St Albans District Council Chambers
I will try to be brief because I speak not as an expert or lawyer, but simply as the local MP. As such, I am representing all my constituents, of all parties and none, both in Redbourn and in other parts of the constituency.
Ever since details of this planning application were announced, opposition has been widespread, profound and universal. Such unanimity is rare in this area.
We believe it should be ruled out for three key reasons. Each of them is sufficient in law as well as common sense to rule it out. And together they represent what I hope you will find to be an overwhelming case for rejection.
First and foremost, this entire site, on both sides of the M1, is on Green Belt land. And the Green Belt exists to stop this sort of thing. It exists to prevent ?encroachment on the countryside?.
It exists to outlaw ?inappropriate development? – and nothing could be more inappropriate than a large, ugly, noisy and wholly unnecessary motorway service area.
Ever since I have been MP the Green Belt has been under pressure. But it has proved a firm bulwark against encroachment. Every proposal for development has been seen off by your fellow inspectors.
At least that was the case until this month when approval was given to build 10,000 houses at the other end of this constituency. We are still reeling from that blow. If permission were given here, too, the Green Belt policy would be in tatters.
The Planning Guidance says that ?there is a general presumption against inappropriate development? such as this. ?Such developments should not be approved, except in very special circumstances?.
There simply are no very special circumstances to justify this application. Quite the reverse.
In the case of services stations the only conceivable special circumstances would have to relate to motorists needs. Far from there being an exceptional need, there is no need at all because this site is too close to both the nearest existing stations.
The Guidance, which remains in force, also says that the presumption is that ?service stations should normally be about 30 miles apart?.
Well, the two nearest stations are already less than 30 miles apart.
The Government considers that ?the minimum gap between any two MSAs should normally be 15 miles?. It goes on to say ?this does not mean that the government positively recommends provision of MSAs at 15 mile intervals?.
An MSA at Redbourn would be below that 15 mile minimum distance from both Toddington and Scratchwood.
So, even if this were not on Green Belt land, the developers would have to show some very exceptional reasons for putting an additional MSA less than the minimum distance from two existing stations,
I understand that the developers use two arguments to claim special need.
They say quite a lot of the M1 traffic comes from or goes to the western sector of the M25 where there are no MSAs; there are none because the M25 runs through the Green Belt.
But only a fraction of M1 traffic goes to or comes from the M25; only a fraction of that goes onto the Western segment, only a fraction of that traffic travels very far along the M25 before turning off.
So a Redbourn MSA could only be said to be ?needed? by a fraction of a fraction of a fraction of passing traffic.
By contrast, an MSA on the western segment of the M25 could be of benefit to all tM25 traffic.
So, if the Green Belt must be sacrificed to meet a need, it would be far better to build an MSA on the M25. And I gather one is likely to be given approval before long – which would remove Hallam?s original argument.
They also say the high level of traffic increases the need. But the volume of traffic does not affect the frequency with which vehicles need to break their journey.
A brigade of soldiers does not need to stop to eat, pee or rest any more frequently than an individual soldier.
That brings me to the third reason for opposing this proposal.
That is road safety.
This section of the M1 is one of the busiest in the world. The very fact that the traffic is so intense means that additional entrances or exits will add to the dangers.
That is why the Highways Agency opposes this proposal.
Moreover, the rules mean the Highways Agency will not put up signs for an MSA less than 15 miles from the nearest existing MSA. An unsigned MSA on this stretch would either be lethal or pointless.
Finally, I understand the developer claims that the landscaping measures and bunds will render the development environmentally acceptable.
This is not the view of local residents who have seen the plans.
To them, the proposed bunds would themselves damage the environment.
The village already suffers grievously from the continual drone of motorway noise. Plans to widen the M1 by adding to the capacity would have exacerbated the problems, which is why the inquiry into the widening insisted on continuous noise abatement screens and bunds along the edge of the motorway.
However, the access roads for the MSA would mean that the bunds would have to be brought within yards of houses in Redbourn.
This is a matter about which I feel passionate and so do my constituents.?