Tuesday, August 17, 2010

St Albans Strategic Rail Freight Interchange Appeal Proceeds

Multimodal Freight Depot Developers Go Up Against the Government
Shipping News Feature

UK – After the report last month that Eric Pickles, the Governments Community Secretary, had dismissed the development of an intermodal development on the site of the old Radlett Aerodrome near St. Albans, Hertfordshire, the developers, HelioSlough, have decided to launch an appeal against the decision, which will dismay many local private interests who have fought long and hard against the proposal.

No doubt the local Council will also view the forthcoming appeal with some trepidation having already incurred substantial costs in the battle so far and the campaigning members of STRiFE (Stop the Rail Freight Interchange) whose website currently still celebrates what they had considered the final victory.

Yesterday HelioSlough, submitted to the High Court of Justice (Queen’s Bench Division), under Section 288 of the Town & Country Planning Act 1990, a challenge to the Secretary of State's decision of the 7th July. Commenting on the announcement, Mike Hughes of HelioSlough said:

“We have not reached the decision to go to Law lightly. Since the publication of the Appeal Decision we have given the situation very deep thought. We are convinced that the Secretary of State has made the wrong decision and the only recourse we now have, under planning law, is for the Court to look at the issues and provide a ruling. In the interests of all parties we hope that this will be a short process.

"The former Radlett Aerodrome remains an ideal site to develop a SRFI. The thrust of policy continues to be to maximise the opportunities to take freight off the roads and switch it onto the railways. Our £250million proposal would make a substantial contribution to this and alleviate road based freight traffic in an increasingly congested part of our country. It would serve one of the key areas of London and make an enormous carbon saving.”

The wording of the appeal is prepared on the following basis:

‘While the Inspector recommended that Helioslough’s Appeal be upheld, The Secretary of State dismissed it on the grounds that a smaller, (and therefore potentially less impactful to the Green Belt), proposal could be developed at Colnbrook where a proposal for a SRFI on the site was dismissed at Appeal in 2002.

The basis of the Challenge is that HelioSlough believe that the Secretary of State did not adequately address the Strategic Gap designation that covers the Colnbrook site and that the position of Slough Borough Council, in this regard, was misconstrued. The Inspector had taken the view that “it cannot be rationally concluded” that Colnbrook would cause less harm to the Green Belt.

Moreover, the scale of the proposal in terms of operation and need at Radlett has been tested twice at Inquiry. On neither occasion was the size of the development deemed a reason for Dismissal. The first Appeal Decision provided clear guidance and advice to HelioSlough that it was only weaknesses in its Alternative Sites Report that had stood in the way of upholding that Appeal. This issue was satisfactorily addressed at the second Inquiry.

Following the second Inquiry, The Secretary of State dismissed the Radlett Appeal arguing that a smaller proposal for a SRFI could come forward at Colnbrook. On this basis HelioSlough contend that, in not comparing like-for-like development proposals, in terms of scale, the Secretary of State has erred in law.’

Watch this space for an ongoing struggle which may well end with few winners except the lawyers. Helioslough say they will make no further comment prior to the hearing. This is unlikely to be the case for the diverse interests ranged against them. Despite originally stating that appeal could only be way of a judicial review, this appeal is in fact a procedural challenge to the Secretary of State's decision under the planning act. A single Judge will hear the case, probably in January or February next year and should only take a day or two to hear the evidence. After due consideration, a decision will usually either be announced at the end of proceedings, or in writing within the following month.

It should be said that the judge has no authority to reverse Mr Pickle’s decision and grant planning permission for the scheme. He/She can however order the Secretary of State to revisit only those reasons for dismissing the Appeal covered by the Challenge. Such a re-consideration could lead to the re-opening of the Inquiry to hear argument only pertaining to the points covered by the Challenge in which case the same Inspector would be used.

Pic: STRiFE's view of the proposed site.