A massive housing scheme has emerged as a possible alternative use for land earmarked for a rail freight depot.
Taylor Wimpey North Thames has approached the county council – part owners of the former Radlett Airfield in Park Street – expressing an interest in creating a new garden village development of 2,000 homes on the site.
The building firm envisages a scheme on the 119-hectare green belt site which would also include community services, a primary school, allotments and employment facilities.
Access would be primarily from the A414 and Taylor Wimpey has expressed an interest in providing a park and ride scheme, a new station and potentially a guided bus or light railway.
The approach follows the county council’s decision to actively seek alternative uses for the site after Helioslough was granted planning permission for a Strategic Rail Freight Interchange (SRFI) on the site.
Permission was granted by the then Secretary of State Eric Pickles and despite St Albans council making numerous challenges to his ruling through the courts, they were unsuccessful.
But opposition to the SRFI scheme has remained strong because of concerns about the scale of the operation and its impact on the roads and environment of St Albans.
An initial report, which will go to a county cabinet panel meeting on Monday, suggests that the Taylor Wimpey scheme could fit the eligibility criteria for a prospectus put out by the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) in March inviting expressions of interest in building new garden villages of between 1,500 to 10,000 homes.
The aim is to offer tailored support to local areas wanting to deliver a new garden village, town or city and the DCLG intends to support up to 12 such schemes.
As recently as April, Helioslough told the county council that it was ‘absolutely committed’ to progressing the SRFI scheme and an offer would be submitted for the land owned by the county council subject to a comprehensive appraisal.
County council leader, Cllr Robert Gordon, said its prime duty was to the residents of Hertfordshire and the council remained opposed to the proposed development of an SRFI.
He went on: “We would prefer not to see a change in the current green belt status of this land and would also prefer not to sell it. However, it is possible that circumstances might arise where we have no lawful alternative but to sell.
“We therefore actively contacted developers to see if any alternative uses could be found for the land which would achieve at least the equivalent value as a Strategic Rail Freight Interchange.”
St Albans MP Anne Main, who has been a strong opponent of the SRFI, said she had not yet looked in detail at the Taylor Wimpey proposal but if it delivered ‘significant advantages’, anything was better than the Helioslough scheme.
She pointed out that with the opposition from neighbouring local authorities to the St Albans planning blueprint – the Strategic Local Plan – the district council was a in a “dangerous situation” with regard to providing more housing land. She felt that residents would rather see a garden village built on the site than a rail freight interchange which would “ruin people’s lives”.
Lib Dem county councillor Sandy Walkington, also a strong opponent to the SRFI, said: “All I would say at the moment is that anything is better than a rail freight terminal but the devil will be in the detail.”
However, action group STRiFE – Stop The Rail Freight Exchange – still maintain that the site should remain as green belt land. Spokeswoman Cathy Bolshaw said that a housing scheme could create a different set of problems with traffic and other issues and they did not accept that the county council had to sell the land.