After arresting middle-aged women for blowing plastic instruments and a vicar for assault with tambourine, Sheffield’s draconian policies are reaching a new low: next time private contractor Amey comes to fell a healthy tree, residents wishing to access their own property will be expected to show identification. Why is this happening in the erstwhile People’s Republic of South Yorkshire? Some background is in order.
Sheffield City Council, led by “Strong Leader” Julie Dore, has suffered some major blows in recent months over its contract with a private corporation to fell half the street trees in the city, regardless of need. It was forced to reveal that — despite denying it both to journalists and in court — it had inexplicably signed a contract which contained a contractual commitment to felling 17,500 trees (half the street trees in the city). Outrage has continued, and indeed grown, over its plan to fell the memorial trees of Western Road. The heavy-handed tactics used on peaceful protestors have shocked the city and indeed the world — especially as this grew to include dozens of private security and up to 30 police officers at time, while murders were committed elsewhere in Sheffield. It was no shock, then, that the Labour council lost seats in the May elections, and that the councillor with the most votes in the entire city was Alison Teal, whom they had tried to jail and who had previously won by only handful of votes.
After all this, the council appointed a new Cabinet Member for the Environment, Lewis Dagnall, to oversee the tree contract. Dagnall declared a desire for compromise with campaigners, and a determination to find a resolution that would remove the need for heavy-handed tactics. Briefly, it looked like things might be taking a turn for the reasonable.
But then we learned that the council had no plans whatsoever to scale back its heavy-handed legal approach. It sought jail terms for four tree protectors related to a civil injunction it was granted against certain forms of protest. The judge did not grant the council’s wish, but he convicted three of them, saddling them with heavy legal fees to pay.
And now this week the council — which supposedly seeks a compromise with campaigners — is attempting to extend the injunction for three years.If we take seriously the plan to fell half the street trees in Sheffield over twenty years, this really shouldn’t be shocking. In fact, we should confidently expect that the injunction will need to be extended over and over: it takes a long time to fell 17,500 trees that residents are willing to fight for.
The council is also seeking to broaden the injunction.Among other things, they want to be able to declare any pre-existing object to be a part of a barrier. They want to be able to erect barriers on park land, and keep people out so that they can more easily fell trees on the highway. And they want to be able to send people to jail for so much as suggesting on social media ways that one might seek to delay felling while a solution is sought.
Perhaps most shocking of all, the council has announced that they expect residents to show identification in order to access their own properties. By long tradition, people in the United Kingdom are not required to carry identification with them — what will happen when someone returns home from the shops to find barriers around their house? And what of children, carers, friends, cat sitters? The council does not seem to care.
Sheffield City Council is willing to impose a bizarre police state simply in order to fell trees that don’t need felling, against the wishes of residents and all expert advice — all in service to a 25-year contract with a private company. This is not what democracy is meant to look like.
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