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Radlett Airfield plans to be considered alongside similar scheme for Colnbrook, Slough
Controversial proposals for a rail freight terminal near Radlett described as the "biggest planning application Hertfordshire has ever seen" have been put in for a "surprise" third inquiry.
Proposals by Helioslough for a Strategic Rail Freight Interchange (SRFI) on the former Radlett Airfield will now be conjoined with plans for a rail freight depot in Colnbrook, Slough.
The Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, Eric Pickles, who has already deferred the application twice, has decided the two schemes should be heard together on the basis they "raise similar and inter-related issues".
A letter from Christine Symes, planning case worker for the Department for Communities and Local Government, read: "He considers that a decision on the Radlett proposal and the reasoning for that decision may have a significant bearing on his determination of Colnbrook."
The letter went on to recommend: "He is of the view that re-opening the inquiry into Radlett appeal and conjoining it with the planned inquiry into the proposed SRFI at Colnbrook is likely to lead to a more coherent and consistent decision-making process overall."
The recommended third inquiry has been met with mixed opinions from councillors, because most believed a decision over the rail freight terminal was going to be "imminent".
James Clappison, MP for Hertsmere, said: "It is a deeply flawed proposal which would have such an awful affect on the Green Belt.
"I am fed up of fighting against it.
"However, if we have to fight again, we will fight again."
Councillor Dreda Gordon, Labour representative for London Colney, said: "It is all up in the air again and another delay in the process, which is not fair on residents.
"This has come as a surprise because we all thought the decision was going to be imminent. We have been thrown back into limbo.
"I wish the Secretary of State would have given us an idea when the decision will be made.
"However, I think it is a sensible decision to look at both together because they are plans for rail freight terminals both in the south east."
Councillors and residents now have until Wednesday, October 3, to express their views of the proposal.
Councillor Gordon added: "It is very short notice to get opinions and comments across and I hope people have enough time to do so.
"However, this might well be a good thing to speed up the process."
Councillor Aislinn Lee, Liberal Democrat representative for Park Street said residents and councillors would have to put stand together and put their weight behind opposing the proposals once again.
Councillor Lee said: "I am delighted the rail freight proposal is being considered again.
"I would rather it be re-opened instead of them making the wrong decision.
"A lot has changed since the last time it was considered.
"It has been very stressful for the local community and I hope we will have enough resources and financial stability from the council to fight it once again."
Councillor Teresa Heritage , portfolio holder for planning and conservation at St Albans District Council confirmed the district council would be responding to the Secretary of State’s letter shortly giving views on his proposals.
Mike Lovelady, head of legal, democratic and regulatory services for the council, said: “We are currently considering the Secretary of State’s proposed approach.
"If there’s a conjoined planning inquiry into the two schemes, then St Albans City and District Council will incur costs in presenting its case.
"We aren’t in a position to estimate the costs involved at this stage.
"The amount will depend on the scope of the inquiry.”