Woodlesford might best be described as a ‘fringe’ town, being on the very edge of the Leeds, a stone’s throw from Wakefield but still rural enough to feel distinct from the endless urban sprawl. The drive in affords long views over frost-tinged December fields cut through by dense dark wedges of woodland.
It enjoys today the kind of status towns like Cross Gates did in the 19th century, before they were trampled by the march of industry and the inevitable influx of workers.
For decades, Woodlesford was known as a mining and quarrying village but the last pit closed here in 1983, with sandstone extraction ceasing in the 1960s. Since then, it has become part of the commuter belt, evidenced by the numerous new estates across town.
Since the announcement that the proposed £55bn high speed rail link HS2 would pass through Woodlesford, there have been rumblings of discontent. The original route followed the Aire & Calder Navigation, passing by The Maltings and The Locks estates via a series of 90ft tall viaducts which would have towered over houses and, according to most, blighted the area. A consultation event in 2013 called for alternatives. Last month the Government delivered one.
The new plan is to create what would be the UK’s deepest train tunnel (150ft) which would run beneath the town and negate the need for viaducts. But now those plans have been met largely - although not completely - with disdain.
Carole Hulme, 58, a mother of two and grandmother to one, who works as a teaching assistant at Woodlesford School and whose house is just a few hundred yards from the proposed tunnel entrance, has concerns: “I have lived here 31 years and I can remember these houses flooding. The park where the tunnel will be used to be a quarry and when they filled it in they put all sorts in there.”
Christopher Hoole, a solicitor from Pard Road on the Applegarth Manor estate is one of those affected by the new route. Previously, his house would have been about a mile away from the line but following the changes, it will now be around 200m away.
He said: “People on this estate bought houses based on the original plans, which showed the line being about 1.6km away. Now it turns out they are going to be just 200m away.
“People spend a lot of money on their homes and yet we’re in a position where we don’t know yet - and won’t for some time - how this is going to affect their value, or whether we can sell it in future.”
The new tunnel entrance would be built at Water Haigh Woodland Park (formerly Armitage Quarry, latterly a landfill site), then run for around a mile, emerging again by Rothwell Country Park. As well as running under houses, it will also run beneath the town’s primary school.
Stephen Ellis, 53, chair of Woodlesford Primary Governing Body, has a more positive outlook: “It’s a darn sight better than having a 90ft high viaduct. I think we know how to build tunnels in this country and it will be 150ft under ground. Ultimately, I think we have to look at the bigger picture, at the level of investment this will bring not just to this area but the wider area. It’s always difficult when something is going to pass through your back yard but I see this as an investment in our children’s future, in jobs, the money it will bring to the area.
“There’s the reality that we do not live in a country, say like Australia, where they have lots of space to divert transport lines away from communities, we’re tightly packed in, so the lines have to go somewhere.
“We’re not being flippant by any means, we want more information about the scheme and we’re keenly aware some parents will have concerns.”
The much lauded financial benefits of HS2 have also been questioned.
HS2 say the scheme will create 25,000 jobs during construction and 100,000 in total. It will also lead to 5,000 new homes being built. It estimates the new HS2 trains will carry 300,000 people a day, freeing up space on the existing network for commuter and freight services.
Joe Rukin, campaign manager for Stop HS2, the group opposing the scheme nationally, said the Government would be better off spending the money on broadband than “transporting people hundreds of miles to work”.
“The economic benefit will be to London, it will drain investment from the North. The only people who will benefit from this are the construction companies which lobbied hard to get it. People who think it will somehow help get rid of the North-South Divide are mistaken - if anything it will make it worse. This is all about single point-to-point journeys, which benefits one group of people, the elite and well off who have good jobs.”
Stewart Golton, leader of the Liberal Democrat Group in Leeds and councillor for the area, agrees: “It’s not a case of this being better or worse, it’s that we don’t want it at all. The viaducts might have gone but now we will have huge cuttings and embankments. Just because they have included some tunnelling doesn’t mean it’s a good enough offer. The blight has merely been redirected to a new set of people.”
I meet him at The Midland Hotel, which does a brisk trade in teas, coffees, pastries and sandwiches of a morning, such that by 10am the place is already bustling with trade. There are mums-with-buggies and little children hanging off their arms, well dressed retired folk, workmen in high vis and the odd suited businessman. Most have a view on HS2 but as we tour the affected areas, it becomes clear that view is overwhelmingly one of disappointment, even despair.
Jo Rawnsley from Bernard Street says: “We have no money for children’s services or care for the elderly but we can find money for high speed trains. There’s also the disruption construction will bring and the loss of ancient woodland. There’s also fears over possible subsidence in relation the deep bore tunnelling through hazardous landfill.
“I think the saddest thing is that people feel deprived of a voice, there’s a massive disparity between the people who will live for years with the disruption and blight and the people in ‘power’ who will benefit from HS2.”
Coun Golton adds: “They are building something like 13km of tunnel in their approach to Manchester and yet just 1.6km for Leeds - that’s doesn’t seem fair.” Additionally, he argues, most houses are just far enough away from the proposed tunnel entrance to warrant any compensation.
HS2 plans to hold an information day in January or February to explain the planned changes.
Pat Hoyle, chair of Oulton Institute, Village Hall, mused: “I can’t see the point of it for the sake of saving 10 or 15 minutes. If we end up with the wrong kind of leaves on the track are we going to be told it cannot do the speeds they say it can?” Time will tell.
HS2 will cost £55bn
Trains could travel at speeds of up to 230km/h
The Leeds section of line is part of Phase 2, which is due to open in 2033
In 1870, the population of Woodlesford was 714, rising to 1,361 in 1877 and 3,039 by 1970 - today it is about 21,000.
In October 1995, experts were called in after holes opened on the newly build football pitch at a stadium off Fleet Lane, although rumours of subsidence due to mining were discounted at the time
Contact the HS2 helpline on 0207 944 4908 or visit [email protected]