Christmas has come early to a Sheffield street – as residents have draped festive illuminations on a row of trees that are set to be axed.
Christmas has come early to a Sheffield street – as residents have draped festive illuminations on a row of trees that are set to be axed.
A Sheffield street is lined with plane trees planted in honour of pupils from the local school who died in the first world war. When you walk along this living memorial and touch each trunk, it sparks a strange feeling of intimacy with historic events. These trees help us to remember, creating a powerful sense of continuity with past lives.
This avenue has deservedly won the Great Trees of Sheffield contest, which celebrates this uniquely green city’s trees. I’ve written before about the struggle by Sheffield residents to stop healthy trees from being felled, after the council signed a 25-year deal with Amey to maintain its roads. So Rob McBride, who tirelessly works to protect notable trees, asked me to help judge this contest alongside Sheffield luminaries such as Richard Hawley and Jarvis Cocker.
Discovering the trees nominated by local people was a joyful task. There is the Ryle Road lime, bizarrely situated in the middle of a road junction; a black mulberry, one of the largest in the country which provides shade, and bountiful fruit, for schoolchildren; a tree with a fairy door set beneath its roots; an oak in a cricket field; and another with more than 500 Twitter followers. This last oak, like 20 of those first world war trees, is earmarked for destruction. Campaigners say another 100 street trees were chopped down in the city last week but peaceful protests have, temporarily, given some a reprieve.
“A culture is no better than its woods,” wrote Auden. The fate of our urban forest shows all that is good and bad about contemporary society. In many places, short-term cost-cutting is causing its destruction, even though councils can now quantify the trees’ financial value in terms of cleaning our air and ameliorating flooding.
At least tree-fellers are now encountering a genuine grassroots awakening to the importance of urban foliage. Citizens in many communities are championing trees, including the Brockley Society, which has raised £60,000 to plant 250 new street trees in Lewisham, south-east London.
The power of nature in our culture may just be on the rise again. Ordinary trees can possess deep meanings for us. The bonds we form with them can cause us to give thanks, and make the most of our own, much shorter, lives.
What a week it has been. Serious felling across the city. A minimum of seven felling crews doing hit and run felling, being tracked and (mostly) being prevented from felling by an amazing set of dedicated tree campaigners.
Some of the behaviour from Amey and their sub-contractors has been shocking. One campaigner was assaulted by a senior Amey manager (there is a crime number and it is still being investigated). Numerous serious health and safety breaches were observed and recorded. Plus much much more.
Ultimately, across the city, somewhere just under 100 trees were felled, mainly smaller trees. The seven crews were on overtime, many working between 8am and 6pm, but sometimes as early as 7am and as late as 8pm. Whilst just under 100 trees lost is not brilliant, thinking about Amey’s felling productivity, if it hadn’t been for the campaigners, it would have been in the region of 300 or even 400 trees lost, so we slowed them down significantly. And there were signs towards the end of the week that we had adapted to their tactics and were getting better at slowing and preventing felling.
In our own area of Nether Edge and Carter Knowle, we got off relatively lightly. Four trees (three dead or very diseased) were felled on Bowood Road. Two trees were felled on Wayland Road. The only tree in Ventnor Place was lost. And two trees were felled on St Ronans Road. Attempts were also made on Raven Road, Coverdale Road, Milton Road, and on the rest of the trees on Bowood, Wayland, and St Ronans Roads.
Losing 9 trees in our area is very sad, but the success in quick alert and people turning up and standing under the tree to stop/prevent felling was great. We therefore still have 217 trees still standing in our area that remain threatened and which still need to be protected.
All that said, we need to get even better. There is one area in particular which you can all help, and that is keeping your eyes open and reporting the earliest hint of potential felling. Even five minutes earlier spotting and reporting of the potential felling can make a huge difference. So to help you out in keeping an eye out, here is a reminder of the roads you need to be looking out for.
Red Alert Roads (felling could happen any time any day)
Hunter House Road
Kenwood Park Road
Sandford Grove Road
St Ronans Road
Amber Alert Roads (still with the ITP but results expected any day)
Other roads to watch out for
Lyndhurst Road – We have heard rumours that more trees have been spotted by Amey that they want to fell outside of the ITP process
Quarry Lane – We have heard rumours that the remaining three large trees on that road are now threatened, outside of the ITP process
Sheffield City Council plan to cut down some of the most beautiful green suburbs in the country. The reasons they give do not make sense, either in arboricultural or highway engineering terms. That sounds like a rather wild claim, and I wouldn’t be surprised if you read this and thought that was an exaggeration. Come and look at what is happening in Shefield and you will see that it is not.
Sheffielders have a strong sense of place. It is one of the reasons why our city has avoided rioting (when nearby cities rioted) and has not shown the worst aspects of social division, even though we have areas of significant deprivation. That’s because we feel that Sheffield is ours. Our city. Yet Sheffield City Council and Amey PLC are hell-bent on destroying one of our city’s most outstanding features, our magnificent tree-lined streets.
This week, instead of listening to the citizens who voted them into the council-chamber, they have brought in security guards to come and film us secretly, disguised as tree-surgeons. Can you imagine what this feels like, to be spied-on in your own streets, when even the South Yorkshire Police have accepted that arresting peaceful campaigners is pointless becasue we are not breaking the law and the courts refuse to try us?
And all because we don’t want Amey to destroy avenues of cherry-blossom so lovely they take your breath away and people come from miles around to see them? Or ancient oaks that have stood for centuries on forgotten boundary-lines? Or towering limes that soften the brick and tarmac? Or Living War Memorials planted by the grieving survivors of young men whose bodies were never retured from WW1?
This week Sheffield City Council has brought in crews from other cities and sercret enforcers to spy on the peaceful protests of grandmothers and children. A senior manager in Amey is alleged to have assaulted a cheerful and urbane campaigner whose behaviour is known to be unprovocative. Arborists have been told to work 13-hour shifts in the boiling heat with dangerous machinery. They have felled trees in ‘hit-and-run’ strikes without safety-barriers that could have killed passers-by. Arborists have driven around in un-marked cars to make it easier to avoid scrutiny and make short-cuts on Health and Safety. They have nipped-out with their chain-saws to maim trees so badly that they have to be felled because they are dangerous. This is more horrible than anyone could imagine who has not seen it for them selves.
What we want is a halt to indiscriminate felling. We want SCC and Amey to talk to our arboricultural experts and finally agree to an expert-lead tree-policy that will make sound arboricultural and civic sense.
They don’t have to secretly film us to find out what we are about. All they have to do is listen when our 6,000 plus member try to tell them. Or listen to any Sheffield taxi-driver or primary-school child. We want our trees to be looked after because we love them and because they are ours.
Every day this diabolical felling goes on astounds me.
What will it take for the decision makers to take their heads out of the sand, admit their mistakes and start to actually work on a viable solution? SCC and Amey are being bombarded from all angles by fierce opposition from thousands of residents of Sheffield, as well as bodies like the Arb Association, Trees for cities etc, and a number of highly respectable experts in the industry (and me), there has been national media coverage and international interest, even South Yorkshire Police agree that the only solution is a political one that they are not required to intervene with.
Yet they refuse to listen, refuse to talk and refuse to budge, waging war on anyone who opposes them.
For anyone who thinks that it’s got out of hand and perhaps there are greater problems to focus on, I have to agree. But you have to understand that the people to blame for that are those in power, not the passionate residents of Sheffield who are making sacrifices to stand up for something they believe in.
This could all be resolved and put to bed very quickly with some negotiation and resolution agreement. Instead SCC and Amey plow on with a seemingly endless supply of tax payer’s money that’s being willfully wasted in the name of ego preservation. They’re providing a public service for God’s sake, what are they doing??
THE private contractor running Sheffield’s controversial tree-felling programme has begun to employ ‘bouncers’ as part of a strategy to manage protesters attempting to block the work.
The move has provoked anger from campaigners who warned any attempt to intimidate or deter them will backfire and only increase the number of people supporting protests.
Amey, the contractor employed by Sheffield Council, insisted the trained door supervisors would only film protesters and their presence was aimed at securing public safety. It has also emerged that an alleged assault by a member of Amey’s staff during a protest in Burngreave on Tuesday has been reported to South Yorkshire Police.
The advert, which did not mention Amey by name, included “door supervisors” in its heading and stated: “HRGO Security are looking for 4 SIA professionals with DS (door supervisor) badge or above. The role is to take pictures of damage caused and make a statement around the damage they take pictures off (sic). The damage has been caused by tree protesters.
“Must have good conflict management skills and be calm under pressure.”
Dave Dillner, founder of the Sheffield Trees Action Groups, said: “It’s totally inappropriate, there’s no question about it. If this is an attempt to intimidate or deter us, it’s actually done the opposite. Any attempts to provoke the campaign won’t work. We believe in peaceful, legal protest which we’re going to carry on doing. The more they employ tactics like this, the more our numbers grow.”
Mr Dillner said 25 people had joined the 6,000-strong campaign yesterday alone as news of the employment of ‘bouncers’ began to filter out.
He added that he was furious about the content of the advert and the claim that damage had been caused by protesters.
He said he had written to the HR GO demanding the wording was removed and a public apology or he would take legal action.
The agency last night issued a statement which said: “HR GO Recruitment apologise for any offence caused and can confirm that the advert was withdrawn immediately the advert was brought to senior management attention.”
Amey said the security staff had begun work this week and maintained they were employed to help maintain the safety of everyone present at protests.
“The safety of our employees and the public is our top priority. We have brought in additional personnel to capture photographic and video evidence during our Tree Replacement Programme to ensure that the work is being undertaken safely.”
Sheffield Council, which was previous forced to apologise after organising a pre-dawn operation to remove trees in a bid to avoid protesters, did not respond to a request to comment.
Amey also confirmed one of its staff was being investigated over an alleged assault at a protest. “We can confirm that South Yorkshire Police attended Abbeyfield Road…and spoke to an Amey member of staff following an allegation of assault.”
Full Story here
Please be very alert this week, Amey felling crews could pop up almost anywhere.
It’s been a long and involving day across the city. We have seen the biggest attempted felling under this programme so far. We have had some losses in other parts of the city, but thanks to solid work on St Ronan’s Rd, none in our area.
We have seen new ‘legal’ notices put in place by SCC/Amey and signed by the Amey Operations Manager. These notices tell people that they are breaking the law by preventing ‘lawful’ felling or by simply entering the work area without permission. Neither of these claims is true. Such actions are perfectly lawful.
If people want to get involved in our peaceful, polite, actions against tree felling then please get in touch here as we need all the help we can get tomorrow and for the future. There is nothing to be afraid of, no-one has ever broken the law in our campaign, no-one has been convicted or even faced trial, no-one has faced any civil actions, and no-one has done anything other than prevent appalling acts on our city’s environment and ecology. If you’ve been thinking about getting involved then tomorrow may just be the time to do so.
Today, Sheffield Council released the latest Independent Tree Panel recommendations, and the Council response to those recommendations. Adding these to the previously released information, here are the summary statistics:
150 roads have been referred to the ITP, but so far the ITP recommendations have only been published for 64 of these roads. These 64 roads had 305 trees for consideration.
Of the 305 trees:
– 22 (7.2%) were dead or had already been removed;
– 55 (18%) were dying or diseased so the ITP agreed with their removal;
– 228 (74.8%) were perfectly healthy so the ITP seriously considered them.
Of the 228 healthy trees the ITP recommended:
– Saving 97 of them (42.5%), suggesting using one of the 14 free engineering solutions;
– Saving a further three trees (1.3%) as special cases (The Vernon Road Oak, a rare Italian Alder on Kenbourne Road, and a “magnificent” London Plane on Vainor Road) using one of the additional engineering solutions;
– Felling 128 of them (56.1%) as the damage to the road or pavement was too substantial
– The ITP advice was missing for a further tree
Of the 100 trees that the ITP recommended saving, the Council ignored them on 94 trees (94% of the time).
Of the 6 trees “saved” by the ITP process, only one is a genuine “saving.” The other five trees were incorrectly identified or listed by Amey and were therefore administrative errors.
In nearly all cases where the Council decided to ignore ITP recommendations to save, they have been vague about why, and have seemingly accepted Amey advice, unquestioned.
Extrapolating these numbers across the 6000 trees being felled in the first five years of the 25 year PFI contract:
– 4488 would have been healthy, 1512 would have been dead, dying, diseased, or already removed
– 1966 of the 6000 trees are being unnecessarily being felled
– Despite the lack of transparency, the ITP did at least at first seem to be genuinely independent;
– The Council have questionable engineering expertise, and so are pretty much forced to accept Amey advice above the ITP advice;
– So far the process has only saved 6 trees (2%) out of the 305 considered, only one of which (0.3%) is a genuine saving.
In the Guardian today, “Finally, we reached my own street, where in their imitation of the western front the amputated branches of the big London planes reach towards the sky. They could last for another century, though they may not. Cost is against them: like old human beings, old trees need more money to look after, which helps explain their controversial destruction in Sheffield by a private company, Amey, hired by the council to maintain them.”