Member of Parliament for Hertsmere, Oliver Dowden, has called for St Albans Council to look again at alternatives to the rail terminal on the site of the proposed rail terminal at Radlett Airfield. Mr Dowden's calls come following the publication of a report by the Planning Inspectorate (published 23 August) raising significant concerns about the soundness of the St Albans Strategic Local Plan 2011-2031 that was submitted for inspection two months ago.
In June Mr Dowden wrote to the Leader of St Albans Council, Cllr Julian Daly, calling for changes to be made to the St Albans Strategic Local plan to enable alternatives to the proposed strategic rail terminal at Radlett Airfield to be developed. In his letter Mr Dowden referred to a number of written Parliamentary Questions that he tabled earlier this year relating to the possibility of the land ear marked for the rail freight terminal being used for another purpose. In the responses to these questions, former Minister of State for Housing and Planning, Brandon Lewis MP, confirmed that amendments to the Strategic Local Plan can be made to change the planning designation of the land in question. This would effectively enable St Albans Council to consider planning applications for alternative developments on the same site.
The Planning Inspector's report raised significant concerns about the soundness of the local plan relating to both the 'Duty to Co-operate' principle and housing provision.
Planning Inspector David Hogger states:
"I have undertaken my initial assessment with regard to the St Albans Strategic Local Plan and at this early stage in the Examination process it leads me to conclude that there is a significant matter relating to legal compliance that needs to be addressed now. This is whether or not 'Duty to Co-operate' has been met and whether any co-operation that has been undertaken has been based on appropriate assessment of issues that cross local boundaries, particularly but not exclusively with regard to overall housing provision."
The report states that in order for the 'Duty to Co-operate' to be met:
"Effective co-operation is likely to require sustained joint working with concrete actions and outcomes and evidence submitted to an Examination should be robust and include details about who the Authority has co-operated with, the nature and timing of co-operation and how it has influenced the plan. If a Local Planning Authority cannot demonstrate that it has complied with the Duty then the Local Plan will not be able to proceed further in the examination."
Mr Dowden said:
"In light of the concerns raised by the Planning Inspector and to avoid their plan being found to be unsound, I would repeat my call for St Albans Council to consider amending their Strategic Local Plan to allow alternatives to the rail terminal to brought forward.
"I believe that St Albans District Council can lawfully alter the designation of the land question in their Strategic Local Plan. I would urge them to consider doing so in order to allow other users to be considered and developed.
"“I have personally been clear all along that I don't want any development on this site. However, now that all appeal avenues have been exhausted and development in the form of the rail freight terminal is being forced on us, I believe that it would be prudent to at least allow alternatives to be considered. Almost anything would be better than a rail terminal that would clog up our roads with lorries and jam the Thameslink line with freight trains."
The report by Planning Inspector David Hogger has called for an Initial Hearing Session to take place at which the Council's approach in relation to the Duty to Co-operate will be discussed. The Planning Inspector plans to invite representatives of the nearby Local Planning Authorities to give evidence.