'Urgent' campaign to save Sheffield war memorial trees
The Star is today joining forces with campaigners - calling on Sheffield Council to urgently re-examine plans to cut down trees honouring First World War victims.
We are also seeking city support to restore the stone plaque, which explains that the trees were planted in memory of young soldiers who made the ultimate sacrifice.
The authority has earmarked 23 trees in Western Road, Crookes, for the chop as part of its ongoing Streets Ahead project with private contractor Amey.
The leafy road is renowned for its beauty, but you would be forgiven for missing the plaque on the outer wall of Westways Primary School. Faded by years of weathering and patched with lichen, it carries an inscription that is almost short enough for a tweet - but its message is of considerable weight.
The plaque is the only hint of the significance of the plane trees along Western Road, almost 100 of which were planted in 1919 to commemorate former Westways pupils who died during the First World War.
Sixty trees remain, and 23 now bear yellow ribbons and poppies, pinned to them by campaigners fighting to save them from felling.
This week residents formed the Western Road Remembers group to try to raise awareness of the trees’ importance, and ultimately protect them from the chainsaw.
Spokesman for the group Alan Story, a retired academic who lives opposite the school in Western Road, called the plan to fell the trees an ‘outrage’, adding: “You don’t desecrate war memorials.”
The council is already reeling from the backlash to its actions in Rustlings Road earlier this month, when residents were woken at 5am by the sound of chainsaws and council workers were accompanied by police.
The authority has apologised for the way it handled the felling on that day - when two pensioners were arrested - and hundreds gathered in Endcliffe Park to protest on Saturday.
Members of the Sheffield Central labour party even wrote to leader Julie Dore to highlight the anger the incident had caused.
Now campaigners hope to raise awareness of the situation in Western Road before it is too late. They plan to employ a leading Sheffield hand stone carver to restore the plaque, at a cost of Â£750, and hold a rededication ceremony once the work is done.
They will also make a film about why the trees were planted in the first place.
Mr Story, 68, a Canadian who moved to Sheffield this year, said: "We want to bring it to the attention of the people in the street. A lot of them have no idea the trees are war memorials."
The council says Sheffield has about two million trees in public ownership and approximately the same on private land, with 36,000 of those on the highway.
More than 4,000 highway trees have been felled since the start of the council’s Streets Ahead highways programme with Amey - despite initial suggestions that only 1,000 would need to go.
The council says about 3,000 have so far been replaced, and about 50,000 new trees have been planted to create new woodland.
No date for the Western Road work has yet been set.
Tree campaigner Dave Dillner, a member of Stag, or Sheffield Tree Action Groups, yesterday started a petition calling for a council debate on the Western Road trees. At the time of going to press it had well over 1,000 signatures.
"It's an extremely emotive issue," he said. "This is the centenary of the Great War and it just seems a provocative thing to do to want to remove these trees, which are a war memorial.
"It's not the way to commemorate the dead, and as such people are up in arms.
""People actually go to walk and drive up and down the street when it's in blossom.
"I am expecting this to reach 5,000 signatures very quickly, so that we can trigger a debate in the first council meeting in January."
Adam Hanrahan, a Liberal Democrat councillor for the Crookes and Crosspool ward, is backing the Western Road campaign.
He urged the council to be 'particularly sensitive' said some of the reasons given for felling the trees - such as displaced kerbs - were not good enough.
A council document shows only three of the 23 trees are due to be felled because of decay or disease. The rest are causing problems with the pavement or road.
"I have had conversations with the War Memorial Trust who weren't aware of the plan and are looking into it," Coun Hanrahan said.
"There is potential grant funding which they have used on other memorial trees in the country.
"I have asked Bryan Lodge (cabinet member for the environment) whether he is aware of that, and whether he will talk to me to put together an application for an alternative solution.
"This is an ideal opportunity for the council to work with the community."
He added: "Surely there is a simple solution."
The Western Road trees are listed as a war memorial on the Imperial War Museum website. The page notes a meeting with council officials in 2006, where the issue of tree roots 'making the pavement increasingly difficult to use' was raised.
Westways Primary School headteacher Melany Holmes did not respond to a request for comment.
A council spokesman said: “We are in the early stages of working with residents on Western Road to confirm which trees need to be replaced. No decisions have been made. There are 54 trees and our initial recommendations are that 23 need to be replaced.
“Every household has now been sent a survey asking their views on these proposals. If more than 50 per cent of respondents disagree with the plans, we will refer the street to the Independent Tree Panel for further investigation.
"We will work closely with residents and the War Memorials Trust to ensure any trees that are removed are replaced appropriately and sensitively.”
Speaking on BBC Radio Sheffield yesterday, council leader Julie Dore said every decision she had taken in her six years in charge was taken 'in the interest of Sheffield'.
On the Rustlings Road incident, she added: "We have suffered the most severe cuts and the most austerity than any other council as suffered in this generation
"So I wouldn't take any decisions if all I cared about is how I can please all of the people all of the time and that decision came out of our hands because it surrounded public disorder and was taken by someone else and it was wrong.
"We all came to a collective decision on the advice given and we have a duty of care to the public and a duty of care to the workforce, who have been quite harassed and abused in the past trying to carry out their duties, and the protesters as well - we have a duty of care to them, and that is of the up most importance to make sure this operation was done safely
"It was wrong to go in at 5 in the morning and it was wrong to release the information at the last minute."
Coun Lodge added: "There were people who were camped out in Endcliffe Park watching those trees and there are people stood outside Olive Grove watching workers leave then they following and going out so this was all part of the background of making a decision to go early in the morning. We've made the apology."
Find out how to donate to the Western Road campaign at www.facebook.com/westernroadremembers.
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