I am very well aware there has been understandable and ongoing concern regarding the 25 year tree replacement work being undertaken by the council.
Sheffielders have every right to be frustrated and I want to update you on the meetings I’ve been holding with the council in the past few weeks to make sure the voice of Sheffielders are heard by the people who make the decisions in this city.
No-one wants to see the felling of healthy trees and we don’t want to see them felled if there is anything that can be done to save them. We also know the managed programme impacts on 0.3% of Sheffield’s beloved trees and by its completion there will be 600 more trees than when the initial contract was signed in 2012.
But just because it amounts to a relatively small number of trees does not mean that public concern is unjustified.
The concern is shared by many Sheffielders, including myself. When the council have not got it right, I’ve told them so.
That’s why I have held the council and the police to account in face-to-face meetings and demanded they act on the concerns of Sheffielders.
Peaceful protest – I have told the council and our Police and Crime Commissioner that the policing of the protests and the use of regressive anti-trade union legislation to remove protestors has inflamed the situation and is fundamentally wrong.
This legislation was introduced to deny working people a voice and I told them I was deeply concerned at the apparent extension of the law to cover protests within our city. That is why I wrote to the Police and Crime Commissioner in the aftermath of the arrests on Rustlings Road asking that they review the use of the legislation.
I’m glad they listened.
Transparency – I’ve questioned them face-to-face over the lack of transparency around the contract itself including questions about the incentives, targets and cost pressures.
If they don’t address these concerns it will lead to a loss of trust.
I have spent much of this Parliament holding private Government contractors to account, defending transparency and fighting efforts to water down Freedom of Information. I believe transparency helps make those who serve more accountable and shines a light on decisions usually taken behind closed doors. The same goes for our local Government and in the case of the tree replacement programme, transparency would be a hugely welcome next step.
Independent Tree Panel – this is being exacerbated by the overruling of recommendations by the Independent Tree Panel with little explanation and publishing the advice with no time for communities to review it. That was wrong and I’m glad the council have now agreed to publish it well in advance.
Tree walks – I’ve met directly with many of the tree campaigners and right at the beginning of the works I brought Amey and the Council to Greenhill to host tree walks and discuss which trees have been threatened and intervened to protect trees wrongly at risk of removal.
First World War memorial trees – there will now be a cross-party working group to look at the war memorial sites and the Council have committed to working to retain and improve memorials at Meersbrook. They have said they will work with local people and the War Memorials Trust and I will certainly be contributing to this work.
All of this work continues and, as ever, I will raise my constituents’ concerns with the Council and with Government where appropriate either in relation to individual trees that we think can be saved about the policy in general.