Out-Law News | 15 Jul 2014 | 4:01 pm | 2 min. read
Proposals by developer Helioslough for the construction of a 331,665 square metre strategic rail freight interchange (SRFI) at land in and around the site of the former Radlett Aerodrome in the Upper Colne Valley were initially refused permission by Hertfordshire County Council in 2009. The proposed scheme includes a rail terminal, distribution warehouses and the provision of road and rail infrastructure as well as a new bypass and publicly accessible open land with a community forest.
The developer's appeal was recovered by the SoS due to its size, national significance and the proposed impact on the Green Belt. The SoS decided to refuse permission but this decision was subsequently quashed in the High Court in July 2011 and the appeal was returned to the SoS for redetermination.
In his decision letter (256-page / 1.3MB PDF) granting outline planning permission for the proposals on 14 July, Pickles said that, although substantial harm would be caused to the area under the proposals, the overall benefits of allowing development outweighed this harm.
In making his decision, the SoS attached considerable weight to "a need for a network of SRFIs to support growth and create employment ... particularly ... serving London and the South East", and a lack of a credible alternative location for an SRFI in the area that would cause less harm to the Green Belt. Giving "full weight" to the views of Network Rail, Pickles disagreed with representations that the development was unsuitable for operation as an SRFI and rejected claims that alternative sites at Upper Sundon, Colnbrook, Littlewick Green and Harlington would be more suitable.
Other considerations in favour of the development were the local benefits to be provided by a new country park, the proposed bypass and improvements to footpaths and bridleways, Pickles said.
Pickles agreed with the inspector that the proposed scheme constituted "inappropriate development in the Green Belt", in contravention of local and national policy. "The SoS has attributed substantial weight to the harm that would be caused to the Green Belt," said the decision letter, before concluding that the benefits of the scheme provided the "very special circumstances" that allowed such development under the development plan.
Agreeing with the inspector that the scheme would cause "loss of openness and significant encroachment into the countryside", contribution to urban sprawl, and adverse impacts on the landscape, the setting of St Albans and local ecology, Pickles decided that these harms, and the harm to the Green Belt were outweighed by the overall benefits of the scheme.
The Council said in a statement that it is "carefully considering whether it has grounds to challenge the decision".
"The Council is disappointed with the SoS's decision," said councillor Julian Daly. "Our position from the outset has been that building a rail freight interchange at this site will be harmful to the district’s Green Belt.”
Any challenge to the decision in the High Court must be made by 22 August.