Dear Mr Blomfield,
I have written to you before about the tree fellings ongoing under the Streets Ahead programme. Recent events compel me to write again. The removal of such a large number of healthy street trees was always wrong, but the recent brutality against peaceful protestors (hardly surprising given Amey’s parent company’s recent implication in torture) has taken this madness to a new level.
I call upon you to condemn publically the tree fellings and the actions of SCC/Amey. The fellings make no sense economically, ecologically, legally, politically, ethically, culturally, or in relation to public health. The vast majority of the trees felled did not need to be felled and could have been saved within the terms of the (insanely misguided) contract.
While I thank you again for your previous responses to me on this matter, there are a number of significant errors in your approach on which I must challenge you. In particular, you seem to underestimate the seriousness of this issue for the city. In the immortal words of Eldridge Cleaver, ‘if you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem’.
I will therefore outline as clearly as I can the reasons why you cannot, with any degree of credibility, continue in your support of the council’s actions. This is only a partial account of the horrors we are experiencing in what can only be described as an attack on Sheffield. For the sake of brevity in what will unavoidably be a long email, I do not include full references, but will be happy to do so, on request.
Streets Ahead is an enormous waste of public money. PFI contracts are never value for money. They cannot be. I was pleased to hear this recognised at the Labour conference. But this is only part of the problem. While we will agree on condemning Tory austerity, there are many issues that even the most diehard labour supporter can’t blame the Tories for.
• Round about £5000 per month is being spent on the surveillance of local residents.
• At least £250,000 of public money has been spent on court cases, all but one of which was thrown out of court.
• A significant amount of money (it is not yet known how much) is being spent in hiring security agents to physically intimidate and in some cases to assault local residents.
• The loss of so many mature trees will involve enormous long terms costs through the damage done to public health and ecosystem services (see below)
• A CAVAT tree valuation estimates that the damage already done to Sheffield amounts to tens of millions.
The felling of so many mature trees produces serious ecological damage. Arguments about the replacement of mature trees with saplings are entirely flawed. Nor is there any validity in arguments that point to tree planting in the wider area. There are specific ecological functions associated with mature street trees that cannot be replaced. To say that Streets Ahead will make Sheffield greener is an egregious example of SCC’s Trump-style post-truth politics.
• Mature trees obviously have a far greater impact on air pollution than saplings. For maximum benefit to the community these trees (equally obviously) need to be street trees.
• Mature trees support biodiversity in a way that saplings do not. Urban biodiversity has significant benefits for ecological function and public health (see below).
• Expert advice on this has been routinely ignored.
There are now numerous examples of SCC flouting law and protocol
• Trees have been felled without proper road closure notices being in place.
• Security agents are not displaying proper identification.
• SCC is sponsoring the assault of residents.
• There are a number of well-documented examples of the failure of Amey to follow proper health and safety measures.
• There are suggestions of SCC committing perjury.
• SCC has breached data collection protocols by, for example, passing images to the press
I wrote above of SCC’s Trump-style post-truth politics. We all rightly demand honesty and integrity in our elected representatives and public officials. SCC have consistently lied to the people of Sheffield
• It was claimed that engineering solutions had been utilised 143 times to save mature trees. As you will know SCC were unable to provide any examples when faced with a FOI request.
• SCC continue to misrepresent the flawed survey used to test public attitudes to the tree fellings. SCC say only 7% or residents opposed the fellings. Look at it a different way and we might say only 7% supported the fellings. This is statistical nonsense with no intellectual merit. If you’re in any doubt about this, have a look at this article: http://www.coveredinbees.org/node/484
• SCC lied about its involvement with the Woodland Trust. The Trust has consistently condemned the tree fellings.
• SCC has consistently ignored expert advice and misrepresented the impacts of the tree fellings, disseminating a series of myths on its website, paradoxically under the heading ‘mythbusters’.
• Saying that felling trees is a last resort cannot be substantiated by reference to the facts.
Tragically, as with so many examples of ecological degradation across the world, it is the most vulnerable members of society who will suffer the most. Streets Ahead is clearly discriminatory.
• SCC has consistently appropriated the voice of disabled residents to justify a programme which disabled groups have consistently opposed. As a recent statement contended ‘We were dismayed to hear that some people have tried to use us, disabled community, as scapegoats for tree felling citing space needed for wheel chairs and mobility scooters’.
• Mature street trees (note not saplings) have enormous benefits for those suffering from mental health problems.
• Mature street trees (note not saplings) have enormous benefits for those recovering from serious illness or injury.
• Those living in poorer areas gain greater benefits from street trees due in part to higher incidents of conditions such as asthma as well as certain mental health conditions in deprived areas.
• There is never any excuse for violence and intimidation. You will have seen the photographs of protestors being assaulted over recent days.
• As I mentioned to you in a previous email, Amnesty International have been campaigning against Ferrovial (Amey’s parent company) in relation to allegations of torture ongoing up to October 31st of this year.
That SCC are even considering felling our iconic street trees represents a remarkable act of philistinism akin to the Taliban’s destruction of the Buddhas of Bamiyan.
• Street trees are part of our shared community heritage and SCC has no right to destroy this.
• Felling war memorial trees in order to adjust kerb stones by an inch or two shows a contemptible disregard for national history and the extraordinary sacrifice of our grandparents and great-grandparents.
• Specific trees have specific cultural/historical value. They are in a very real sense irreplaceable.
• Happiness is very strongly connected to aesthetics and culture (see below on mental health)
The public health implications of the tree fellings will not be fully known for years. But we do already know some very significant things.
• ‘Exposure to outdoor air pollution is expected to become the top environmental cause of premature mortality globally by 2050′. Mature street trees must play a key role in the amelioration of this problem. If you lose 6000 mature trees that’s a massive step back, regardless of how many saplings you plant.
• Mental health problems in the UK are at crisis level. A now very large volume of research reveals the mental health benefits of living in forested urban environments.
• The indirect costs of the tree fellings will be vast
I grew up in the Labour Party but will never vote Labour again. You cannot wear a Labour rosette in Sheffield and claim a clear conscience. The tree campaigners have called for mediated negotiations; SCC prefers a violent resolution. I call upon you again to stand on the right side of history and to condemn this obscenity.
Dr John Miller