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A Magazine for Sheffield

Dead trees don't talk

Why does Sheffield City Council keep getting things so wrong? Major protests are rising up against apparently minor decisions, from Devonshire Green to the question of street trees. It's partly because of a pro-business agenda dictated by central government. Capitalism works rapaciously to extract wealth in the short term, often at the expense of human health and the environment. Conservation is only a side salad, a possible add-on to the main dish. Governments can keep a lid on this boiling pot sometimes, but the current right-wing administration has turned up the gas. Public-private partnerships are the only meal deal on the table. Take it or leave it.

So it came to pass that when multinational corporation Amey served up a contract to improve Sheffield's roads, nature took second place. The Streets Ahead contract is 'commercially sensitive' so we, the people, cannot know the full details of one of the largest private finance initiative contracts in Britain.

Trees add life. They breathe in carbon dioxide and pollutants, and give out oxygen. They are home to countless insects which help to pollinate plants and, like birds, form part of the rich web of our ecosystem. Tree expert David Garlovsky says that Sheffield has one of the highest rates of air pollution in the country. Without trees, a road looks bare and sterile. Trees even absorb noise pollution. People love these huge organisms, and they improve physical and mental health. Many have been here since before we were born and many will outlive us. The timescale for good tree care has to be over generations, not a low-cost, short-term fix.

Over recent months a huge backlash has erupted, as people couldn't stomach Amey's wholesale removal of roadside trees across our city, of which they are responsible for 36,000. A mass petition was presented and debated, but the Council was bound to the contract it had signed. The Council has no tree strategy, despite government recommendations. According to its Green and Open Spaces Strategy, it should be developing management plans for the main landscape types by 2020, so why is it chopping down so many trees just three years into this contract?

If the current politics doesn't force councils to build in environmental considerations, people power has to fight back. The natural world cannot. It has to be done through pressure groups speaking up, denying the logic of the 'free market', saying 'no more'.

The Council had to listen to the shouting in the streets. Legally it couldn't simply agree with the petition, by then 10,000 signatures strong, because it could have contradicted the terms of the Amey contract. Instead, it is straining towards long-term thinking by inviting people to 'highway tree advisory forum meetings'. At the time of writing, the first meeting is due to happen in late July. Other cities did this years ago, but we are where we are. Let's see what happens next.

Sheffield Hallam's Professor Ian Rotherham is a Sheffield-born ecology mega-brain. He founded the city's Ecology Services over three decades ago. His blog, Ian's Walk On The Wild Side, is a testament to his vast knowledge and his love of our so-called 'greenest city in Britain'. His latest project, Tree Stories, will help city kids to appreciate trees over their generation-spanning lifetimes through graffiti, including inscriptions by people long since laid to rest.

Prof Rotherham calls felling trees a 'one-trick pony' solution. He points out that with only replacement young trees in the streets, older people could be left exposed during heatwaves, and the water table could rise, causing floods. When he says this is a climate change issue, we have to listen and take note. We have to hold our Council accountable to the natural environment and to future generations.

Sharrow Festival Sat 22 August | All day | Mount Pleasant Park

You haven't missed this great Sheffield community festival. It's been rescheduled after being rained off. Eight hours of live music, plus fun stuff from a climbing wall to street dance, drumming workshops to global foods. You name it. Don't miss it.

Sheffield Fayre Sun 30 & Mon 31 August / All day / Norfolk Heritage Park

Sheffield Fayre is a big annual event with something for everyone - crafts, trade stands, horticulture show, music and more. The special feature is traditional fairground attractions, and this year the one and only, world famous Ken Fox Wall of Death.

Libfest Sat 29 Aug / Old Junior School, South View Road

LibFest is a grassroots community music festival. There will be a variety of live music, DJs, food and drink throughout the day, and stalls and workshops run by various groups. LibFest presents a positive alternative to austerity policies following the general election result and in response to the worsening economic conditions for working people.


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