Labour members demand tree felling assurances from Sheffield Council leader

Police watch as trees are felled in Rustlings Road.

Police watch as trees are felled in Rustlings Road.

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Sheffield Labour members have welcomed the council's apology over the way it handled recent tree felling - after initially demanding answers from leader Julie Dore.

The Sheffield Central constituency Labour party wrote to Coun Dore in the wake of the Rustlings Road incident, when residents were woken at 5am by contractors who, with the protection of 12 police officers, began felling several trees with chainsaws.

A protest against tree felling in Endcliffe Park, Sheffield

A protest against tree felling in Endcliffe Park, Sheffield

Pensioners Jenny Hockey and Freda Brayshaw were both arrested - sparking international headlines - and hundreds of people attended a protest in Endliffe Park on Saturday.

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Chairman Jim Lafferty said the incident had caused 'deep concern' among 'loyal and normally measured members' who had 'expressed distress, bewilderment and outrage'.

Mr Lafferty called on Coun Dore to explain the reasons behind the council's actions and offer assurances that such an incident would not happen again.

According to the group's secretary Mike Lewis, the letter was written on Thursday last week, the day before the council apologised for what had happened in Rustlings Road.

It was supposed to remain private, but a copy of the letter was today posted on the Sheffield Tree Actions Groups' Facebook page, provoking plenty of discussion.

Mr Lewis said the letter had specifically concerned the Rustlings Road incident - and not the council's tree felling policy.

"We had no knowledge that the council was going to meet or give the assurances that we were asking for about future action," he said.

"There was a covering letter that was written after the statement. That welcomes the statement and the reassurances, but calls on Julie Dore to be clear about the degree of dismay."

Mr Lewis said two party members had resigned as a result of the Rustlings Road incident.

He said it made a change for a council to 'fess up' to a mistake, but added: "This was from party members giving hard but friendly advice that this wasn't good enough."

In response, Coun Dore said: “Last week we apologised for the way in which the trees were removed on Rustlings Road.

"We apologised for the distress and disruption caused by the work starting at 5am and the decision not to publish the information about the decision to remove the trees in an open and transparent manner.

"We have taken action to address these concerns by committing to publish the Independent Tree Reports in a timely manner, with full and transparent information about how we have come to decisions and we have committed that no work will begin before 7am.

“We accept that the letter raises valid points about the operation to remove the trees and we have already apologised for the mistakes that were made. Sheffield Central have welcomed the apology.”

Jim Lafferty's letter in full

Dear Julie

TREE FELLING

I am writing on behalf of Sheffield Central CLP.

The recent operation by the Council’s contractor, Amey, has caused deep concern and anger amongst many members of Sheffield Central Labour Party. This was evident at our constituency meeting in Thursday 24 November where loyal and normally measured members expressed distress, bewilderment and outrage.

We would like you to be quite clear that this is not synthetic outrage by a privileged minority of politically motivated opponents of the Labour Party, unaffected by the harsh realities of Tory-imposed cuts. Neither is it a desperate attempt by an environmental lobby to block the essential road improvement schemes being carried out across the city.

This is a rejection by the grass roots membership of our Party of the way in which SCC is seen to be operating in relation to this issue, specifically the felling of trees on Rustlings Road last week. Long-standing members on whom the Party depends to elect Labour councillors feel they have been placed in the position of defending what they believe to be the indefensible; a growing number are no longer prepared to do this. At the time of writing we are continuing to receive resignations from the Party, unable or unwilling to face the criticism of friends and neighbours any longer. To say this is a political gift to out opponents is an understatement. We believe that all Labour seats in Nether Edge and Sharrow (2), Walkley (3), Broomhill Sharrow Vale (2), Crookes (2) and City (1) wards are vulnerable. The negative reaction is widespread.

Issues crystallise around the recent action on Rustlings Road and the position of the Independent Tree Panel.

RUSTLINGS ROAD

We urgently need to know why:

The operation to remove trees was begun during the hours of darkness, with residents being summoned from their beds without notice to remove vehicles
Residents were not fore-warned by notices that work was to take place, as has been the practice throughout the road improvement scheme, where plenty of warning is given that there will be parking restrictions in operation for a period of time
THE PANEL

We urgently need to know why:

There were not further discussions with the members of the Independent Tree Panel when it was decided by SCC and/or the Contractor that the Panel’s recommendations would not be accepted
The Panel’s recommendations were not made public and an attempt made to involve residents in finding an acceptable way forward
Those directly affected, namely local residents, were not informed or consulted about issues which the Panel’s recommendations had thrown up and which were problematic
POLICING

This letter focuses on the central role and decision making of SCC. There are separate issues about policing which we will be taking up with the Police and Crime Commissioner.

PUBLIC RELATIONS

Night-time actions by contractors and council officials, supported by a police deployment, are the sort of thing one might expect in countries which do not enjoy the democratic freedoms we believe are a fundamental part of our own society. At best, such actions are a public relations disaster for SCC and the Labour Party in our constituency; at worst they are sinister. In all events they are unacceptable.

THE FUTURE

Members do not wish such events to recur and therefore require assurances about the following, namely that:

no trees will be removed contrary to the tree panel’s advice without full consultation after publication of the advice
that there will be no future operations of the sort undertaken on Rustlings Road, as outlined above
Members of the CLP Executive, on behalf of the CLP, seek the earliest opportunity to meet with you and the relevant members of the City Council cabinet to receive such assurances.

With best wishes

Jim Lafferty

Chair

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