Leeds tree felling row - Network Rail 'betrayed' Armley residents claim

Caleb Price and Fiona Blair pictured on Armley Park Road as contractors working for Network Rail remove trees.'Picture: Simon Hulme
Caleb Price and Fiona Blair pictured on Armley Park Road as contractors working for Network Rail remove trees.'Picture: Simon Hulme
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NETWORK Rail has apologised  amid claims it 'betrayed' Armley residents by keeping them in the dark over plans to fell hundreds of trees.

Residents say contractors working for Network Rail have already cut down dozens of trees between rail tracks and Armley Park Road since the felling programme was first noticed on Wednesday (Sept 18).

Fiona Blair and Caleb Price

Fiona Blair and Caleb Price

Armley Park Road resident Fiona Blair said there are hundreds more trees along a 600m stretch of land set to be felled and she has called for the work to be suspended.

She said: "I feel very upset and angry to see perfectly healthy mature trees being cut down next to my street.

"I think it's an act of vandalism on the community."

Fiona and her husband Caleb Price first raised concerns in December 2018 that Network Rail was planning 'vegetation management' at the site and were worried trees may be at risk.

Contractors removing trees on Network Rail land off Armley Park Road.'Picture: Simon Hulme

Contractors removing trees on Network Rail land off Armley Park Road.'Picture: Simon Hulme

The couple contacted Leeds West MP Rachel Reeves, who wrote to Network Rail raising concerns.

Network Rail's public affairs manager told Ms Reeves in a letter that only "minor work" was planned to remove "limited vegetation" so structural examinations could take place on three railway bridges.

The manager told Ms Reeves that should further work be carried out "lineside neighbours" would be informed, adding: "Network Rail is committed to working closely with local residents in Leeds when such work is required."

Network Rail's community relations manager Denise Thompson wrote to some Armley residents on August 2 stating that some trees needed to be removed and others may need to be cut back as part of "essential safety work" to be carried out at the site between August 11 and March 2020.

Fiona Blair and Caleb Price looking at the trees off Armley Park Road.

Fiona Blair and Caleb Price looking at the trees off Armley Park Road.

The YEP contacted Network Rail for a comment about the tree felling on Thursday (Sept 19).

Denise Thompson wrote a further letter dated yesterday (Friday September 20) to some Armley residents.

She wrote: "I refer to my previous letter informing you about vegetation work taking place on the railway near your property.

"That letter did not provide the correct information about the reason and scope for our work and I am sorry that this has caused concern for the local community.

"The location of the work site is a rock cutting and for safety we must remove all the trees to prevent the risk of trees falling onto the railway, bringing down the rock which has potential to cause serious accidents."

In November 2018, the independent Varley report was published after a review into the scale of tree felling by Network Rail.

One finding of the review was that Network Rail 'must improve its communication with communities.'

Fiona Blair, who works at the University of Leeds, said: "I am absolutely gutted. There are hundreds of trees here, bringing many benefits to the area, and very soon there will be nothing but an ugly green high metal fence along Armley Park Road.

"I feel like we have been betrayed by Network Rail because they did not let us know this time that work was being undertaken. If they had informed us we could have campaigned to keep some of the trees.

"I'm totally aware of safety issues. The issue here is about treating communities with respect and taking on board the recommendations of the Varley report.

"We appeal to Network Rail to suspend this work in order to have a proper discussion with local residents.”

Leeds West MP Rachel Reeves said: "It was wrong of Network Rail to cut down these trees, and to do so without consulting residents is unacceptable.

"I share the community’s concerns and will work with residents to get answers urgently.”

A Network Rail spokesperson said: “Firstly, we would like to apologise for the lack of clear communication about work to remove vegetation from a railway cutting in Armley.

"This was not good enough and we are looking at ways we can improve this process in the future.

“Network Rail is constantly balancing the needs of the environment and those who live by the railway with the needs and safety of the 4.6m people who use and rely on our railway every day.

“The work to remove vegetation from the railway cutting is essential safety work.

"The cutting is made up of rocks and the work to remove vegetation from this area is vital to prevent rocks and trees falling on the line, which could impact on the safety of the railway and disrupt train services.

“We would like to apologise to residents for any disruption this work has caused and thank them for their understanding whilst this works takes place.”