I went to County Hall yesterday for the special meeting of the Policy and Resources Panel preparing to go down with guns firing as they passed the officers' recommendation to sell the crucial county-owned Green Belt land to Helioslough and sign up to the 'section 106 agreement' for remedial works imposed by Eric Pickles.
The picture shows me with fellow Lib Dem county councillor Aislinn Lee, whose Park Street and St Stephen county division contains the proposed lorry terminal site. I applaud her fight against the terrible proposal as I also applaud STRiFE and all the local residents who have given so much time to the campaign. The officers' report said the county now had no choice except to sell the land following Mr Pickles's decision. I thought this was bunk and Paul Stinchcombe QC, the counsel for STRiFE agreed with me.
In the middle of the discussion, Robert Gordon, Leader of the Council, pulled out an alternative resolution proposing deferment of any decision to sell the land though they would proceed with the section 106 agreement. I would have preferred not to have proceeded with the section 106 as well but the council's lawyers were adamant that we had no choice. But I successfully amended the final resolution so that we publicly condemned the inadequacy of the section 106 proposals for highways, transport and environmental improvements should the freight terminal go ahead (with the implication that council tax payers will have to pick up the cost of all the needed highway and other remedial works not being funded by Helioslough), and I also ensured that a suggestion that the council would have no choice but to sell the land eventually was also removed. My own view is that if Mr Pickles wants to condemn us to living in the shadow of a monstrous and wholly inappropriate lorry terminal and warehouse complex, he should be forced to compulsorily purchase the land, the county council should not be rolling over to do a deal with Helioslough.
It's only a deferment. But the faces of the Helioslough team at yesterday's meeting were a picture. The longer we kick this can down the road, the more chance there is that things will change - other terminals will open, ministers will change etc etc. There are also suggestions that the land might be used for housing instead. This has its attractions compared to giant warehousing if traffic and school issues can be addressed but all the implications need to be considered including whether accepting that the land is appropriate for some kind of development (and therefore not crucial Green Belt after all) knocks away the key arguments against the Freight Terminal which has to be by a railway line whereas there are plenty of other Green Belt sites for housing. But following yesterday's surprise about-turn, we live to fight another day - and fight on we will.