. However Hertfordshire County Council, which owns the land, will make the final decision.
Mr Pickles agreed with recommendations from Network Rail, as both the owner and operator of the infrastructure, that developers Helioslough could establish sufficient paths to enable access to serve the Strategic Rail Freight Interchange during interpeak hours and overnight.
Labour Councillor Jacob Quagliozzi said the decision was a “hammer blow” to London Colney and surrounding villages.
He said: “It is an insult to more than 10,000 people who signed the anti-railfreight petition and the many more who have campaigned against this.
“I expect the leaders of the main parties on the district council to convene a meeting as soon as is possible to discuss what options are available to the council to challenge the decision.
“But there can be no dressing this up, this is a terrible day for St Albans.”
The decision notice also says that in the Government’s view no other site would be suitable and all Section 106 planning obligations have been agreed.
Mr Pickles said a junction at Radlett capable of a 45 mile per hour operation could be established and he was satisfied that the proposal “would not lead to the merging of neighbouring towns”.
The decision has come as a blow to Stop the Rail Freight Exchange (STRIFE) which has fought for eight years to protect the Green Belt site, which was estimated at a value of £1.7million, and would be “ten times that” if sold to the rail freight scheme.
STRIFE’s Cathy Bolshaw said: “I am gutted. I can’t believe it has come to this after eight years of campaigning.
“Morally this is the wrong decision. We have spoken with our legal advisors about a judicial review because this is really the only other legal course of action we can take.
Liberal Democrat parliamentary candidate Councillor Sandy Walkington said it was “the biggest act of vandalism to ever hit St Albans”.
He continued: “I now feel completely let down by the Secretary of State’s decision.
“It will destroy the setting of the medieval city and Abbey.
“The impact on the residents of Park Street is incalculable. And if our already congested road network and commuter rail services buckle under the strain, there will be huge wider implications for St Albans. “
Labour parliamentary candidate Kerry Pollard said he felt “let down” by Mr Pickles and St Albans MP Anne Main.
He said: “The local Liberal Democrats and Tory run councils have been negligent over the years in not having a District Plan in place, which both the Inspector and Secretary of State commented on.
“County are obliged to get ‘best value’ when selling a publicly owned asset, selling this land for a Rail Freight terminal will not achieve that; a much better option would be to sell the land for housing, much needed homes and a better financial return.”
When asked for a response to Mr Pollard’s comments Mrs Main’s office directed the St Albans & Harpenden Review to a written statement she released when the decision was made. It read:
“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.”
Following the decision, Councillor Derrick Ashley said the county council would now “take a view on the disposal of its own land”. He continued although “factors weighing in favour of the development do not outweigh the harm it will cause” county council will now take into account the alternative uses and purposes of the land and how it will fulfil its “financial responsibility as owners of public assets”.