Letters: Issues you might take up as 'trees person'
Only a week ago I sent you (Coun Lewis Dagnall) a lengthy open letter, signed by 33 Sheffield tree campaigners, that gave six suggestions of issues that you might take up in your new post as the 'trees person' for the cabinet of Sheffield Council.
But developments are moving so rapidly that I feel compelled to write you a second open letter.
In the first we welcomed your appointment and said we were optimistic that you were trying to turn over a new leaf, so to speak, in this dispute which has ignited such rancour and, unsurprisingly, such negative media coverage, even in The New York Times. But three recent developments threaten to queer the pitch before you even get started.
1) I appreciate the four trees felled in Fitzalan Square were not trees covered by the wretched PFI contract between SCC and Amey. But as the cabinet member responsible for the environment, I think you made a terrible political error in permitting the felling of the last four mature trees in the city centre at this sensitive time.
For a start, the timing of the felling at 6am on a Sunday dredged up echoes of what happened in the era of your thoroughly discredited predecessor Bryan Lodge. Remember what happened on Rustlings Road back in November 2016 at 5 am.? Or what happened to the much-prized cherry trees on Abbeydale Park Rise when roving bands of chainsawers went to work over this past winter at the even more ungodly hour of 4am?
2) I think you are committing a second political error in deciding to re-start the trials of four Sheffield tree campaigner for alleged breaches of a civil injunction that Bryan Lodge and SCC won in the summer of 2017. I say “political error” because the decision as to whether or not proceed with these cases has nothing to do with either South Yorkshire Police or the Crown Prosecution Services. Rather, to proceed or not proceed is solely within the political mandate of SCC. SCC’s aim is clear. It is a blatant attempt to try to load another set of huge legal bills onto the back of another group of campaigners and to intimidate and crush the entire trees movement.
I am telling you it will NOT work. Back in March, I headed up a team of 17 tree campaigners, ‘Stump Up Sheffield’. In 28 days, we raised £27,000 from 796 supporters around the world to pay the legal costs of the £15,000-a-day Queen’s Counsel from London that SCC used against two other tree campaigners. And well-known Sheffield musicians Jarvis Cocker and Richard Hawley headlined an 800-person benefit concert for the same cause. Jarvis said he would gladly come back a second time if needed.
3) I appreciate that neither you nor SCC are directly responsible for the activities of SYP or the CPS. But tree campaigners were astounded to learn that SYP is continuing to gather evidence against the Sheffield ‘tooter’ for a possible criminal prosecution. This is a 57-year-old Sheffield grandmother arrested in March for tooting a plastic toy trump within a few metres of a noisy chainsaw being used at the time to fell a healthy tree. Can I suggest that you show some political leadership and immediately write a letter to Crime Commissioner Billings requesting that SYP cease such laughable “investigations”.
I have heard you describe yourself as ‘an environmental socialist.’ Take it from me, also a self-described ‘environment socialist’ if you do not take immediate action and drop these cases, I fear you will be stumped by your new assignment.