Why Are Sheffield's Trees Being Destroyed?

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Fran Halsall, Sheffield

Last week alone, 9 people were arrested in Sheffield trying to prevent trees from being felled. Residents watched in tears as beloved trees on their own street, in front of their own houses, were felled. Why?

Sheffield council insists that these particular trees were not ones that residents wanted to keep. And superficially, that might seem true. After all, they surveyed residents, and a majority wanted to keep the trees. But why, then, were residents on Chippinghouse Road out in the street begging for the lives of their trees? Why did another resident offer his property as a place for protestors to stand in order to impede felling? Because, they said, they never saw these surveys. That might seem like the lazy excuse of a disengaged person who didn’t bother caring until it was too late. But that would be wrong: these surveys came in plain brown envelopes addressed to ‘Resident’, universal marker of junk mail. That would perhaps be why only 6 households returned the surveys. When a member of Save Nether Edge Trees went door to door, he found 40 households where someone was home. Of these, 30 households opposed the fellings strongly enough to sign a statement to that effect. (The Sheffield council surveyed gave one vote per household rather than one vote per person, a standard that has generally not been used since women got the vote. But the member also surveyed individuals—he found 40 out of 50 people opposed.)

One might, however, insist that this was simply an error of the council—a badly conducted survey, but a genuine effort to answer to residents’ wishes. That is, one might think that if one ignores the case of Rustlings Road, where healthy trees that an overwhelming majority of residents wanted to keep were felled. Or all the streets announced just this weekend where a majority of residents want to keep the trees but the council is chopping them anyway.

Still, there’s a possible answer that doesn’t sound so bad. Perhaps the best expert advice is that these healthy trees really can’t be allowed to survive, because there’s simply no viable way to repair the roads and pavements with them there. Expert tree panels examined all the trees where a majority of residents who replied to the survey opposed felling. Maybe these expert panels have sadly concluded that felling is required. But this, too, would be wrong. This weekend the panel results were published for 46 trees. The panel recommended saving 27 of them, and the council rejected their advice for all but 1, deciding to fell even the ancient Vernon Oak. In some cases, like that of my own street, the residents were 100% opposed to felling, the Independent Tree Panel recommended saving all trees, and the council will fell them anyway.

Why? Who wants these trees felled? The answer: Amey, a multinational company with a contract so secret that not even the leader of the council has been able to see all of it. Amey has no interest in the people or trees of Sheffield, except as devices for producing profit. And yet the council, who are meant to serve people of Sheffield, are giving Amey the final and indeed only say in this process—ignoring the views of both residents and experts. And the Sheffield police have begun to behave like Amey’s private security firm, appearing in huge numbers before every felling and arresting people on private property for opposing it.

Our green urban environment is being destroyed, and we have yet to be given a decent answer as to why. None of the reasonable-seeming answers hold up: neither residents’ views nor expert judgments can justify the onslaught that we are facing. The only answer is a vile one: that decisions about the future of our city have been handed over to a multinational corporation. We must insist on getting this decision-making back where it belongs: with the people of Sheffield.

[If you’d like to get involved in the fight against this, join the Sheffield Tree Action Groups.]

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