Labour Sheffield councillor suspended for trees vote

Coun Nasima Akther.
Coun Nasima Akther.
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The Sheffield Labour group has suspended one of its councillors for not voting along party lines on a motion regarding tree felling.

Coun Nasima Akther, who represents the Nether Edge and Sharrow ward, abstained from a vote on a motion put forward at a full council meeting on December 7.

Tree felling in Rustlings Road.

Tree felling in Rustlings Road.

The motion, discussing the controversial tree felling operation in Rustlings Road, was originally put forward by Liberal Democrat group leader Shaffaq Mohammed, and labelled the council's actions during that incident 'wholly disproportionate'.

Residents were woken by the sound of chainsaws at 5am on November 17 by Streets Ahead workers. Police were also called and two women, Jenny Hockey, 70, and Freda Brayshaw, 72, were arrested and charged with public order offences - although the charges were dropped just minutes before they were due to appear in court this week.

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Protests against the felling have taken place in several roads in Coun Akther's ward.

An alternative motion was put forward by cabinet member Bryan Lodge, noting the council's apology for the Rustling's Road incident, and passed.

The Lib Dems' Coun Joe Otten then put forward several amendments, suggesting the council's actions were 'not acceptable' and the authority was not being 'open and transparent' - but these were rejected, with Coun Akther voting against.

A motion of no confidence put forward by the Greens' Rob Murphy was also rejected.

Then a final version of the approved motion was put to another vote - at which point Coun Akther abstained.

That decision not to vote resulted in her suspension.

A spokesman for the Labour group said: “Coun Nasima Akther was suspended from the Labour group whip for one month following her decision not to vote with Labour Group policy at the full council meeting on December 7, 2016.

"This is in line with standard Labour Party practice.”

Coun Akther has been contacted for comment.

The full text of the motion that passed is as follows:

That this council:

(a) reiterates the apology that has been made for the way in which the work to replace trees on Rustlings Road was carried out, and recognises that the council has apologised for the mistakes that were made;

(b) believes it was right for the council to apologise for the disruption and distress caused by knocking on people’s doors at 5am and the decision not to publish the Independent Tree Panel (ITP) report in advance;

(c) welcomes that the apology included specific commitments that the council will publish the Independent Tree Panel reports in a timely manner, with full and transparent information about how decisions have been reached, and the assurances that no work will begin before 7am;

(d) fully supports the right of campaigners to continue to peacefully protest and, at the same time, believes that peaceful protests should not put the safety of the workforce who are doing their job, or the public, at risk;

(e) continues to support the Streets Ahead Project, which is the biggest investment in Sheffield’s highway network that the city has ever seen, which was originally funded by the previous Labour government;

(f) recalls that plans to replace highway trees as part of the project were drawn up by Liberal Democrat councillors when they were in control of the council in a 2008 cabinet report detailing the scope of services to be included in the project and in a 2009 specification document drawn up for potential bidders for the contract, which included a forward from the then leader of the council, Coun Paul Scriven;

(g) continues to agree with the proposals put forward in the October 2008 and April 2009 documents relating to highway trees, the April 2009 document stating that “A significant improvement in the standard of tree maintenance will be required, with large numbers of over-mature trees being replaced by more appropriate species, and others pruned, crowned or otherwise maintained in a safe condition. The authority will require the overall number of highway trees across the city to be sustained at current levels and the highway tree stock returned to a more balanced age-profile during the course of the project”;

(h) confirms that since the Streets Ahead Project started, more highway trees have been replanted in the city than removed, and the purpose of this work is as stated in the tree management strategy to “ensure the street tree population is maintained and improved throughout the contract term to create a legacy of a healthy, diverse tree stock in terms of age, profile and species, reducing the risk of monocultures, whilst ensuring the safety of the highway user and adjacent properties”;

(i) further confirms the following from the 2012-2017 tree management strategy “The removal of street trees will only be considered as a last resort where there are no other reasonably practicable management options available to ensure safety or prevent damage to surrounding structures. Removals will only be specified by suitably qualified and experienced surveyors and, where necessary, additional decay detection equipment will be used to confirm any recommendations. All trees removed will be replaced on a one for one basis the following planting season (November to March)”;

(j) recognises that proposals around the replacement of trees on a number of streets have raised further issues because of their status as World War I memorial trees;

(k) notes that one of these streets is Western Road, where the consultation closes on December 9, and that Couns Craig Gamble Pugh and Anne Murphy have been consulting with their constituents on this road to raise awareness about the surveys; and

(l) commits to engaging with stakeholders such as the Sheffield Community Covenant and War Memorials Trust when considering the Council’s response to advice from the Independent Tree Panel, if and when the residents of Western Road decide to ask the ITP to re-examine the proposals, and commits to respond in an open and transparent way, carefully taking the ITP’s advice into account.