On Saturday, November 17, I joined the commemoration gathering to mark the two year anniversary of the infamous 5:00am dawn raid by Sheffield City Council and South Yorkshire Police to fell healthy street trees on Rustlings Road.
People will have different views on whether protestors took the correct action when it became clear that Sheffield City Council had signed a secret deal with Amey that could see up to 17,500 of our much loved street trees felled as part of the Streets Ahead contract. One thing that cannot be in doubt is that it exposed the secretive and undemocratic nature of the current administration. It believed it could bully people into silence and use thousands of pounds of ratepayers’ money to quell opposition to its plans.
In its ‘wisdom’, Sheffield City Council, sanctioned the removal of the mature trees in Fitzalan Square, trees that help remove air pollution, earlier this year. We now have the situation where it proposes to introduce congestion charges on buses, taxis and business vehicles using the city centre in a measure to tackle the air pollution. The future of healthy street trees is still not clear as negotiations over the trees are not yet completed and a street tree strategy that was promised three years ago has not yet materialised. Given the administration’s woeful inability to appreciate just why street trees are a vital part of the built environment, and various rumours circulating about its and Amey’s real intent, it’s no wonder that concerns remain.
One heartening outcome of the street tree campaign is that members of opposition political parties on Sheffield City Council and people without political affiliation have worked together to protect Sheffield’s environment. It has also highlighted the need to change how our city is the governed, as currently decisions are made by a small clique of Labour councillors with a narrow world view.
Decisions that are right for the City will withstand proper scrutiny by all councillors not just a few members belonging to the Labour party. On Saturday I signed the ‘Its Our City’ petition seeking to change the strong leader model currently operated by the Council where ten Labour councillors make all the decisions, to a more collaborative Committee system where all 84 elected city councillors will be part of the decision making process. I would encourage others to do the same.