Sheffield: where a gritted street strikes fear into the hearts of residents.
This morning, the Beast from the East roared into Sheffield. Many residents awoke to the realisation that there was no way they’d be getting their cars out. On Thornsett Road, it was different: this quiet residential street had been gritted several times and was crystal clear — unlike all the major roads around it. When residents saw that, they knew it was a terrible sign.
The grit meant that Sheffield City Council and its contractors Amey and Acorn would be back again trying to destroy the trees (which residents had voted overwhelmingly to keep). Thornsett is never normally gritted, and all over Sheffield traffic was being entirely stopped by ungritted roads. Indeed, there was a grit shortage.
When faced with the incoming storm, Sheffield council had a choice to make about priorities. They chose to ignore main roads and focus on helping a private company to fell the trees of Thornsett Road. How bad was this? Bad enough that an ambulance had to be helped by mountain rescue volunteers.
This decision was entirely in keeping with Sheffield City Council’s priorities. In a time of austerity, when the police are thoroughly overstretched, they assigned approximately 30 officers to Thornsett Road’s tree fellings on Monday and Tuesday this week (and an unknown number today — things didn’t get very far). This was in addition about about 20 security people.
Perhaps, you’re thinking, the police weren’t really needed elsewhere. But it turns out that at the very time that dozens of police were on Thornsett Road this week a house was robbed on nearby Wath Road. Why would that sort of thing be a priority when there are healthy trees to be chopped?
Perhaps, you’re thinking, the trees were really urgently in need of felling. Well, the council’s handpicked Independent Tree Panel didn’t think so. It said that the problem with one of these beloved mature trees could be fixed by simply putting in a narrower kerbstone — an utterly standard, and very cheap remedy. That tree is now a stump.
Perhaps, you’re thinking, the protestors were a terrifying and violent bunch of toughs, in need of 20 security personnel and 30 police to subdue them. Well, I write as one of them, one who was pulled away from a wall near a tree yesterday using “reasonable force” that felt like my arms were being ripped off. The other two who were also pulled away were both pensioners. I can see how we’re a pretty scary bunch — can you imagine how you’d feel if you met two pensioners and a 50-year-old 5‘4’’’ philosopher in a dark alley?
But the warped priorities don’t even end there. We all know how overstretched social services are. Well, on Monday we learned from Radio Sheffield that MAST workers, vital highly trained professionals who work with children and families, were being asked to come to felling sites to talk to protestors. And today, within just a couple of hours, both security forces and Darren Butt, Account Director of Streets Ahead, threatened to call social services. Why? Darren Butt thought that kids out in the street playing in the snow merited official intervention. Security forces thought that a bundled-up baby with her parents was in danger from the cold. None of this is plausibly a matter for social services intervention: instead, it’s a bullying tactic. It also shows enormous disrespect for the very difficult and important work social workers do.
So Sheffield City Council felt it was more important to fell these much-loved healthy trees than to clear main roads so that people could get to work and ambulances could get through. And they felt it was more important to have dozens of police supervising the manhandling of peaceful middle-aged (and beyond) protestors than to have them available for house burglaries. And either they felt it was appropriate to make nuisance calls to social services, or they felt it was acceptable to bully people with empty threats of doing so.
Our council needs to do some hard thinking about its priorities. The tree protectors are ready and willing to negotiate, as evidenced by the successful pruning of the Chelsea Elm last week. That’s the way forward, not this vast waste of money and resources.
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To learn more about the Sheffield Tree situation, go here.
There is good reason to suppose that the Sheffield City Council could end the disastrous tree-felling PFI contract without penalty, which I’ve written about here.
There’s a petition to get them to do so here. Please sign it!