Highways England have been trumpeting their work along the M621 in Hunslet and Belle Isle to erect noise barriers, but the residents the barriers are designed to help are less than impressed.
In a press release issued before Christmas the agency described the barriers as an “innovative noise and safety solution” that are “standing proud.” It went on to describe Hunslet as: “An area identified as a national hotspot by Defra in relation to noise” and said “feedback from residents meant that it was one of the first areas Highways England wanted to tackle using money from a special environment fund.”
The work on the barriers was due to be completed by October 2020, but is now projected to finish in March 2021.
Last summer we reported on the bright green metal ‘wall’ that appeared along Parnaby Road and the sleepless nights residents suffered during the work. That section is now to be repainted in a more subtle shade after residents, supported by their Councillors and MP complained.
Now mature trees which screen Blakeney Grove by the Junction 6 slip road have been chopped down to make way for the barriers. At the original consultation residents were told the trees would stay, then they received a letter saying the trees would be removed, but would be replaced. Now Highways England say only shrubs will be planted by the barrier.
Blakeney Grove resident Karen Lawton told us:
“We feel lied to, they said the trees wouldn’t go, then they sent a letter saying some trees would go, then when we looked out all the trees had gone.
“My neighbour Susan and I were crying when we saw what they were doing to the trees.”
“What we’re going to have to look at now, instead of trees, is a green horrible fence.”
Councillor Kim Groves (Middleton Park) commented:
“I am extremely disappointed with how Highways England have acted in Belle Isle on the removal of mature trees. The amount of trees removed that formed a green barrier to the motorway is absolutely disgraceful. Residents are now left with a mound of soil and a green sound barrier that resembles those used to secure building sites.
“This is a well sought out area to live and work in so I expect the situation to enhance the landscape and mitigate emissions to be resolved as soon as possible.
“There are many questions I would have asked on behalf of residents had I been informed or contacted before the trees were cut down. Residents had a green barrier that had been there for years and wildlife thrived. As well as health concerns this will impact on house prices.
“The removal of trees at a time when carbon emissions from the motor vehicle is the biggest threat to us and future generations surely means this is unacceptable behaviour from a government body.”
A spokesperson for Highways England said:
“We appreciate the importance of retaining vegetation where possible and only carry out this kind of work following detailed surveys and guidance from our environmental team.
“We wrote to Blakeney Grove residents on 20 October to inform that, to safely install the barrier, we would need to stabilise the embankment, which requires the removal of trees and the boundary fence. We can’t complete the stabilisation work without removing the trees. Not doing this work would increase the risk of the embankment failing, posing a safety risk to drivers and residents.
“New trees will be planted in place of the old ones where permitted by the new embankment design, and we will also replace the boundary fence.”
In other correspondence South Leeds Life has seen Highways England officers say:
“The only pollutant listed as linked to stretches of road near our network that is above standard limits is NO2. Research published on behalf of Government by the Air Quality Expert Group, indicates that vegetation does not materially affect levels of NO2 concentrations.”
In their press release Highways England project manager Sujad Hussain said:
“I would like to personally thank all residents and drivers for their patience and co-operation while we carry out these much needed improvements. Hopefully, the full benefit of the noise and safety barriers will be realised once these improvements are complete by spring.”
We will give the last word, for now, to Karen Lawton:
“If it was their back garden would it be happening? I don’t think so. If it was in north Leeds would it be happening? I don’t think so.”