Socialist Worker

Activists won’t let cuts fell Yorkshire trees

by Phil Turner in Sheffield
Issue No. 2590

Residents put up a tree-mendous fight

Residents put up a tree-mendous fight (Pic: Luis Arroyo)


Outside my front door on a tree-lined Sheffield street, protesters were up against private security guards as police looked on.

Chants of “Who’s streets—our streets. Who’s trees—our trees” filled the air.

Neighbours stood shoulder to shoulder. Pensioners, some in their 80s, united against corporate greed.

Campaigners held firm in the face of bullying and intimidation.

Mob-handed security—laughingly called “evidence gatherers”—video everybody. But despite violent “forceful removal” of protesters, they failed.

We succeeded in forcing multinational company Amey from chopping down trees for Sheffield Labour council.

“No Pasaran,” at least for now. Amey is employed by Sheffield Labour council to unnecessarily fell thousands of street trees as part of a £2.2 billion contract.

Around 5,500 trees have been removed and replaced with saplings since 2012 but campaigners know many removals are unnecessary.

The “Streets Ahead” PFI contract between Sheffield’s pro-cuts Labour Council and Amey is a disaster.

Gleadless Valley Labour Party voted 30-0 against the tree felling programme.

Some Labour officials say the party could lose up to eight seats as a result of the trees crisis.

Momentum has now also broken with the tree felling programme.

Local Heeley Labour MP and Shadow Policing Minister Louise Haigh—whose office is round the corner from the main protests—has now branded the felling “unsustainable” and called for it to be halted.

Amey brought in a “specially-trained stewarding team”—recruited from outside the city—earlier this month to remove protesters going inside safety zones around trees.

Punching 

A video circulating appears to show a security person punching a protestor as police stand by, not intervening. Most Labour Party members seem to support the protesters.

A sign of desperation came last weekend when a clearly preposterous story emerged in the media.

A couple, one a doctor, were accused of poisoning tea given to three Amey workers, who were made ill.

Police say they are investigating—despite claims the alleged incident happened in October last year.

The public have not been allowed to see the 25-year contract to maintain Sheffield streets, pavements and trees. Healthy trees across the city are being felled for no good reason.

Public opposition is so strong that often arborists are being hired to stealthily chop down branches in pre-dawn “raids.”

Nationally Labour stands for wanting to scrap PFIs.

Sheffield council leader Julie Dore has declared the authority would consider bringing the Amey contract in house if possible.

But the council has failed to enter into meaningful negotiations with tree campaigners—instead action against them has been escalated.

Yet a way to end the contract without any penalty looks to have been found.

Research suggests thatduring the bidding process Amey made false declarations about its health and safety history, including an incident where a worker died.

But at the heart of the Sheffield crisis is the anger at the Tory council cuts which Labour are still implementing without leading any kind of fightback.

The “Save Our Trees” movement has the potential to be a mass campaign.

It should link up more with other groups fighting Tory austerity, including calling joint protests when the annual budget is decided.

Victories in Haringey against the housing PFI and protests against developers in Southwark and elsewhere show the potential for wider resistance.

Protest against council cuts and tree cuts at council budget meeting 7 February from 4pm, Sheffield Town Hall


If you enjoy Socialist Worker, please consider giving to our annual appeal to make sure we can maintain and develop our online and print versions of Socialist Worker. Go here for details and to donate.

Mobile users! Don't forget to add Socialist Worker to your home screen.