For the last two years, with the backing of the Sheffield City Council, the multinational corporation Amey and its subcontractor Acorn have been engaged in an increasingly reckless, dangerous, and violent campaign of felling healthy trees across the city.
The methods used to fell these trees have become increasingly and shockingly unsafe. In August, a tree was felled on Myrtle Road, directly into a private garden, without the resident’s permission or even knowledge. This led to Acorn and Amey being placed in the equivalent of special measures by the Health and Safety Executive. One might think that after this incident the tree felling crews would be especially careful. But in recent weeks all respect for health and safety seems to have been abandoned. In incident after incident, trees are being felled directly over protestors’ heads, or having half their branches lopped off in order to leave them in unsafe condition. They are being felled without adequate safety zones, in the middle of the night, and directly over cars without any notice of parking restrictions being given. The work is being completed with such haste and recklessness that a child outside the safety zone was hit by flying debris. These are shockingly bad practices, and the pressure to engage in them perhaps explains why so many of the crews that used to be willing to fell trees for Amey are no longer to be seen in Sheffield. Only Acorn, it seems, is willing to take these grotesque healthy and safety risks.
Why is all this happening? The reasons are shrouded in the secrecy of a 25-year PFI contract between the Sheffield City Council and Amey—one said to be too “commercially sensitive” to be reviewed by those whose environment is being demolished.
We have no idea why the 14 pre-paid engineering solutions to save healthy trees have never been used, or why the council falsely claimed they had been used 143 times, and then recanted. We have no idea why solutions like half-width kerbstones—standard everywhere else—are not being used. We have no idea why Montgomery Road’s trees are still due to be felled even though the pavements and road are now perfectly smooth. We have no idea why small disruptions in the pavement are considered more important than preserving a memorial to fallen soldiers from WWI or saving a rare tree that is home to a colony of endangered butterflies.
What we do know is that Amey, Acorn, and the council will go to any lengths to fell these healthy trees. They have attempted to jail an innocent opposition councillor. They have arrested pensioners in their nightclothes. They have used Thatcher’s strike-breaking laws to arrest peaceful citizens. (All of these charges were dropped or thrown out.) They felled trees in the middle of the night. In the last weeks, they hired a private army of security forces to intimidate and assault peaceful citizens exercising their right to protest—even on private property (with the owner’s permission) or public pavements outside the safety barriers that have been erected. And now, they are ignoring basic considerations of safety in order to destroy these healthy trees.
This week, they are coming for the trees on my street. When the council surveyed us about our views, we voted 100% against felling. The council’s own Independent Tree Panel recommended against felling our trees. Yet sometime this week, Amey, Acorn and a private army will undoubtedly invade our street, seeking to destroy our beloved healthy trees at any cost. And now we know that we need to fear not just for our trees, but for our own physical safety. Will they assault us when we stand on our own property? Will they hurl debris outside of safety zones, endangering our children? Will they smash barriers into our faces? Will they arrest us on spurious charges? We honestly don’t know. What we do know is that this has gone so far beyond the reasonable that almost anything might happen.