​Open Letter to Sheffield City Council’s Ruling Labour Group: Time To Talk About The Trees

When you, Sheffield City Council, have lost an argument it’s time to take stock, to stop and to think. Perhaps you may need to reconsider your plans. Maybe things could be done differently. Or you could come out fighting in an attempt to silence your opponents? You could try to discredit those dissenting voices? History is peppered with such efforts. It never ends well. Perhaps you might claim protestors’ actions are illegal when they clearly are not, or imply that they have callous disregard for their fellow citizens. Maybe you will accuse them of some kind of greedy self-interest that jeopardises funding of key public services. You, Sheffield City Council, will tritely play your ‘mythbusting’ games. The unjustifiable felling of healthy trees will not be addressed.
The truth is not a myth and it should be defended. That principle is key to our democratic tradition. Sheffield City Council is using OUR Council Tax to make poorly evidenced accusations about those campaigning to save healthy street trees. None of this ‘mythbusting’ bears much scrutiny. Instead it is a bare-faced attempt to politicise the debate about the fate of thousands of trees. It is, yet again, not a good use of public money.

The reality is that real experts think Sheffield has got the management of healthy street trees very wrong. Street trees matter. Despite Council claims, it is a fact that a small replacement tree will not provide the health and other benefits of a healthy large canopied tree. Nor has the Council accounted for the asset value of the trees removed, which can be many thousands of pounds per tree per year.

Some argue that the ‘mythbusters’ are a true low point that tarnishes local politics by descending into propaganda. That is for the reader to decide. It would be easy enough to go through each ‘myth’ point by point. However, that misses the point. The SCC ‘mythbusters’ are a symptom of a deep-seated failure and a major disconnect between local politicians and large numbers of citizens.

The cure then is not a ‘to and fro’ yah-boo argument where facts are countered by endless Council spin-doctoring. The cure is a constructive and engaged dialogue that takes the concerns of citizens and their many expert advisers seriously, a process that leads to real action. Perhaps a process that leads to the use of widely available engineering solutions to save valuable trees. Maybe you will finally work with Amey to relax over-stringent kerb specifications? Maybe Councillor Lodge will finally make that overdue call to the suppliers of Flexi™-pave? They’re waiting to hear from you, Bryan.

In the UK we resolve our differences in civilised ways through debate, the use of solid facts and by calling upon expert witnesses to inform and advise the best possible decisions. Wise leaders call upon wise counsel. Sadly, no credible experts support the large scale removal of healthy street trees in Sheffield.

An internationally renowned tree expert says:

“…the recent myth busting post from Sheffield City Council verged on laughable from a technical perspective, which makes it nothing more than political propaganda. It [SCC] knows it is weak on this front, which is blindingly obvious because no expert of any calibre is prepared to stand up and defend its approach.”

The Sheffield Tree Action Groups (STAG) are full of ordinary Sheffield people. Some might be your family doctor, teach your children, drive your taxi on a Friday night, or wait in your local café. One thing that unites tree campaigners across the city is that they care about the value of our street tree assets. Experts have been sought out and back up what they say because the campaigners understand the importance of acting on real evidence and expert advice. Yes, that may seem unfashionable, but it’s true.

The campaigners have sought dialogue with the Council to try to resolve the savage street tree removal programme. For weeks a reply has been awaited. The time has come to stop the Council spin. People see it for what it is. Instead of wasting Council Tax trying to fight the public, Sheffield City Council need to work with them to protect our environmental legacy and to secure a healthier future. Plant more trees for sure, but value the healthy street trees. They will serve us well for many decades to come.

Councillor Lodge, we challenge you to a public, independently chaired debate. Bring your ‘experts’. The Sheffield Tree Action Groups, with membership city-wide, will bring theirs. In front of the public and the media you can show this proud city that you are prepared to engage.

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