After this week’s hard-hitting scenes from Sheffield, we stood back and took time out to ask whats really going on. After reaching out to STAG on many occasions and being denied comments and met with a brick wall. Thankfully one person came out to speak about the events that happened on the 22nd and over the last few months. Paul Brooke of Save Gleadless Valley Trees. Took some time out and talked to us about his own personal thoughts on the situation taking place in Sheffield.
(The interview is unedited)
Thank you for asking me to comment and for trying to open a discussion. Social media threads rarely enable reasoned debate but have their value in raising awareness. Sadly all too often it entrenches people’s position. On your page your members would generally shit on or kill protestors – the kind of comment you often get on social media. You will note on STAG page that if people make such abusive comments about arbs they get taken down quickly
What is your involvement in STAG?
I Chair one of the Action Groups – Save Gleadless Valley Trees (SGVT). What is often not understood is that STAG is not really an organisation in it’s own right. It is an umbrella group that brought together local groups that formed independently when details of the tree felling programme began to emerge. There is no membership other than joining the STAG Facebook page. STAG has no power over members but tries to listen and provide some representation.
How long have you been part of STAG for?
I joined the Facebook page in Jan 2017
Do you feel your voice is being heard within the STAG Group?
Yes I think so. We hold local meetings for SGVT and we send a representative to a steering group in STAG. There are a wide range of voices and viewpoints and we generally get by on a broad concensus.
What is STAG standing for at the moment?
What it always has. STAG is campaigning to prevent the unnecessary felling of thousands of mature and healthy street trees in Sheffield under the council’s Streets Ahead scheme. Streets Ahead is a £2.2billion 25 year PFI contract with Amey to maintain the city’s roads, pavements, streetlights and trees.
Does STAG take into account that residents on the streets may not wish to have the trees anymore?
Yes of course. People who live on roads with trees have many different opinions. There have been a number of occasions where homeowners have evidence through insurance claims or survey reports of structural damage due to a tree and STAG members have asked local campaigners not to prevent a felling. The same has happened where trees are clearly preventing reasonable disability access. However, many of the reasons people cite as why they want the street tree felled fall into categories that the Council has always previously refused to act on – leaves, light, droppings on cars, messy blossom etc. Please remember that people who love trees in their community but don’t have one on their street were never consulted by the Council. Street trees belong to the community not to the person who bought the house where the tree was already standing.
What are the next steps for STAG?
We continue to seek dialogue with the Council and with Amey or it’s contractors to find a resolution.
Is STAG starting to lose their credibility?
Not as far as I’m aware. I guess some people will see the actions of individual protestors and being the actions of STAG. They are not. STAG has on a number of occasions been critical of some protestors actions but that is not what STAG is for. STAG does not control or police individuals actions other than in moderation of the Facebook page.
Will STAG admit they are wrong, or will they continue to defend their actions at every stage?
See above – the only actions that are STAG actions have tended to be the mass rallies or fundraising events.
Were you at the protest on the 22nd?
Yes – Meersbrook Park Road is where I live
What was the cause of the protests on the 22nd?
Monday the 22nd followed 5 days of felling attempts on Meersbrook Park Road the previous week. The Council and Amey had announced that they would use ‘reasonable force’ to remove protestors from within the safety zone.
There are 42 lime trees on the road making an avenue by a park. ALL are assessed as healthy. 18 are due to be felled and the Council own Independent Tree Panel said 11 of those did not need to be felled. The Council ignored its own expensive independent advice.
During the week there were many examples where local people were in our view treated unduly roughly or assaulted to remove them even when they were not with the barriers. This is because one lawful tactic used by protestor was to stand on the street against a boundary wall BEFORE barriers were erected. This is legal and does not breach the injunction. The contractor does not want to set the barriers up in front of protestors because they may have insufficient space to work safely. They use security guards to force people off a wall or off the pavement using arm locks and pressure points. We believe that we have a legal right to remain on the public highway, though we know that this delays work.
There are people of course who choose to disrupt works by getting over the barriers and entering the safety zone and they too are removed. We have seen a lack of ‘controlled’ removal by security guards that have caused injuries.
Did security provoke the protestors?
In my view yes. It is not just the security staff who provoke protestors. Amey barrier staff and Acorn Arborists and ground staff have provoked reactions in my view deliberately to get the Police involved. On the morning of the 19th (Friday) I was spat on by an Acorn arborist from out of his vehicle window. Sadly, even though they are paid everyday, some of the crews seem to take the felling of our trees very personally. STAG and many members have worked very hard to stop people directing their anger at the Arbs.
I have been very surprised to witness highly trained arborists running down a street carrying barriers, pushing people out of the way to get the barriers up against a wall or crushing people behind barriers. I had expected this of Amey highways staff or the security personnel but I’m at a loss as to why an Arb would do it. I guess they are frustrated at having 6 months more pay and work. I do understand it’s frustrating for them and it certainly must make a job they love very very difficult.
Amey – speak to the Council about a compromise – fix the pavements around trees that have been assessed by the Independent Tree Panel – publish the secret contract – quit the contract – fix our roads – stop profiteering
Council – talk to Amey and us about a compromise – tell the truth about the contract – review why your officer overruled the Independent tree panel and decided to fell thousands of perfectly healthy trees.
Acorn – please walk away. The tree felling programme using Acorn as a contractor should have been finished months ago. Why are you so desperate to fell healthy trees that many of your staff privately tell us don’t need felling.
To Acorn Arbs – a number of Amey’s own arbs (ex Council staff) have refused to continue with the fellings, you can do the same. Once the remaining 400 or so trees are felled what work are you going to be doing then? More standing trees means more good work for arbs. Take it easy – don’t get so upset that we are stopping you – we are keeping you in employment. Back in the summer we used to stand about chatting, enjoying the sunshine and we had pretty good relationships. What changed?
What this protest planned to break down the barriers or did it just happen?
It just happened. At the time a woman was being dragged by arm lock across the floor by 2 security staff. Proper controlled removal would have involve 5 staff. There were 12 security staff available. People pushed on the barriers which were only held in place with cable ties which failed. If you watch the video its all over and quiet within a minute.
What is the worst thing you have seen the security guards do?
Punch and kick a protestor.
Has an arborist ever attacked protesters?
I’ve seen arbs pushing barriers on people or leaning their weight to crush people between a barrier and wall. I have video during a 4am felling where a protestor sat on the climbers rope (this appeared unintentional as it was dark and he sat at the base of the tree) – the ground crew reacted aggressively (perhaps understandably as we get the importance and risks involved) but it appeared the protestor got punched and then kicked when on the ground.
You didn’t ask whether protestors have ever attacked an arborist. But I’ll answer it. I’m aware of an arborist who made an allegation of assault when a protestor push or slapped his arm away. The Arb was holding a camera in the face of the protestor. Police took no action. As far as I know, that’s it.
Do you think this shows STAG in a good or bad light?
It doesn’t show STAG in any light.
Is this violence getting worst in Sheffield?
The use of security staff had as predicted resulted in greater tension and more flash points. Its hard to listen to a person in pain as their thumb is bent or pressure points applied. We are determined not to lose more trees here – inevitable if the Council and its contractors carry on without change, then sadly it will only go in one direction. I’ll defend the tree my 87 year old neighbour cares about or the one named in honour of a lady who spent the last months of her life looking into the canopy of the tree outside her window.
Can the trees be saved or is it too late?
We can only hope. The Council and Amey want to fell them and are hell-bent on doing so but the only way the tree will come down is if an arb spikes up it and get to work. I’d ask your members to consider what we the residents of this city feel. Our argument is with our Council and a multi-national. We want to see arborists looking after our beautiful trees for years to come. Yes they are being replaced but you need to understand that the number being felled is to reduce maintenance cost – eg you don’t have to pay a qualified tree climbing arb to look after a 3m sapling. I just don’t get why so few arbs seem to get it.
What was the outcome of yesterday’s protest?
Amey have called off felling for a few days whilst they plan what to do according to their press statements.
It is worth noting that the Police made no arrests or cautions during the protest. They have allowed short term obstruction of the highway.