Today Eric Pickles, Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, has announced he is “minded to approve” planning permission for a Strategic Rail Freight Interchange (SRFI) on a a disused airfield at Radlett near St Albans, promoted by Helioslough, a joint venture led by Segro.

The Secretary of State revisited the Helioslough scheme after a High Court challenge quashed his original appeal decision, despite the planning inspector recommending in favour of the development.

The minister said he would defer his final decision on the appeal pending submission of a satisfactory planning obligation from the developer.

He acknowledged that the proposal represented “inappropriate development in the Green Belt”. He also recognised that the proposed development would result in significant encroachment into the countryside, contribute to urban sprawl “and cause some harm to the setting of St Albans”.

However, the minister said that there were “very special circumstances” which warranted his intention to grant planning permission for the strategic rail freight interchange.

He also said that the Government would not, after all, consider the Radlett project alongside proposals for a freight terminal at Colnbrook near Slough at a joint inquiry. This option had been canvassed as part of the exercise revisiting the original decision.

Intermodality has worked with Helioslough from the project’s inception in 2003, providing support on development of the rail masterplan and planning documentation through two applications and two Public Inquiries. It is hoped that this decision by Government will enable all the stakeholders involved to conclude the protracted planning process within the short term.