Work hits the buffers as residents rage at ‘decimation and devastation’ of trees screening Leighton Buzzard railway line

By Grange Close PHOTO: Cllr HarveyBy Grange Close PHOTO: Cllr Harvey
By Grange Close PHOTO: Cllr Harvey
Residents living in close proximity to Leighton Buzzard station are furious over the felling of trees by the railway line which acted as screening.

Neighbours in Southcourt Avenue are seething about the destruction of conifers they say that has left their homes exposed to noise and light pollution. And residents living by the bank beside Grange Close have complained about the removal of vegetation and an apple tree, the last from an orchard that had been there for 60 years.

All have said they were not informed by Network Rail who have carried out the vegetation clearance work over the weekend and today (Tuesday). The work has today been temporarily paused by Network Rail due to the strength of feeling locally.

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One enraged Southcourt Avenue resident hit out at “the complete decimation and devastation” of the vegetation near her house.

The hedge in Southcourt Avenue (last summer) before cutting PHOTO: Cllr HarveyThe hedge in Southcourt Avenue (last summer) before cutting PHOTO: Cllr Harvey
The hedge in Southcourt Avenue (last summer) before cutting PHOTO: Cllr Harvey

Ros Castling said: “I have lived here for 40 years and this is the worst it’s ever looked. It looks like something from World War One and we have been left completely exposed in all directions.

“I think it’s vandalism and a very aggressive way to cut down trees. I would like to know what the trees will be replaced with.”

Another angry Southcourt Avenue resident, Emma Floyd, said: “I live a fair few yards away from the line but I, like others am upset. From discussions before they (Network Rail) said they would never take the trees down without consultation, only trim them. They mentioned the trees were interfering with the overhead cables, but we have been left subjected to light pollution, noise and disruption.

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“Don’t get me wrong, we are used to trains and noise at night, but taking down the conifers is a step too far. This strikes me as a money saving exercise taking the trees out so they don’t have to do regular maintenance any more.”

Grange Close before cutting PHOTO: Heather GillGrange Close before cutting PHOTO: Heather Gill
Grange Close before cutting PHOTO: Heather Gill

Grange Close resident, Heather Gill, said: “I have lived here since 1984. Historically this was an orchard before the houses were built, hence Orchard Drive. This apple tree is the last of the remaining apple trees. It has been here for at least 65 years. I use the apples for cooking, as they are always in abundance. I believe this is a rare apple tree, as I have never cooked with any apple like this before.

“Network Rail are trying to say this tree is rotten, but it was amassed with fruit last autumn. Dying trees do not produce fruit. This is just a cover up to get rid of it, there was a bough which had grown over the fence, and needed pruning, but not chopping down completely.

Apple trees aside though, the devastation caused by Network Rail is appalling, we as residents now have no sound barrier from the trains, or a light pollution barrier from the multi-storey car park. They have chopped every green living plant along the whole of the embankment regardless of what these plants are or positioned. I know Ash trees are invasive, and understand the need to remove the saplings growing out of the brickwork, but there was no need to chop everything in sight.”

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Network Rail has confirmed to the LBO today that it has temporarily agreed to pause its work having spoken to MP for South West Beds, Andrew Selous. Due to tensions running high this morning they are believed to have called the police to Southcourt Avenue.

Near to the station this morning PHOTO: Cllr HarveyNear to the station this morning PHOTO: Cllr Harvey
Near to the station this morning PHOTO: Cllr Harvey

A Network Rail spokesperson said: “When we clear trees and vegetation from the railway, we should notify residents in advance and we are sorry this hasn’t happened today in Leighton Buzzard.

“We only cut down trees which could make the railway unsafe – like those which have grown too tall and risk being blown onto tracks or the 25,000 volt overhead electric lines which power trains. We also remove species which shed their leaves in the autumn. The foliage falls onto railway lines making it harder for trains to stop, causing delays for passengers.

“We have listened to residents and immediately paused the work in Leighton Buzzard to make sure everything being removed is justified for our safety reasons.”

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MP Andrew Selous said: “I immediately contacted Network Rail when I learnt that they were removing trees which London Northwestern had provided assurances would remain. Network Rail phoned me back to apologise and say that they had stopped the felling and would make sure they left all of the trees and shrubs which were not in the way of the overhead power lines. I did suggest a re-planting remediation programme to improve biodiversity on the site would be a good idea.”

Grange Close after cutting PHOTO: Heather GillGrange Close after cutting PHOTO: Heather Gill
Grange Close after cutting PHOTO: Heather Gill

Leighton-Linslade and Central Bedfordshire Independent councillor Victoria Harvey said: “It is disgraceful that residents were not informed at all by Network Rail. Of course safety needs to be maintained, but there is no reason that they cannot plant shrubs that do not grow too tall and put the overhead lines at risk. They could have just trimmed the top of the conifers by the station.

Residents now have all the noise pollution and the lights from the car park and it looks so bare. It does have safety implications too, as it is now so easy to climb over the fence and on to the fast track.

“Network Rail made exactly the same mistake about eight years ago and they are about to destroy and throw away all the money that they put in to restore the damage last time. I hope that they will replant with something suitable and make the area attractive.

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“Surely Network Rail could learn to work with the local community and also do some sensible safe planting and management. They have signed up to the national pollinator strategy but seem to take no regard for it.

“I am working with Central Bedfordshire Council to get some small shrubs or apple trees that are easy to maintain planted by the fence in Grange Close to make the area look more attractive and to screen the railway. There is also still some hope that conifers in Southcourt Avenue might be saved. I hope Network Rail will start to show some respect for the local community.”

What’s your view on the situation? Have you been impacted too? Email [email protected]