Rail freight not the enemy in battle of St Albans
There is no end in sight to the increasingly acrimonious dispute over the proposed development of a new logistics park and rail freight terminal just north of London. The controversy surrounding the development of the former Radlett Airfield, nearby the historic town of St Albans, into a logistics park with a rail freight terminal, continues to rage on, with protestors seeking legal advice and staging demonstrations against the plans.
The site’s proximity to St Albans, a town with a millennium of history, has been a key concern for local residents. They fear that the proposed 3,5 million square-metre development would exacerbate traffic congestion and have a detrimental impact on the local environment. The Fight the Freight protest group has been leading the charge against the development, arguing that it would destroy greenbelt land and lead to increased pollution and noise levels.
Modal shift still needs last-mile road
Government studies and economic observers are of the opinion that the UK has a severe lack of modern logistics handling – specifically warehousing with transport links. The Government mandated net-zero carbon economy suggests that future logistics handling should switch modality significantly in favour of rail. However, so-called ‘last mile’ operations will most likely still be road-based, and it’s that aspect of the development that the protestors fear will most keenly impact the town and the local area at large
The developers of the proposed logistics park are SEGRO, a UK company with logistics development interests across Europe. They have been relatively quiet in the controversy. The main point of contention appears to be over the observation of local democracy. SEGRO has defended its plans, stating that the proposed logistics park would create jobs and boost the local economy. However, they have faced a difficult battle in convincing locals and councillors that the development is in the best interests of the community.
Protestors challenge local government
The local council has been debating the proposal for several years, with objections raised by a number of councillors and local residents. Despite this, planning permission was granted at the UK government level in 2014, leading to further outcry from those opposed to the development. The most recent developments have included the formalisation of the opposition into the ‘Fight the Freight’ group, which came together earlier this year. Since then, the group has engaged legal representation, seeking to overturn the local government decision to sell the necessary land to the developers.
The controversy has also highlighted the importance of rail freight to the net zero carbon agenda, with proponents of the development arguing that it would reduce the number of lorries on the roads and help to cut emissions. However, opponents remain unconvinced, citing concerns about the impact on local wildlife and the potential for increased traffic congestion.
The need to decarbonise the economy is not being contested in this dispute. Protestors, not necessarily expressing their affiliation to Fight the Freight, have been savage in their condemnation of any reporting which they deem unsympathetic to their cause. Rail freight would however appear to be innocent in a war of words between local and national democracy.