Sheffield Labour Party attacks council's "sinister" tree-felling operation

The political fallout from Sheffield City's Council's tree-felling programme continues, with a letter to the council leader from Sheffield Central Constituency Labour Party (CLP) complaining of its "unacceptable" tactics.

Sheffield Town Hall - image: Tim Green (CC BY 2.0)
Sheffield Town Hall - image: Tim Green (CC BY 2.0)

Writing to the leader of the council on 26 November, Cllr Julie Dore, CLP chair Jim Lafferty said party members at a constituency meeting on 24 November "expressed distress, bewilderment and outrage" at the actions of the council and its contractor Amey a week earlier.

"Long-standing members on whom the Party depends to elect Labour councillors feel they have been placed in the position of defending what they believe to be the indefensible; a growing number are no longer prepared to do this," he wrote.

He demanded the council explain why the Rustlings Road felling operation was undertaken in the way it was and why the views of the city's Independent Tree Panel were ignored, adding: "There are separate issues about policing which we will be taking up with the Police and Crime Commissioner."

The letter also demands assurances that no trees will be removed contrary to the panel’s advice without full consultation after publication of the advice, and that there will be no future operations of the sort undertaken on Rustlings Road.

A day earlier, the council's Cabinet Member for Environment, Cllr Bryan Lodge, who together with Dore has been the main target of local protestors' anger, issued a statement apologising for the Rustlings Road operation and the decision not to publish the Tree Panel report in advance.

"We have heard the message loud and clear that this was not the acceptable course of action," he said. "We commit to publishing the Independent Tree Panel reports in a timely manner, with full and transparent information about how we have come to decisions. We can also give assurances that no work will begin before 7am."

Former deputy prime minister Nick Clegg MP, in whose Sheffield Hallam constituency Rustlings Road lies, also complained to Dore, calling the council's actions "underhand" and "inexcusable".

"This act is an embarrassment for Sheffield - it is getting national media coverage and is painting the city in a bad light," he wrote.

Clegg was quoted in a full-page article on the furore in yesterday's Guardian newspaper describing the Rustlings Road operation as "something you’d expect to see in Putin’s Russia, rather than a Sheffield suburb".

Meanwhile a rally on Saturday 26 November in the city's Endcliffe Park, which adjoins Rustlings Road, drew 400-500 people, according to organisers.

Former Green Party leader Natalie Bennett is due to address a further rally scheduled for the morning of 1 December outside Sheffield Magistrates Court, when the trial begins of the first two protesters arrested for obstructing contractor Amey's tree felling. The two, Simon Crump and Calvin Payne, have said they intend to plead not guilty.

And on the evening of 6 December, Sheffield Hallam University professor of environmental geography Ian Rotherham, a long-standing opponent of the city's tree policy, will give a lecture at the university on "The Sheffield Street Trees debacle – an avoidable crisis".

"Leading arboricultural practitioners have visited Sheffield to assess the situation, including authors of the national policy guidance on urban tree management. Their comments and conclusions are damning," he said.

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