Top Lib Dems Lend Support to Railfreight Campaign

Paul Burstow MP, Liberal Democrat Chief Whip in the House of Commons, visited St Albans yesterday. I met him at St Albans station with (Lord) Tom McNally, leader of the large Liberal Democrat group in the House of Lords, who is a St Albans resident and regular commuter. I took them both down to Park Street to learn about the threat to the village and the green belt from the proposed lorry terminal on the former Radlett aerodrome site.

We went to the home of local councillor Aislinn Lee and met Cathy Bolshaw, the dynamic organiser of the STRIFE campaign group ( together with Bill Hammond, another of the many local campaigners. They gave a lucid account of why the proposal is monstrous and should be resisted at all costs.

The rail element is clearly a scam. The Midland Mainline is not suitable for full-sized freight trains. Major infrastructure works would be required for the Elstree Tunnel and the North London line simply to accommodate any rail traffic to and from London, none of which is currently planned, while no worthwhile freight could come down from the north. Road haulage would have no such inhibitions, and it is clear that this is a Trojan Horse road depot with a few rail sidings attached. But the implications for the environment and local infrastructure are tremendous.

  • A series of gigantic shed would be built – one larger in floor area than Heathrow’s new Terminal 5.
  • All the traffic would come in and go out onto the A414 which is already the most overloaded stretch of dual carriageway in the county, since they will not be allowed to access the M25 directly even though it is at the southern edge of the site.
  • All the workers on the site would add to traffic pressures since the types of relatively low-pay jobs created would not help local residents and people would tend to travel in from north London or Luton.

The scheme is likely to be rejected out of hand by St Albans District Council on the grounds of wholly inadequate highway infrastructure and driving a coach and horses through green belt policy. That’s the easy bit. The problem is when the applicants, HelioSlough, go to appeal and there is a public inquiry where anything can happen and a planning inspector can arbitrarily overrule local objection. This will be a huge and very expensive challenge for both the District Council and local villagers, as they will need to pay for legal representation and expert witnesses – I take my hat off to Cathy and her colleagues for what they have already achieved.

This is an all-party fight and I will be joining the local MPs and Labour candidates in opposing this threat, which adds to the daggers pointing at St Albans city from all the current green belt proposals. By taking Paul Burstow MP and Tom McNally to meet and be briefed by Cathy and colleagues, I was making sure that the two arms of the Liberal Democrats at Westminster are ready to become involved in the fight when appropriate.

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