No, Nick Clegg, the fight for Sheffield’s trees is not like “something you’d expect to see in Putin’s Russia” – unless you’ve been to Russia recently and know something we don’t.
TV viewers who watched the documentary Who’s Spending Britain’s Billions will know that Sheffield’s Labour-run council has contracted private firm Amey to maintain the city’s roads.
Apparently, Amey promised the contract would “see Sheffield’s roads transformed from some of the worst in the country to the best in the country within the first five years”.
But protesters say this is a front for a plan to chop down as many trees as possible, in order to spend most of the 25-year contract period with much lower maintenance bills than if they had been left in place.
They say the trees are invaluable flood defences and are vital in countering air pollution – but that hasn’t stopped Amey from felling 4,000 trees since the contract was signed, working without proper consultation and motivated by profit.
The council says many of the trees are diseased and that their roots have ruined pavements, making them impassible for wheelchair users and buggies.
For shifty councillors, the joy of a contract with a private company is they never have to divulge the details to members of the public who submit Freedom of Information requests.
But the tactic can backfire. Members of the city’s Labour Party are deserting it in big numbers, quoting the attack on the city’s trees and the council’s devotion to its contract with a company out to profit from it as the reason.
Labour will suffer serious damage in Sheffield if its councillors are allowed to press on with this debacle.
It doesn’t just reflect badly on them; it reflects on the Labour Party as a whole.
What are they thinking?
And now UKIP has a new leader whose stated aim is to invade Labour heartlands, this Labour council is offering Paul Nuttall a ripe and juicy target.
Of course, Nuttall and his party are nothing but a gang of single-issue sub-fascists who are lucky enough to have been able to attract the attention of the BBC and a few other gullible news providers/right-wing media moguls. They won’t win anywhere.
But why erode confidence in Labour when there are possible threats around?
The attitude of Sheffield’s Labour councillors is utterly unfathomable.
Perhaps they need a telephone call from national Labour leaders, to remind them that they owe loyalty to the people – not profit.
Council contractors and police had descended on a particularly desirable street … under the cover of darkness, “dragged” people out of bed to move their cars and detained peaceful protesters – “all to chop down eight trees”, he wrote in a local paper.
So far five people have been arrested in relation to a long-running and increasingly bitter battle over the fate of Sheffield’s trees, including a 70-year old emeritus professor and a 71-year-old retired teacher, both women. On Thursday two men will become the first of the city’s tree protesters to appear in court, charged under trade union legislation, following a protest on 2 November.
One of them, the author and university lecturer Simon Crump, 56, a local Green party member, said he was arrested for protecting a 100-year-old London plane tree on Marden Road in Nether Edge. He said he was locked in a cell for eight hours and that he would have been released sooner but, he claimed, officers could not find the offence he had allegedly committed on the police computer. “It was quite Kafkaesque. I was being imprisoned because they couldn’t work out what to charge me with,” said Crump.
He was subsequently charged under Section 241 of the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992, which criminalises anyone who persistently stops someone from carrying out lawful work – in this case tree surgeons contracted by Amey, an outsourcing company, to chop down trees under a controversial contract with the city council.
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