A vital link

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One of the great names of the British aircraft industry, Handley Page, made Radlett Aerodrome its home in 1930. The site was used for the development of the Hampden and Halifax bombers which were used in the second world war, along with the Victor, one of the V-bombers that provided Britain’s nuclear strike force for more than 30 years.

After a history like that, you might imagine that the task of taking goods off the road and putting them onto rail would be regarded as a rather benign use for this old industrial site.
But that is not how the locals see it. They have fought the plan to use the site for a Strategic Rail Freight Interchange every step of the way.

Just before Christmas, Eric Pickles, secretary of state for communities and local government, announced that he intended to give the go-ahead for the £400m scheme. Since then, action group STRiFE has been campaigning to stop Hertfordshire County Council selling the land to the developer, collecting some 10,000 signatures for a petition. St Albans council is also launching a legal challenge to the secretary of state’s decision. 

Of course, residents have the right to oppose developments in their area. But, it is also worth remembering why the development of this rail freight interchange is so important.

There is a clear national interest. We need to maximise the use of rail in our logistics networks – it not only gets lorries off our congested roads, it has clear environmental benefits. In its 2011 policy document on SRFIs, the Department for Transport highlighted the need for more rail terminals to meet the growth of rail freight over the coming years. It forecast that traffic would more than double between 2006 and 2030.

It said: “The government believes that a network of SRFIs is needed to serve the major centres of population and support the longer-term development of efficient rail freight distribution logistics.”

But finding sites for these SRFIs is not that easy. The Rail Freight Group has pointed out that Radlett will be the only major rail freight interchange in the north and west quadrants around London, well situated with good road and rail links, and should enable a much higher proportion of freight to use rail freight for parts of journeys. It really is a vital link for all of us.

Malory Davies FCILT,

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