Cathedral like a beacon on a hill - the view that could be lost for ever

I have sent in my personal letter of objection to the Helioslough proposals for the Radlett freight terminal. I hope I am among many, many local residents and organisations to have voiced our dismay. There are so many different grounds why this proposal is wholly unsuitable for the site -

  • "coalescence" of currently separate communities destroying any remaining sense of a rural setting for the south of our city and district
  • massively increased lorry traffic on a highway infrastructure which is already close to breaking point
  • much of the workforce operating the site having to be imported daily from miles away adding to unnecessary traffic congestion
  • a whole mass of unanswered questions about the impact on commuter rail services which are vital to the economy of St Albans and the surrounding villages, and
  • the terrible impact on the quality of life of those living near the site.

But I wanted to highlight in particular the loss of the long-distance view from the south of St Albans Abbey. There are good grounds for saying this was the very cradle of Christianity in Britain. It is the only British cathedral built on the site of a martyrdom - Britain's first Christian martyr. I have always believed that St Alban would be an ideal patron saint for Britain. St Albans Abbey may not be the greatest piece of ecclesiastical architecture in Britain - but miraculously given its proximity to London it still sails above a recognisably medieval town with a skyline punctuated by Abbey Tower, clock tower and St Peters Church.

Tens of thousands of rail travellers see this view every day - and religious or not, their spirits must be uplifted by the sight. Suddenly that view is to be expunged and and the view from the railway line will be of great slab-sided warehousing. St Albans Civic Society has commissioned a brilliant poster designed by Roger Harlow which makes the point more powerfully than any words can. What happened in Roman Verulamium nearly two thousand years ago was an act of huge significance for the history of our nation. The great church standing on a hill has been a beacon for pilgrims and travellers for a thousand years. To expunge this view is no less than cultural vandalism showing total contempt for the history of our island. It must be prevented.The full text of my letter to the Director of Planning follows:

Director of Planning St Albans District Council St Peter’s Street St Albans AL1 3JE

Dear Sir

Re: Proposed Rail Freight Terminal, Park Street

Planning Ref: 5/2009/0708

I am writing to express my whole-hearted objection to the proposed Helioslough development.

Quite simply the proposed freight terminal remains a wholly inappropriate use for the proposed location:

  • It completely destroys the careful separation of St Albans, Park Street and London Colney
  • The impact on the local road network will not be addressed by the proposed fairly minor remedial works.
  • It does not address any employment need local to St Albans.
  • There remain many unanswered questions about the rail access – not least the impact on current heavily used commuter services which are vital to the economies of the communities between Luton and outer London; and whether the Elstree Tunnel will ever be brought up to full W10 railway gauge to allow it to accommodate full size European container trains or if that will always be an “aspiration”. .
  • There can only be damage to the quality of life of the large residential population living adjacent and near to the site.

The argument was made by the previous Inspector and endorsed by then Secretary of State that a so-called “strategic” railfreight terminal had an economic importance that outweighed most normal planning and Green Belt objections provided there was clear evidence that no alternative Green Belt or non Green Belt site existed. I have inspected at least one alternative site at Sundon north of Luton which has been identified by ProLogis and it has clear advantages over the Park Street site.

But I wish to highlight the implications of the potential catastrophic impact on the iconic distant view of St Albans from the south and in particular from the Midland Mainline as illustrated in the specially commissioned St Albans Civic Society poster. Nearly 2,000 years ago the first British Christian martyr was put to death on a hill outside Roman Verulamium. A shrine was built to St Alban and his body was laid to rest there. A settlement grew and became St Albans. The Abbey church grew and became the premier monastery and place of pilgrimage in England before becoming Hertfordshire and Bedfordshire’s cathedral church. Miraculously the cathedral still stands on its hill unobscured as a beacon for all faiths in a city which arguably has the highest church attendance of any place in Britain. And now it is to be hidden by a giant shed, an outcome as catastrophic to the genius loci of Britain as tower blocks cramming in on St Paul’s or the Tower of London..

This is a proposed development of almost unimaginable scale on a site where the Green Belt is already under significant stress. The increase in traffic will cause chaos to the whole south of St Albans district. The claimed employment, environmental and ecological benefits of the proposed scheme are largely a mirage.

As was stated in the previous public inquiry, the Helioslough scheme has a floor area much greater than Terminal 5 at Heathrow and a volume that could comfortably accommodate all of the residential properties within Park Street, Bricket Wood, Chiswell Green, London Colney and Colney Heath. With the damage to the greenfield context of one of the most significant religious sites in Britain, it is wholly inappropriate and should therefore be rejected by the District Council and any subsequent appeal fought with the utmost vigour.

Yours sincerely

Sandy Walkington

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