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A Strategic Rail Freight Interchange?

Latest news

Apr 15: St Albans City and District Council is seeking leave to appeal the dismissal of its recent court challenge against the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government. The High Court dismissed the Council’s challenge on 13 March. The Council had challenged the Secretary of State decision to grant planning permission for a strategic rail freight interchange at Park Street.The Council had until today (13 April 2015) to decide whether it wished to apply for permission to appeal from the Court of Appeal.  Following consultation with its external legal advisors on grounds for appeal, the Council has decided to seek such permission.  

Aug 14: St Albans City and District Council has lodged a claim in the High Court. The claim challenges the Secretary of State’s decision to grant planning permission for a rail freight terminal at Park Street, near St Albans. The Council’s claim concerns the legality of the Secretary of State’s decision on 14 July 2014 to allow an appeal brought by Helioslough Limited. Helioslough Limited’s appeal concerned the Council’s refusal of planning permission for a strategic rail freight interchange on the former Radlett aerodrome site. The Council is challenging the decision on three points of law. The first is concerned with the legality of the Secretary of State’s approach in taking his decision. The second relates to the misapplication of wording in the National Planning Policy Framework, a document that sets out planning policy nationally. The third ground for challenge relates to procedural irregularity and inconsistency on the rail freight interchange decision. This follows the Secretary of State’s recent refusal of planning permission for a waste incinerator plant, also on Green Belt land, at nearby New Barnfield, in Hatfield.

Sep 13: St Albans City and District Council was refused permission on Friday 30 August to proceed with its current Judicial Review application. The Council sought to challenge a decision by the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government made on 14 December 2012. The challenge related to the Secretary of State’s decision not to re-open the planning inquiry into the proposed Radlett Strategic Rail Freight Interchange (SRFI) in Park Street and conjoin it with an inquiry into an alternative site near Slough. The Council’s initial application for permission to proceed with a Judicial Review was turned down by the High Court in an order issued on 14 June. An oral hearing before a High Court judge to have the application reconsidered was heard on Friday. The Council’s renewed application was rejected after an hour and a half’s hearing. The judge, Mr Justice Collins, determined that the Secretary of State was entitled to exercise his discretion to reach the decision he did. Following legal advice, the Council has decided not to seek leave to appeal against the Judge’s decision. The final decision on the appeal by Helioslough Ltd in respect of the proposed SRFI at Park Street, St Albans, is yet to be made by the Secretary of State. In a letter dated 20 December 2012, the Secretary of State stated that he is minded to approve the appeal subject to the provision of a satisfactory Section 106 planning obligation which binds all those with an interest in the appeal site. In a letter dated 15 August 2013, the Secretary of State extended the period for submission of a satisfactory planning obligation until 14 November 2013.

Jan 13: In a further development regarding the proposed rail freight interchange at Park Street, St Albans City and District Council has received notification of an extension to the Secretary of State’s decision making timescales. Last month, the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government said that he was “minded to approve” planning permission for the rail freight interchange subject to various conditions. He proposed to defer his final decision on the appeal until the conditions had been met. The Secretary of State is seeking a Section 106 planning obligation - an obligation to fund various infrastructure requirements - from the developer, Helioslough. The Secretary of State originally proposed to allow until 28 February 2013 for the planning obligation to be submitted, before proceeding to a final decision. However, in a letter dated 24 January 2013, the Secretary of State has agreed to a request from Helioslough to extend the period to 28 March 2013. This is to allow Hertfordshire County Council’s Cabinet to consider the matter at its meeting on 25 February. The County Council owns land included in the proposed rail freight interchange site.

Dec 12: The Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government has said he is “minded to approve” planning permission for the Park Street rail freight interchange subject to various conditions. In a letter dated 20 December 2012, the Secretary of State proposes to defer his final decision on the appeal. He is seeking a Section 106 planning obligation - an obligation to fund various infrastructure requirements - from the developers Helioslough. The Secretary of State proposes to allow until 28 February 2013 for the planning obligation to be submitted. He then intends to proceed to final decision as soon as possible. The Council is now taking legal advice regarding the content of the Secretary of State’s letter.

Sep 12: The Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government is seeking views on a revised approach to decision making on the proposed rail-freight terminal in Park Street. The Secretary of State has asked St Albans City & District Council for its views on re-opening the inquiry into an appeal by Helioslough Ltd. The Secretary of State proposes re-opening the inquiry and joining it with the planned inquiry into a proposed strategic rail freight terminal at Colnbrook, Slough. The Secretary of State has asked for the views of the Council and other interested parties on the proposed approach by 3 October 2012.

Feb 12: St Albans City and District Council submitted its latest representations in December to the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government on the appeal by Helioslough Ltd, against the Council’s refusal to grant planning permission to build a strategic rail freight interchange on land in and around the former Radlett aerodrome in Park Street.

The Secretary of State, having considered all the representations before him, has decided that he is in a position to re-determine the appeal.  The letter states that a decision will be issued on or before 5 April 2012.  The Secretary of State has said that he will not be re-opening the Public Inquiry.

Oct 11: St Albans City & District Council has made further representations to the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government following a High Court appeal by Helioslough Ltd, a company seeking planning permission to build a strategic rail freight interchange on land in and around the former Radlett aerodrome in Park Street.

In July 2011, the High Court referred the matter back to the Secretary of State to re-determine. The Secretary of State invited all parties to the planning appeal, including the Council, to make further representations, which the Council has now submitted.

The Council’s response addresses each of the points made in Secretary of State’s letter of 15 September 2011 inviting further representations.  Detailed submissions presenting new aspects which have come to light over the last few months have been prepared by the Council’s planning and rail freight consultants. The Council is not seeking the reopening of the Planning Inquiry.

The Council’s representations to the Secretary of State can be found at: http://www.stalbans.gov.uk/Images/14%20October%20Response_tcm15-20078.pdf.  The representations of other interested parties are also being posted on the Council’s website as they become available.

Jul 11: The High Court set aside a refusal of planning permission by the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government. The Secretary of State’s decision of 7 July 2010 was quashed on the basis of one of the four grounds of challenge, namely that the Secretary of State did not properly explain his reasons for disagreeing with the Planning Inspector’s recommendation of March 2010. The other three grounds of challenge were rejected by the Judge.

Jan 11: The High Court hearing of Helioslough's appeal against the Secretary of State's decision will begin on Tue 28 Jun and is expected to last for 3 days.

Aug 10: Helioslough submit papers to the High Court challenging the Secretary of State’s decision to reject the rail freight appeal. A two-day hearing on this is due to take place in either January or February 2011.

8 Jul 10: The Secretary of State overturns Helioslough's planning appeal. Heather Cheesbrough, Head of Planning and Building Control at St Albans Council said: "We are delighted with the decision, which recognises that the proposed development was inappropriate in this Green Belt location".

10 Jun 10: The Secretary of State was to have issued his decision on or before 23 June 2010. St Albans Council received notification that a decision will now be issued on or before 8 July 2010.

24 Nov 09: Planning Inquiry

Information, evidence statements and full details of the planning inquiry, including live webcasts.

14 Oct 09: Planning referrals meeting

A special committee considered how the Council's case should be presented at the Rail Freight planning inquiry which will start on 24 November 2009.

The 14 reasons which the Council gave for refusing the second planning application were reviewed, and it was agreed to restrict these to focus on the main points of evidence, with the following amendments:-

  • Reason 3: the Council will not contend that the workforce will be unable to travel to work sustainably
  • Reason 9: will be withdrawn
  • Reason 10: the part relating to the management of the country park will be withdrawn
  • Reason 11: the part relating to footpaths will be withdrawn

The County Council, as Highways Authority, is assessing the potential impact of the proposal on the local highways network following the provision of additional information from the appellant's consultants. Therefore it is not yet possible to consider whether this element of the District Council's case needs to be considered further at the inquiry.

Evidence based on the Council's revised case will be submitted to the Planning Inspector by the deadline of 27October, as he requested at the pre-inquiry meeting. Helioslough are required to do the same.  

24 Aug 09: Council prepares for Rail Freight appeal 

St Albans District Council is preparing to defend its decision not to grant planning permission for the Strategic Rail Freight Interchange (SRFI), following Helioslough's second planning application for the depot.

Helioslough lodged an appeal with the Planning Inspectorate on 24 July, against St Albans City and District Council's refusal to grant planning permission for the Strategic Rail Freight Interchange (SRFI) on 20 July. A letter will shortly be sent to all residents who took a part in the planning consultation informing them of the appeal. The appeal will be decided by the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government.

The Planning Inspector has announced that the Inquiry will commence on the 24 November and is scheduled for 16 days. Once the Inquiry has taken place, the Planning Inspector will send a report to the Secretary of State who will make the final decision.

Helioslough's first planning application was considered by the District Council on 19 February 2007 and was refused. An appeal to the Planning Inspector, led to an Inquiry which commenced on 6 November 2007 and finished on 19 December 2007. The Planning Inspector subsequently sent a report to the Secretary of State who dismissed the appeal in October 2008.

After completion of the Inquiry the Planning Inspector will send a report to the Secretary of State who will make the final decision.

21 Jul 09: Rail Freight application refused

A second application by developers Helioslough to build a 330,000sqm Strategic Rail Freight Interchange, with parking for up to 1,665 cars and 617 lorries, on the site of the former Radlett aerodrome was refused by St Albans District Council's Planning Referrals Committee for fourteen reasons:

1. The site is in the Green Belt as defined in the St Albans District Local Plan Review 1994, and permission will only be given for the erection of new buildings or the use of existing buildings or land for agriculture, other essential purposes appropriate to a rural area or small scale facilities for sport or recreation. The proposed development is unacceptable and inappropriate and the harm to the Green Belt is not clearly outweighed by other considerations and accordingly no very special circumstances exist to justify the proposal.

2. The overall size, height, bulk, massing and scale of the proposed development would be highly damaging to the open character of this significant part of the Green Belt, which provides amongst other things an important gap between Park Street and London Colney.

3. The proposal fails to demonstrate that the development can be carried out with the principles of sustainable development.

4. The committee felt that the 'Consideration of Alternative Sites' study is inadequate, therefore the need for the proposed SRFI has not been shown.

5. The proposed development is premature and contrary to planning advice:-

  • in advance of the National Policy Statement covering SRFI's (due to be published in 2010),
  • before the completion of a trans-regional assessment of the location of SRFI's in the Greater South East,
  • and until demand has been shown to exist through the implementation and occupation of the available SRFI capacity at Howbury Park.

6. The applicant has failed to demonstrate that there are adequate paths in the wider national rail network to support the number of freight trains that the facility is intended to serve, and that the Midland Mainline timetable can accommodate the level of services anticipated. The viability of the rail connection has not been demonstrated and there is no evidence that the necessary gauge improvements can be delivered between Radlett and points on the rail network with gauge to these standards. No demand has been shown for rail freight or an SRFI in the north-west sector of London. The proposal is therefore contrary to the requirement that priority should be given to the objectives of the Regional Transport Strategy, regarding the sustainable movement of freight.

7. The proposal for the central development site (Area 1) fails to adequately secure and enhance the quality and appearance of the landscape in this area.

8. The proposals would lead to high noise levels for residents on the eastern side of Park Street / Frogmore and more particularly Radlett and Elstree.

9. The proposals would lead to harmful air quality conditions for residents in Park Street / Frogmore and more particularly within Radlett and Elstree.

10. The proposal for the country park, landscape and ecological improvements intended to mitigate the losses associated with the development, are unacceptable in scale, outcome and detail while the process and funding of a long term management regime is not determined.

11. The applicant has failed to take mitigating measures to offset the harm of the development to ecology and the local footpath network.

12. Insufficient information has been submitted by the applicant to enable the Highways Agency to determine if there have been any material changes in circumstances in relation to the impact of the proposed development on the strategic highway network.

13. No adequate Section 106 obligation has been offered by the Applicant.

14. Insufficient information has been submitted by the applicant to enable the Local Highway Authority to determine if there have been any material changes in circumstances in relation to the impact of the proposed development on the local highway network including the A414, A405 and A5183 and the linkages to the national motorway network.

The District Council's decision is final although Helioslough can appeal to the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government and have six months to do so.

Further information:

  • St Albans District Council's Rail Freight Interchange pages
  • A webcast of the Planning Referrals Committee meeting on 20 July 09
  • Stop The Strategic Rail Freight Interchange (STRIFE)
  • Anne Main MP's 'No to Rail Freight' campaign

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