n Tuesday morning I was visited by a process server acting on behalf of Sheffield city council, the council I sit on as a Green party member. They handed me an official notice from the council stating that unless I comply with the set of stringent rules and demands detailed in the notice, it will take me to court. To say that I was surprised by this would be an understatement.
The story of how we reached this rather unfathomable point began five years ago. In 2012 the Labour-led Sheffield city council entered into a PFI contract with Amey Hallam Highways to resurface roads, replace street lights and maintain the city’s 36,000 roadside trees as part of a 25-year programme. The council and Amey organised many so-called “roadshows” across the city, where their plans for each area could be viewed and commented upon by residents. This was recorded as consultation. But although many interested residents attended and contributed helpful local knowledge, those contributions appear to have been largely ignored, much to the frustration of those people who desperately want to retain their beautiful, healthy street trees.
It’s become increasingly clear that Amey and the council have only one goal in mind. They want to make maintaining our streets as cheap as possible – and that, it turns out, means cutting down vast numbers of our trees without consultation, without good reason, and without warning. They intend to replace them with ornamental species that will never equal the life given and beauty created by the trees we already have.
Felling has already begun and on a grand scale. So far, Sheffield Tree Action Groupestimates that about 4,000 trees in Sheffield – historically one of the leafiest cities in Britain – have already been felled. People can go to work one morning with a line of beautiful trees on their road and come home to find them gone. Independent reports have shown that the trees being chopped down are often perfectly healthy and of no danger to the public. The report of an Independent Tree Panel into eight trees that were marked for removal concluded that all but one of them should be saved. Half an hour after that report was published, all eight had been cut down.
I want to help prevent there being any more needless destruction of the city’s trees. I’ve been involved in the anti-felling campaign for more than two years and in February this year I joined protesters attempting to stop the cutting down of a tree in the Nether Edge region of the city. I was arrested, along with six other demonstrators. The charges were dropped, along with the charges against 13 other peaceful protesters who had been arrested during the campaign, but the notice I was served on Tuesday morning shows that the council is out to stop me making any further protests.
I am astonished to read through the demands Sheffield council is making. It has provided me with a map of the city and highlighted the areas where I am prohibited to protest against tree felling. I am also forbidden from entering the so-called “safety zone” around trees earmarked for felling, or to park my car under them (a form of peaceful protest we use which makes it difficult to bring down the trees). I cannot in good conscience stand aside and allow the council to fell healthy trees. I will continue to peacefully protest against Labour-sanctioned environmental vandalism.
I am concerned about what may happen to me and other campaigners who have also received the injunction notice. We may have to pay considerable court costs and damages if we lose our case. The Labour party ran its recent general election campaign on a platform of standing up for the voiceless. Yet right here in Sheffield, where they have a chance to put those principles into practice, the Labour council is choosing to silence the voices of those who dissent from its views.
The council’s action has done nothing to deter my commitment to the campaign and to working with Green party councillors and campaigners as we resist the destruction of our city’s environment. We are custodians of the city for future generations and it is my duty to hand on a world fit for all to live in.