Root and branch opposition to Sheffield tree plan | Letters

26 Oct

George Monbiot writes a rather hyperbolic article (With just one contract, corporate and state power has subverted democracy, 25 October). While he tells us that he “toured the battle lines between people and profit” and that there has been a “massacre of many of Sheffield’s famous avenues”, he misrepresents the ongoing work under our Streets Ahead contract. A handful of (often masked) protesters might have found George easy to persuade, but a brief look at our FAQ will show there is no issue of people versus profit, and no massacre. Tree replacement is always a last resort and happens only if a tree is dead, dying, diseased, dangerous or damaging. No additional payments are made to our partner when a street tree is replaced and there is no financial incentive encouraging tree replacement.

The notion that the contract prevents engagement with the people of Sheffield could not be further from the truth, and while we acknowledge that there will always be a small group of people who don’t agree with our approach, the council has taken several steps to ensure open and clear communication with Sheffield residents. The contract and subsequent tree-replacement programme has been challenged in the high court and the court of appeal and on all occasions was found to be lawful. Ultimately, there will be 600 more street trees by the end of the Streets Ahead programme because we are planting for the future, retaining Sheffield’s credentials as one of the greenest cities in the UK.
Councillor Bryan Lodge
Cabinet member for environment and street scene, Sheffield city council

By chance, I was reading George Monbiot on the day the “highways improvement team” arrived outside my house to remove a 100-year-old lime tree. In common with all others on the road, its offence appears to be that it is causing a bit of heave on the footpath and slightly dislodging a kerbstone. It’s been doing this for the 40 years I’ve known it and I don’t recall any problems. George is quite right that we don’t know why it is a capital offence for a tree to grow, because we are not told. I suspect that when the original PFI contract between Sheffield council and Amey was drawn up, somebody failed to read the small print, because ever since the practical effects of this contract have been evident, councillors and city executives have been forced to issue explanations and excuses that are disingenuous at worst and laughable at best.

When looked at together with other projects in the city, the removal of mature trees is perverse. Other city departments are working to improve some very poor air quality, make the river corridors more accessible for recreation, plant new pocket parks on wasteland, and consult extensively on the best measures to alleviate future flood risks. We aspire to have salmon and otters back in the rivers, but we apparently don’t need the honeybees to which a lime tree is a serious treat, or the huge numbers of insects and birds which will have to move elsewhere.
Tony Ball
Sheffield

Thank you to George Monbiot for bringing further national and international attention to the damage being done to the physical fabric of Sheffield by the Labour council and the privatised contractor Amey. Six thousand healthy street trees are set to be felled and the city will be massively poorer, having lost their benefits in fighting air pollution and flooding and contributions to human wellbeing. What was known as “the green city” is now known as “the city that cuts down trees”. As a resident of this great city, I regret that in future residents will be living in a far poorer environment, while Amey’s owner, giant multinational Ferrovial, walks away with the profits.

I am proud that our Green councillor, Alison Teal, has been stalwart in supporting the residents she represents in legally trying to stop tree-feeling, and I will be with her on Friday as the council tries to stop her. As a Briton, I’m concerned that communities’ right to peaceful protest is being further threatened. But I’m confident that whatever happens on Friday, the people of Sheffield will continue to fight for the public’s right to decide how their streets are managed, rather than private profit.
Natalie Bennett
Former Green party leader, Sheffield

George Monbiot rightly identifies “commercial confidentiality” as one reason these stitch-ups are so damaging to our society. But what public benefit is there from recognising in law any such notion anyway? If we are going to be stuck with Brexit, let’s use it to get rid of this albatross round our necks, at least.
Kevin McGrath
Harlow, Essex

As a native of Sheffield and a former resident for 50 years, I am dismayed by the destruction of trees. What enrages me is not only that we have here an example of bad decision-making (there are too many such examples at the moment to be a surprise), but that the voice of the people of Sheffield is being crushed. Where do the city’s MPs stand on this? Treescapes need to be managed, of course, but this is civic vandalism. Visionary men and women in the 19th and 20th centuries invested their time and money in Sheffield’s industry, culture, government and environment. Sheffield is not Britain’s most beautiful city, but its parks and trees are exceptional. They are part of a civic heritage that needs to be preserved.
Anne Constantine
Great Gransden, Cambridgeshire

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