It’s been over two years since I became aware that Sheffield City Council were cutting down perfectly healthy roadside trees and ‘replacing’ them with ornamental saplings as part of its £2.2 billion PFI Highways contract with Amey.
As a result of this, I began to take nonviolent direct action with residents who lived close to my home to prevent this unnecessary ecovandalism that has led to some 5,000 healthy street trees being felled. Since then, we have stood peacefully under numerous trees to prevent felling and the process has become a way of life for many of the city’s tree campaigners.
Each morning when I wake up, I check my WhatsApp messages. We have a scout who watches the Sheffield City Council/Amey works depot who tells us when barrier vans, chipper trucks and felling crews are preparing to depart, and the direction they travel when they leave, frequently enabling residents and campaigners to be at the site of a targeted tree before the felling crew arrive. The amount of time devoted to the protection of Sheffield’s street trees is extraordinary and for many, myself included, this has almost become a full-time job.
Although I am Green Councillor for Nether Edge & Sharrow, where I play the dual role of elected member and tree campaigner, the tree campaign has tried to remain apolitical. This is particularly challenging when so many people who actually vote in this city vote Labour, and yet the Labour council are responsible for the implementation of the PFI Highways contract, which is protected from public scrutiny through ‘commercial confidentiality’.
In the face of our protests, the Labour council has engaged in litigious actions, including 14 arrests and a high court injunction against me, Calvin Payne, Dave Dillner and ‘persons unknown’. Calvin, a ‘person unknown’ and I were summoned back to court on 27 October accused of breaching the injunction and threatened with prison sentences. Thankfully my case was dismissed by the judge without me having to take the stand as it was clear to him I had not breached the injunction. I have no doubt that the case against me was politically motivated.
The campaign has been hard work, but it is for a worthy cause. In the face of a council determined to aid Amey’s drive to denude our city’s leafy streets, if we don’t stand up for Sheffield’s trees, who will?