Daisy Cooper, the Liberal Democrat MP for St Albans, has moved swiftly to secure a debate in the House of Commons on the planned Park Street rail freight terminal on the first day parliament resumes after the summer recess.
She will use the debate to warn the Government and fellow MPs of the huge damage the proposal for the 3.5 million square-metre strategic rail freight interchange (SRFI) will have on the community of Park Street, on the green belt, and on the surrounding roads and commuter rail links.
Daisy has vowed to fight the Government on the freight terminal “to the bitter end” after St Albans district council was forced to concede the fight against the depot to stop Whitehall seizing control of the Local Plan.
The Local Plan – which earmarks land within the district that is suitable for future housing, commercial and infrastructure development – was approved by the council in 2018, only to be suspended in January this year by government inspectors.
Their key objection was the inclusion of a proposal to build 2,300 homes on the site earmarked for the rail freight terminal in Park Street, when planning permission had already been granted in 2014 by the then Tory Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, Eric Pickles.
Jamie Day, a Lib Dem councillor and portfolio holder for planning, said:
“Residents will understand that their council had no choice as it is clear it cannot stop the depot from being built by earmarking the land for housing.
“If the council does not accommodate the depot, it will not be allowed to proceed with the Local Plan and it could be drawn up by Whitehall civil servants instead. It is far better that major decisions about where to locate new developments are determined by locally-elected representatives who have a feel for our community.”
The campaign now moves to the House of Commons where Daisy Cooper MP has vowed to continue the fight against the “monstrous” rail freight terminal – the size of 490 soccer pitches.
Daisy Cooper MP said:
“This assault on our community is unacceptable and I will find ways to fight the Government on this to the bitter end.
“I’m outraged that our local council has been held hostage by the Conservative Government planning system. In effect, the council has been told to choose between accepting a freight terminal or losing control of deciding where to build homes. This is no choice at all.
“It was the Tories’ own Secretary of State, Eric Pickles, who said a decade ago that the terminal didn’t fit with the development plan in the area and was inappropriate in the green belt. He even highlighted the likely harm to the landscape and ecology, but went ahead and approved the freight terminal anyway.
“The Government changed course then and it can change course again now. It must listen to the people whose lives will be so severely impacted and recognise the enormous damage its own policy will inflict on the community and the environment.
“By agreeing to the council’s plans for 2,300 homes instead of this monstrous freight interchange, this site could help to achieve Government housing targets, be at the heart of an East-West Herts innovation corridor and could pioneer the new post-Covid world of work, by integrating local housing, jobs and sustainable transport.
“I’m pleased to have secured this important debate on the first day that parliament returns. I’ll use it to bring home to the Conservative Government the impossible demands of meeting Government housing targets and accommodating a Government-imposed freight interchange, whilst also helping protect the green belt, and try to persuade them instead to give the green light to the Liberal Democrats’ alternative vision of using the site to provide genuinely affordable homes, jobs and sustainable living.”