Marmite, pin numbers and unicorns

Save the trees campaign on Rustlings Road in Sheffield
Save the trees campaign on Rustlings Road in Sheffield
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I had never realised that trees were such a Marmite thing.

Yet in Sheffield our trees are polarising, or at least the leaders of Sheffield City Council would like them to be polarising.

In recent days I have heard some ridiculous ‘low punches’ as an increasingly desperate council seeks to justify their arrangements with PFI contractor Amey.

We can only continue to speculate on what some of those arrangements are though.

Indeed, the contract with Amey seems to be a more closely guarded secret than the Queen’s PIN number.

The ludicrous assertion that saving healthy trees from felling would take money away from the children’s services budget was one of the jewels in the crown of the smear campaign against tree campaigners.

Of course, this claim is designed to portray those who oppose the ‘Sheffield Chainsaw Massacre’ in a bad light. They are, in the eyes of a council that seeks to portray a class divide, unfeeling and selfish geographically clustered ‘haves’ who cannot see the wood for the trees.

Frankly it’s a pathetic display. It smacks of a desperate regime that has lost all the arguments and denies all the clear evidence ranged against them.

Faced with massive public opposition and growing international condemnation from arboricultural experts the Sheffield City Council have concocted a pantomime unicorn of mystifying indifference.

One of the last gossamer threads of self-constructed ‘credibility’ is their newly constituted and soon to be very busy Tree Panel, sorry Independent Tree Panel. The members of the panel are tasked to look again at the 38 streets whose residents have rejected the felling of trees in response to phase one of a council survey.

More streets might have rejected tree fellings were the survey well designed and publicised.

Instead we have Fifty Shades of Survey in which an authoritarian city council seeks to pull the wool over the eyes of a hitherto innocent public. The outcome is, inevitably, perverse and makes for grim reading.

The methodology of their survey is, of course, a mockery of how to manage public engagement. Plain brown envelopes delivered just before Christmas, a narrow time window to respond, a link to the survey that didn’t work, an extension of the survey deadline by a few days that was not widely publicised. You couldn’t make it up.

Inevitably the response rate averaged about 12 per cent. We are told this reflects how little public concern there is about the issue.

On Wednesday, January 27, I attended a council cabinet in the community event. The evening meeting kicked off with a consultation exercise.

Our elected ‘representatives’ spread themselves out among the assembled populace. The purpose? To gather views on how they can improve engagement with the public.

Well, maybe they’ll start by respecting the more than 6,000 Sheffielders who signed the petition against excessive tree-felling plans in Nether Edge when they debate it at the full city council meeting today.

Richard Ward

High Storrs Road, Sheffield