Amey and Sheffield City Council Have No Respect for Democracy by Rebecca Hammond and Jennifer Saul

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Shockingly blatant propaganda video being circulated

The other day (15th January) Amey PLC published a little video on their YouTube account under the title “The protesters have no respect for democracy”. You won’t find it by searching Amey’s YouTube page: you can only access it via the link. But within a couple of hours of it being published, some Sheffield Labour councillors (including Cabinet member Jack Scott, and Councillor Robert Johnson) had shared the link on Twitter.

It doesn’t take much background knowledge to realise that the video, and its message, don’t stand up to scrutiny. So let’s take a look.

The video features three people who claim to have been intimidated by nasty protesters: They are presented as being “ordinary citizens” of Sheffield, but how ordinary are they?

The first couple interviewed (named in the video as “Mr and Mrs Howe”) live in Millhouses, near one of the most polluted junctions in Sheffield, and the tree outside their house was listed for felling due to pavement damage. In this video they make claims about the damage it had previously caused to their cellar, but that was never mentioned as a reason for felling by SCC or Amey: just the pavement.

Campaigners report that when they tried to protect the tree from felling, this particular couple were extremely unpleasant to them. They report that ”Mrs Howe”, in particular, was very vocal, shouting and swearing at people who were just quietly stood watching. People tried to have reasonable conversations with them. One campaigner, David Glass (a very calm and peaceful man) said “I have personally tried to speak to [her] in a calm respectful conciliatory apologetic way but she was determined to accuse me of being intimidating when she came out to shout her accusations in my face.”

When people tried to discuss the alleged cellar damage (now repaired), this couple said that a builder (a relative) had blamed the tree. In an interview with BBC Look North (they seem to be the go-to couple for anti-tree interviews) they again mentioned that the tree roots were to blame. But they never mentioned any report from a Structural Engineer. Suddenly, in this video from Amey, they say they have a report. Perhaps they might be willing to show it to one of the local newspapers to support their claims.

But even before the tree-fellers and tree-protectors arrived on their street, this pair had seemingly already nailed their colours to the mast. ”J. Howe” had written to the Star demanding that the Council should reclaim our streets from campaigners (original letter not online, but responses here and here).

Television interviews, letters, and verbal abuse are strange behaviours to observe in people who claim to have been intimidated.

Enough of these two. What about man they interview on his own, named as “Mr Baker”? He gave a very confused account. He describes rudeness from a workman doing an inventory of trees, and somehow blames campaigners for this. We know of no contractors doing tree inventories who are also a part of the tree campaign. We can understand that he would have been upset by the bad language used by the contractor, but that’s no reason to blame the tree campaign.

Now let’s turn our attention to the film footage that was used, which was collected for security and surveillance purposes. Should this even be in the public domain? Our understanding is that according to the surveillance protocols/policies that SCC have provided in response to FOI requests, such footage should be held securely and only used for purposes of legal evidence. Publishing it online in this manner is therefore in conflict with those protocols. This isn’t the first time that security footage has been published, as a photograph was passed to The Star a few months ago.

And finally, the editing.

The footage gives a very incomplete picture of events — e.g. a knife is mentioned, but there was no knife. The footage does not show any of the many assaults that have been committed by security staff and arborists. It doesn’t mention that tree protectors attend streets at the request of residents who want help to save their trees. It doesn’t mention that many thousands of people have signed petitions (you’ll find many of them here) asking for our street trees to be saved, whereas a petition calling on the Council to stop accepting tree petitions gained only 8 signatures. It doesn’t mention that the Household Survey has been criticised as a “denial of democracy” by expert statisticians. It doesn’t mention that the majority of the Independent Tree Panel’s advice was over-ridden by Amey. It doesn’t mention how debate and discussion of the street tree massacre is shut down in Council meetings and on social media, thus stifling the process of scrutiny and accountability that should be present for democracy to be truly democratic.

So why were Amey, a multinational company, trying to tell Sheffield citizens about democracy, and why were Labour councillors the first to share it?

Perhaps the answer lies in the £2.2 billion contract. Perhaps they’re trying to distract us from the issue. Perhaps the video is an ill-disguised attempt at propaganda. Perhaps they don’t want us to talk about the fact that thousands of healthy street trees have been, and will continue to be, felled for no good reason. Perhaps they don’t want us to ask why they’re so busy spending hundreds of thousands of pounds on legal action, security personnel, and overtime. Perhaps they don’t want us to ask why they’re doing that instead of renegotiating the contract to save the trees. Perhaps Amey and Sheffield City Council hiding something.

During the day on 16th January, the title of the video was changed to ”A residents’ [sic] view”.

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Posted in Blog, Healthy Felling, News, Uncategorized

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