The hacking down of trees and hedgerow on a rural road in Solihull – as part of a massive motorway project – has been described as “heartbreaking”.
The countryside charity CPRE has been among the groups and individuals to sound concern about the dramatic changes taking place as a result of the M42 Junction 6 upgrade.
Photos showing tree stumps and areas stripped bare of vegetation in Catherine de Barnes Lane started to emerge on social media last month.
Critics say the works, approved in May 2020, will do further damage to the landscape and “irreplaceable” wildlife habitats.
Although Highways England (HE), which is overseeing the £282 million scheme, has insisted it is working closely with ecologists and only removing greenery where “absolutely necessary”.
Sheila Cooper, spokeswoman for CPRE Warwickshire, said the branch was “saddened by the continuing destruction” linked to major construction projects.
“The continuing loss of green belt land within the Arden landscape and the ancient buffer zone between Solihull and Coventry, known as the Meriden Gap, is deeply concerning.
“The residents living around Catherine de Barnes are now suffering the same fate as those living in other villages in the area. Their lives and environment are being affected by projects outside their control.
“We are told these projects are ‘improvements’ but it is difficult to understand the premise when the environmental and ecological destruction we are seeing, every day, is so upsetting.”
She said that the scheme came at the same time that HS2 works were continuing across the borough, most notably at the Arden Cross site, and with major new housing schemes on the horizon.
“Our borough’s rich, irreplaceable and biodiverse rural landscape is under pressure like never before. We all need to take responsibility for its protection and conservation not only for our children but for future generations to enjoy and marvel upon.
“Once it has gone it has gone for ever.”
The junction upgrade has proven divisive since proposals first emerged a few years ago.
Supporters argue that the scheme will be critical to easing congestion on a stretch of the transport network which is already under immense pressure and is expected to see further demand in the years ahead.
When development consent was granted 12 months ago, HE said the changes would “increase capacity, enhance safety and support planned development.”
Although environmentalists were always concerned about the impact on ancient woodland – Aspbury’s Copse is being cleared to enable the works – and the surrounding landscape.
Nicole Hillier, a “woods under threat” campaigner at the Woodland Trust, pointed out that the charity had raised an objection when the proposals were being considered by the Planning Inspectorate.
“While we acknowledge that the existing M42 will have resulted in detrimental impact to the ancient woodland already, the junction improvements will result in further impacts and direct loss.
“With the loss of the current edges of the ancient woodland, which includes hedgerows and vegetation that act as a buffer, the core of the woodland – which is typically the most sensitive – and other previously less exposed areas will now be further exposed to the external adverse impacts such as nitrogen oxide pollution from the traffic.
“This dramatically affects the nature of the vegetation and species within the woodland.
“It is clear in the junction development, adequate protection is not being put in place. Ancient woodland is our most precious and diverse woodland habitat. Any damage is often irreversible.”
Cllr Bob Sleigh (Con, Bickenhill) said that some people had been taken aback by the scale of the clearance at the roadside – but it was important to push for mitigation.
“People didn’t realise just how brutal the work would be at this early stage,” he told the Local Democracy Reporting Service (LDRS).
“I drive down there most days and an awful lot has been taken away.”
- A new dual carriageway between the Clock Interchange and a new junction on the M42, which will lie north of Solihull Road. This will be designed for traffic travelling northbound to exit the motorway and motorists heading southbound to join the M42.
- The new dual carriageway would west of Bickenhill and for the most part below ground level. It is proposed to pass beneath the B4438 (Catherine de Barnes Lane), at both the north west and south west corners of Bickenhill.
- The Clock Interchange will be upgraded, as well as the A45 between said interchange and the M42.
- Free flow links will be introduced around the north west and the north east of Junction 6.
- Alterations will be made on the south east side of Junction 6, the A45 westbound (east of the motorway junction) and the junction’s southbound slip roads to ease congestion.
He said there were briefings between HE, the project’s contractor Skanska and local groups such as Catherine de Barnes Residents’ Association.
And he said it was crucial that pressure was applied to carried out restoration work as the project progressed rather than allowing it to be “left to the end.”
Anita Prashar, HE’s programme leader, said: “We understand the importance of looking after the local habitat and we’re doing everything we can to protect biodiversity in the area as part of this vital upgrade.
“We are only removing vegetation that is absolutely necessary to allow the construction of the scheme and we’re relocating a number of hedgerows and trees.
“We’re also working closely with ecologists to protect nesting birds and we have an ecological permit system in place that means specialists carry out an inspection 48 hours prior to the start of work, and again immediately before work starts.
“If these inspections show any signs of nesting birds, then the work is cancelled until it is safe to be done without causing any harm.”