Rail Industry Focus


Radlett SRFI depot row rolls on

Source: Rail Technology Magazine Aug/Sept 2014

The latest chapter in the long-running planning debate on the potential development of a Strategic Rail Freight Interchange (SRFI) at Radlett has taken a new twist and turn. David Stevenson reports. 

In July this year it appeared progress had finally been made on the potential development of the Strategic Rail Freight Interchange (SRFI) on the Radlett airfield in Hertfordshire, next to the Midland Main Line. It has long been divisive, described as “vital” by those keen to increase the share of freight moved by rail, but as a “mindless act of vandalism” by local opponents.

But on 14 July, the communities secretary, Eric Pickles MP, gave the project planning permission approval. However, the SRFI project, which has spent almost a decade in the planning system, and has been subject to several appeals and a public inquiry, could still come undone.

This is because St Albans City and District Council (SADC) has now lodged a claim in the High Court to challenge Pickles’ decision.

Although a date for the hearing has not yet been confirmed, the local authority said it registered the claim because it was concerned about the “legality” of Pickles’ decision in July, on allowing an appeal to be brought by Helioslough Limited, the joint venture between Helios Properties plc, a logistics specialist, and Slough Estates plc.

Legal challenge

The council is challenging the decision on three points of law:

• First it is concerned with the legality of the secretary of state’s approach in taking his decision;

• Second, the misapplication of wording in the National Planning Policy Framework. Section 88 says that ‘very special measures’ will not exist unless the potential harm to the Green Belt by reason of inappropriateness, and any other harm, is clearly outweighed by other considerations. The claim says, legally, this test was not proved;

• The third ground for challenge relates to procedural irregularity and inconsistency on the rail freight interchange decision (versus the refusal of a nearby waste incinerator).

Cllr Julian Daly, SADC’s leader and portfolio holder for planning and conservation, said: “The council considers that the proposed rail freight interchange at this site will be harmful to the district’s Green Belt.  We believe that the secretary of state’s recent decision to grant planning permission is flawed legally. We are therefore taking action to challenge the decision in the High Court.”

SRFI approval

Looking back to July, when Pickles took the decision to allow the Helioslough appeal and grant planning permission, the secretary of state noted that the he was content the SRFI’s Environmental Statement provided sufficient information for him to assess the environmental impact of the proposal.

Pickles added that he agreed with an Inspector’s report which said the development of the site would contribute to urban sprawl and cause some harm to the setting of St Albans.

However, he considers that the “factors weighing in favour of the appeal include the need for SRFIs to serve London and the South East, to which he has attributed very considerable weight, and the lack of more appropriate alternative locations for an SRFI in the north west sector which would cause less harm to the Green Belt”.

The document has stated that the 3.5 million sq ft SRFI, which would operate 24 hours per day, could have up to seven or more trains arriving at the facility daily. Previous documents have also estimated that the SRFI could generate about 3,400 jobs; three-quarters being classified as ‘process plant and machine operatives’.

It was stated, though, that none of the SRFI Units would be occupied until the Midland Main Line Connection Works have been completed and until an operational rail link has been provided to the relevant Unit. 

The DCLG document added: “The secretary of state has also taken account of the local benefits of the proposals for a country park, improvements to footpaths and bridleways and the Park Street and Frogmore bypass. The secretary of state considers that these considerations, taken together, clearly outweigh the harm to the Green Belt and the other harms he has identified including the harm in relation to landscape and ecology and amount to very special circumstances.”

At the time of Pickles’ announcement the Rail Freight Group welcomed the news. Following the High Court claim by SADC, RFG executive director Maggie Simpson told RTM: “It's disappointing that St Albans have challenged this decision, further delaying progress of this important facility.

“SRFIs are vital for growing rail freight and taking lorries off the crowded roads around London, and we hope this case will be speedily resolved.”

RTM contacted the DCLG about the SADC claim, but was told that as legal action was taking place it would be inappropriate to comment.

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