The Liberal Democrat campaign to stop a massive strategic rail-freight depot being built at Park Street goes on, citing new and compelling reasons why the Tory Government should scrap its outrageous and outdated scheme.
We answer your questions about the Tories’ monstrous proposal to build a 3.5 million square metre strategic rail freight interchange (SRFI) on green belt land – the size of 490 football pitches.
Q: Does St Albans council still oppose the siting of the rail freight depot at Park Street?
A: Yes, most definitely. We oppose the location of such a huge and damaging development so close to nearby communities. We believe the land should remain part of the green belt.
Any alternative plans to build anything on the site would be subject to the same stringent tests in terms of reducing the damage of any development to green belt land, and any plans to build anything at all upon it would be opened to the public for consultation
Q: How do you plan to stop the building of the rail freight depot?
You can also sign our petition: Stop the Park Street Rail Freight Terminal
Q: Why has St Albans district council failed to stop the scheme to date?
A: Under the previous Conservative administration, St Albans district council wasted £2 million pounds and several years pushing a flawed Local Plan.
The Local Plan put forward by the Tories was thrown out in 2020 by an independent inspector appointed by the Planning Inspectorate.
The inspector ruled that there was no legal basis for the council to earmark the area for 3,500 houses on the site, as it had already been earmarked for the Strategic Rail Freight Interchange (SRFI) – a national infrastructure project – by the Tory Government in Westminster.
The district council, now run by the Liberal Democrats, is determined not to waste more time and money working on a similarly flawed Local Plan.
We are pressing ahead with a new plan that encourages sustainable and climate-friendly housing development, while also protecting other equally valuable parts of the green belt.
Q: Will the Lib Dems now give up fighting the SRFI?
A: Absolutely not. Liberal Democrat-led St Albans council is 100% committed to opposing the rail freight depot until the Government cancels the scheme.
These are the reasons why we think it’s right to fight on:
- The depot was forced on the local community against its wishes by the Tory Government in 2014.
- The location on 3.5 million square metres of green belt land makes the site totally inappropriate for a development of this size – the equivalent of 490 football pitches.
- The local road and rail infrastructure is totally inadequate to carry the heavy and constant traffic to and from the site.
- Nearby communities will be irreversibly damaged – places where people have invested their lives and livelihoods and are entitled to a decent environment and quality of life.
- Commuter rail services face years of disruption if the necessary increase in network capacity on the East Coast main line is ever to be achieved.
- The old Victorian railway tunnels in North London are too small for modern containers and will be the cause of massive disruption and cost hundreds of millions to rebuild.
- Much of the freight destined for the north will instead go via road rather than the East Coast main line.
- The site is impractical for rail freight – and yet has national planning permission for the building of giant warehouses.
- As a rail-freight interchange the scheme is out of date and will end up becoming an oversized lorry park – with warehouses, container storage, HGV parking and so on.
Q: What are the changed circumstances that justify a government review?
A: The economic and political landscape has changed since the SRFI was conceived in 2006.
Brexit is intended to bring about less reliance on cross-channel trade and more business with the rest of the world.
In the 2021 budget the Government announced the creation of eight free ports across England – special economic zones envisaged “on a scale we’ve never done before”.
Tory politicians in the north see the free ports as a vital tool in the ‘levelling up’ agenda to attract money and jobs to deprived regions.
The Government should review the need and expense of such a large project in the south of England, when new infrastructure and investment is desperately needed away from London.
Q: Are there any precedents for the Government to cancel plans for an SRFI?
A: Yes, indeed. An SRFI site at Howbury Park, near Dartford, was dropped following the opening of the London Gateway container terminal in 2013. The Government needs to make public details of any impact assessment carried out that led to that decision.
Q: How will you replace the 3,500 houses proposed for Park Street in the Tories’ flawed Local Plan?
A: We are working on a new Local Plan to identify fresh sites as a matter of urgency.
We are required by the Government to build 900 houses each year, but only 40% can be built on brown-field sites, so the rest will have to come from the green belt.
Without a Local Plan in place – including what’s called a five-year housing land supply:
- People can submit planning applications on green belt
- The council may lose appeals against building on green belt sites
That’s why we need to move fast on a new Local Plan – to protect the green belt.
Q: How will the Local Plan differ under the Liberal Democrats?
A: Our vision for the new local plan is based on sustainable development, and minimising loss and damage to the green belt. This involves:
- Building climate-ready, eco-efficient homes
- Locating housing on smaller sites, while making larger sites more sustainable
- Planning for genuinely affordable housing
- Designing new eco-friendly infrastructure, with
- More green links between houses, and
- Alternative sustainable transport routes into town
- Installing electric charge points
- Supporting green industries
- Requiring developers to fund green infrastructure.
We will carry out a fresh review of the green belt, including a sustainability survey, ranking potential sites according to their contribution to the green belt.
And hold a public consultation from mid-2021 so that residents and businesses can contribute.
A vote for Liberal Democrats on 6 May is a vote to protect the green belt.