Sheffield Hallam MP Jared O'Mara has become the third city-based MP within 24 hours to call for a halt to controversial tree-felling work by Sheffield Council.
In a strongly-worded statement sent to The Yorkshire Post this afternoon, Mr O'Mara, who was elected as a Labour candidate last year but is currently suspended from the party pending an investigation into offensive online comments made in his past, said he has seen "innumerable healthy trees which ... have been unnecessarily and inexplicably earmarked for felling" in his constituency.
He said Sheffield Council should order an immediate halt to the tree-felling programme and begin talks with residents, following similar comments made by Sheffield Heeley MP Louise Haigh and Sheffield Central MP Paul Blomfield yesterday.
But the felling programme was today defended by Penistone and Stocksbridge MP Angela Smith, who said work in her constituency had been done in a "carefully-planned manner". Meanwhile, Sheffield South East MP Clive Betts said there had been "no problems in my constituency".
It comes after it was revealed the council’s highways contract with Amey which started in 2012 contains a target to fell 17,500 street trees in the city and replace them with saplings by the end of its 25-year term.
In recent weeks, dozens of police officers and private security guards have been attending tree-felling operations in Sheffield, with heated scenes and several arrests of protesters made.
Mr O'Mara said today: "Over the past few weeks, I have been speaking to a large number of my constituents and keeping abreast of recent developments with Sheffield City Council’s tree-felling programme. Following on from this I am dismayed to learn that there are provisions in the council’s contract with Amey which will allow up to 17,500 trees to
be felled (half of the city’s street based stock) seemingly at the mere whim of a private company.
"I have made no secret of my distaste for the Tree Felling Programme previously and demonstrated this by passing on the protesters’ petition in opposition to it to Jeremy Corbyn last October.
"In addition, I have visited various sites across Hallam and have seen with my own eyes that innumerable healthy trees, which are neither “dangerous, dying, diseased, damaged, dead or discriminatory” (the council’s criteria for removal) have been unnecessarily and inexplicably earmarked for felling.
"Furthermore, I have spoken to a sizeable number of my constituents who have expertise in engineering and other relevant disciplines related to the situation at hand. As such, I am calling on the council to immediately cease their tree felling programme in our constituency and speak to these experts and all other residents and campaigners in conjunction with the existing members of the Independent Tree Panel to open an extensive review on a case by case, tree by tree basis to find alternative and affordable engineering solutions.
"The aim being that as many of the remaining trees as possible (hopefully all of them) scheduled for felling can be saved whilst not impeding the council’s road repairing and relaying programme.
"I would be delighted to help with the organisation of such a review and arrange the process and meetings between residents, experts, campaigners, Amey and the Council whereby a mutually agreeable and peaceful solution can be found in each specific instance that is not only affordable for the council but also environmentally friendly.
"Lastly, I would also like to place on record my support of our Police and Crime Commissioner for South Yorkshire, Dr Alan Billings, in his view that our Police should not need to be involved in any further protests. This is a civil matter and not a criminal matter and there need not be any more protests in any case if all parties can meet and an extensive review can be undertaken."
In contrast, Angela Smith said today: "Sheffield City Council’s Streets Ahead programme has been implemented in my constituency in a carefully planned manner and with regular updates from officers.
"The number of street trees felled under the auspices of the programme is very small and all have been replaced."
The council says the trees are either dead, dying, diseased, dangerous or damaging the highway. But campaigners argue felling is being carried out for contractual rather than environmental or health and safety reasons.
Sheffield Council insist the 17,500 figure contained in the contract is not a target and it estimates 10,000 trees will be removed and replaced with saplings over the course of the contract.
Sheffield Brightside and Hillsborough MP Gill Furniss is yet to respond to a request for comment.