The Sheffield Street Tree fiasco has over the last couple of weeks reached new lows. Despite wide condemnation from professionals ranging from Arboricultural experts and Highways engineers SCC are still ploughing ahead with what amounts to an ecological and environmental catastrophe. Not only that but they are now being aided and abetted by what amounts to a platoon of private security guards and South Yorkshire police that are employed on a daily basis to ensure the Arb Contractor can ‘do its job’. What we are seeing now just beggars belief. Pensioners are being forcibly removed and prevented from exercising their right to peaceful protest. They are being arrested only to be released without charge. There have been assaults on disabled women and only yesterday a woman was arrested for ‘disturbing the peace’ with a Vuvuzela for heavens sake. Disturbing the peace? The irony of this was certainly lost on the arresting officer as the chainsaws and chippers raged on! A 73 year old pensioner was arrested for the intimidation of a 20 stone security guard. There have now been a number of protestors who have needed hospital treatment due to injuries sustained at the hands of security employed to protect the contractors. This clearly cannot go on like this, not only are vast amounts of money being spent for very little work but somebody soon is going to be seriously injured in the process.
The rate at which Sheffield’s trees are being removed however has fortunately been reduced down to 1 or 2 a day due to the commitment and resilience of its residents. This does however come at a financial cost. To fell half a tree over the course of one day last week it took 30 plus police officers, 3 inspectors, 20 plus private security and all the contractors. Only today there is a report highlighting the plight of our police force and their ability to respond to emergency calls due to budget restraints and falling police numbers yet here we have 30 plus officers attending tree felling sites on a daily basis.
Sheffield council keep wheeling out the same line about this all being part of a tree replacement program yet this in itself is just a well rehearsed sound bite designed to discredit campaigners and appeal to those residents of Sheffield and observers from further afield. The Tree replacement program is a systematic failure on many levels. Trees age, they decay and get diseased and of course a well managed tree replacement program is required in all our towns and cities to ensure canopy continuity and consequently enable us to benefit from all that a urban tree has to offer. A well managed tree replacement program would identify trees that are nearing the end of their ‘shelf life’ and will be removed and replaced by specimens that will be given every chance to reach maturity. These trees would also be part of a carefully planned ‘staggered’ replacement program to ensure the ecological and environmental benefits are maintained. This would be enhanced by careful tree species selection and optimum planting conditions and after care. What we are seeing in Sheffield however is the opposite of this. Trees are being planted with complete disregard of British Standards, insufficient tree pits, shoddy plantings will ensure that these replacements will be lucky to survive one or 2 growing seasons let alone go on to reach their potential and become part of the urban landscape and ensuring that they are able to ‘do their job’. As it is it is estimated that 25% of new plantings fail to survive beyond 3 years.
It has now emerged that within the contract it states that up to 17,500 trees can be removed. That amounts to approximately half of the cities tree stock. This is not only unsustainable but utter madness.
This is all being over seen and instigated by a Labour Council. There have been petitions and numerous emails handed to the office of Jeremy Corbyn requesting he steps in and over sees a mediation with SCC which is Labour after all. The lack of acknowledgement let alone a failure to get involved is very disappointing to say the least. This is a man who throughout his political career has fought for justice, he has campaigned widely on environmental issues and the cause of the under dog but for some unknown reason he is failing to call his own councillors to task over what is an environmental disaster over seen by his own party.
I have been to Sheffield numerous times to assess for myself the decisions being taken for the removal of trees and have spoken to consultants who have also visited to see for themselves what is going on and the view is unequivocally clear that the decisions to remove a large number of these trees is wrong and totally unjustified. Of course there are trees that are reaching the end of their life that need to be replaced but there appears to be serious contradictions in identifying those earmarked for removal. There are trees causing damage to pavements and kerbs that are being retained yet further down the road there will be a tree causing no damage that is on the removal list. I saw trees that are in poor health that have had a stay of execution yet perfectly healthy trees have already been removed.
2018 sees the Centenary of the end of World War 1 and SCC in their wisdom are going ahead with their decision to fell a number of memorial trees on Western Rd which were planted to commemorate the former pupils of the local school who sadly lost their lives. In some of these cases there is substantial damage to kerbs, pavements and the highway but there are engineering solutions aplenty which would enable work to be carried out whilst at the same time preserving this fine avenue of trees which serve as a memorial for the local community. I do worry that given the history and the sensitivity surrounding these trees that the campaign to protect them could become more volatile especially when taking the hired security’s previous insensitivity towards campaigners into question.
The lack of condemnation from organisations within the Arboricultural industry is also cause for concern and bewildering. Yes there have been statements released questioning the felling policy but these have been few and far between and have on the whole been what appears to me to be token gestures.
The Woodland Trust over the past year have supported the campaign to a degree and have been promoting their ‘Street Trees’ campaign, a fantastic initiative aimed at getting communities to celebrate and fight for the preservation of their urban trees. At the same time however they are failing to publicly question and put pressure on SCC for what amounts to a catastrophic street tree removal campaign in Sheffield. Yes there have been small statements from the Woodland Trust and the Arb Association (of which one of the contractors in Sheffield is a member) over the past year but organisations such as these should be hollering from the roof tops and using all their influence to force SCC to re evaluate what they are doing in Sheffield. They should be writing strongly worded statements to people like Corbyn whose council are responsible for an ecological and environmental disaster. These organisations are in a position where they are listened to and they are failing in their roles as promoters and protectors of our nation’s tree stock to use their influence and expertise to really put pressure on those who can put a stop to this debacle right here and now and to force those responsible to hold their hands up and admit they have made a huge mistake. They should be calling for a suspension of the tree felling program and offer to sit down and talk about how a sustainable tree strategy can be put in place to ensure that this catastrophe can be brought to a halt before the damage done is irreversible.