Nick Clegg: Sheffield tree arrests '˜like something from Putin's Russia'
Who would have thought that the disagreement between Sheffield City Council and local residents over the fate of some trees on Rustlings Road would have come to this?
In scenes you’d expect to see in Putin’s Russia, rather than a Sheffield suburb, council contractors and police descended on Rustlings Road under the cover of darkness, dragged people out of bed to move their cars and detained peaceful protesters – all to chop down eight trees.
The battle to save the Rustlings Road trees has been long and hard-fought and I am impressed with the tenacity of local people and their peaceful, well-articulated, reasoned opposition.
They were as dismayed as I was when we met together on the road some hours after the dawn raid.
I have also made my own feelings known repeatedly over many months about the unresponsive and disrespectful attitude of a Labour Council acting with such haughty disregard towards local people.
Even if you think these trees need to be felled, what happened on Thursday was simply unacceptable.
Although I was shocked to hear exactly what had happened, I am afraid I wasn’t completely surprised.
Time and again I hear from my constituents the same story of meaningless consultations, high-handed decisions, empty words and local concerns repeatedly dismissed out of hand by the council – whether it’s trees, school places, flood protection schemes or safe crossings for school children.
Thursday was an extreme consequence of that same attitude. There is a growing perception that the Labour council makes decisions first and then consults later – going through the motions of listening to local opinion, but then disregarding it.
I still stand by the Streets Ahead project as a good thing for this city and I am proud of the part I played in helping to secure £1.2 billion of central government money to go towards fixing Sheffield’s roads and streets, which were renowned for being some of the worst in the UK.
But it didn’t have to be like this. What happened on Thursday was the fault of a complacent Labour Council that thinks it can get away with doing whatever it likes, engaging in bully-boy tactics and using the police to get their way.
Sheffield lost more than a few iconic roadside streets last week.
The Sheffield that I know is a liberal city – we believe in tolerance, fairness and democracy.
We must all now send a clear message that this behaviour is not acceptable on our streets.