Beds, Herts & Bucks

St Albans rail freight depot plan 'concerns voters'

Hertfordshire sign - County of opportunity
Image caption All 77 seats on Hertfordshire County Council are up for election

Concerns over plans for a £300m rail freight depot in Hertfordshire have been raised in the run-up to this week's local elections.

All 77 seats on Hertfordshire County Council are up for election on Thursday 2 May.

At dissolution, the authority was made up of 55 Conservative councillors, 17 Liberal Democrats, three Labour members, one English Democrat and one Green Party member.

The Tories have been in control for 12 years now, and the leader Robert Gordon has been in charge since 2007.

One of the big issues of public debate is the decision by the government to approve plans for the rail freight terminal at the Radlett Airfield site near St Albans.

The plans were originally refused by St Albans council in 2009.

Developer HelioSlough Ltd said its plans followed government policies to transport goods by rail and the terminal was needed to serve south-east England.

Following two appeals Secretary of State Eric Pickles, of the department of communities and local government (DCLG), said in September last year he was considering looking at the plans for the Radlett development.

'Forcing decision'

He asked for the views of the council and other interested parties on the proposed approach, but on 14 December decided he could determine the Radlett proposal on its own, and backed the Hertfordshire development a week later.

The elections on Thursday will be an indication of whether the public feel the council has managed to deal with cuts of 28% to its budget, and a reduction in its spending of £200m between 2009 and 2014.

Robert Gordon, Conservative leader of the council, told BBC Three Counties the county council is in a difficult position.

"The Secretary of State has indicated that the government is minded to grant planning permission," he said.

"The council has to decide whether to pass the land (part of the Radlett site is owned by the county) on and what the advantage would be to the public."

Sharon Taylor, Labour leader in Hertfordshire, said: "This is a Secretary of State who is arrogant and forcing decisions on the public.

"We understand the difficult legal position the county council is in, but they need to clearly state their policy - that the public don't want this."

The Lib Dems also oppose the development at the site, with its leader Stephen Giles-Medhurst said Mr Pickles has "not listened to local wishes, even though he understands it will cause harm to the area".

"I'm hopeful he will still change his mind - 10,000 people have signed a petition against these proposals," he said.

Referendum call

Dave Platt, county chairman of UKIP, believes in local referenda.

"If there is opposition in the area and 5% of the people sign a petition, then we would hold a local referendum on a large application", he said.

Ian Brandon, a Green Party councillor, said: "Our view is that it is an inappropriate site for such a facility."

He said Greens generally support the use of rail to transport freight, but he said this particular site would just encourage more lorries to come to Hertfordshire.

"It would not cut down the number of lorries," he said.

A spokesman for DCLG said: "Planning is a quasi-judicial matter, and every case needs to be considered on its individual merits.

"The department will issue a decision in due course."

More on this story

Related Internet links

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites