Tom Richmond: Cities need to be planting trees '“ not felling them

I'M one of the lucky ones. My house is surrounded by huge trees that, in fairness, have been carefully nurtured by the local council over many decades.

The scene in Kenwood Road, Sheffield, as tree-felling work takes place.

Dangerous branches have been cut down – and one tree was felled a few years ago because it had the potential to pose a safety hazard to nearby properties.

There was no controversy. It was very amicable. And I’m sure it’s similar in communities across Yorkshire.

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If only the same could be said in Sheffield where the wholesale destruction of its urban forest is being presided over by city councillors.

As conflicting evidence emerges of just how many trees are to be felled in an act of environmental vandalism – documents suggest nearly half of the 37,000 trees are at risk – why has the council’s £2bn Streets Ahead contract with private sector contractor Amey not been halted for the public good?

There’s been so much secrecy and obfuscation that it threatens to make Leeds look like a well-run authority in comparison when it comes to transport and road gritting.

Yet, given Sheffield’s well-documented pollution levels, at least one local politician recognises that trees are, in fact, the lungs of the environment.

Step forward Dan Jarvis, who is bidding to become Labour’s candidate in the Sheffield City Region mayoral contest this May. On the day that more damaging disclosures emerged about Sheffield’s mismanagement, he wants one million trees planted in South Yorkshire if he becomes mayor.

What a breath of fresh air.

He’s not alone – Environment Secretary Michael Gove, and his officials, are in despair at Sheffield Council’s stance which is at odds with the planned Northern Forest. “I cannot see why the council continues to press ahead with the unnecessary destruction of trees without properly consulting the community that has campaigned so tirelessly on this issue,” said Gove this week.

He’s right – it’s absurd that money is being wasted chopping down healthy trees for apparently no sound reason.

But I’d like the Minister to go further. Just as all new developments should be future-proofed from the outset to ensure flood prevention measures and high-speed broadband are included from the outset, the same applies to the natural environment.

Why not insist that every major scheme, whether an infrastructure project, housing or commercial development, includes a commitment to plant a certain number of trees, hedges and shrubbery?

Though this is taking place in some parts of the country, it’s not universal and requires a stronger commitment from Gove – and others – for this approach to take root and, hopefully, stop Sheffield Council’s short-sighted idiocy.

After all, just surveying the trees outside my house, hoping they will start coming into leaf sooner rather than later, makes one realise – and appreciate – their importance to the natural environment as well as the nation’s health and wellbeing.

THE Sheffield tree row rumbled on in the week when the Government signalled a shift away from plastics in order to protect the environment. More groceries and items could be packaged and wrapped in paper in the future? And where does paper come from? Let’s hope someone reminds Sheffield Council.

FORMER soldier Johnny Mercer, a Tory MP since 2015, said of Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn’s feeble response to Russia’s complicity over the Salisbury spy poisoning case: “I think I have just seen... the most shameful moment in the House of Commons in my time to date.” That’s some statement, but not an over-exaggeration.

BETTER late than never. Five months after Dewsbury MP Paula Sheriff requested a meeting with Transport Secretary Chris Grayling, she finally met his deputy Jo Johnson on Monday. One service from the town, she says, has only been on time for 26 per cent of journeys this year. It must be the Grayling Express.

THANKS to Hull MP Diana Johnson for sending a photo – of an empty chair. It spoke volumes because it was supposed to have been occupied by TransPennine Express MD Leo Goodwin at a meeting to discuss the train operator’s decision to operate slower services in East Yorkshire and Hull. He has a lot of explaining to do.

IF Leeds Council wishes to redeem itself after its woeful gritting and snow clearance, I suggest it patches up the potholes on the city’s roads before they become craters – cyclists and motorists alike now have to take evasive action and the council deserves to be liable if its inaction causes an accident.

THERE was some ‘fishy business’ when John McDonnell was asked how Labour would safeguard North Sea fishing grounds for UK trawlers. As he was about to use the word ‘fishermen’, the Shadow Chancellor changed tack and used the more inclusive phrase ‘fisherpeople’. It doesn’t sound right. Any ideas ? Fishers – or Fisher-folk? Discuss.

I USED to think ‘stand on the right’ was this country’s escalator etiquette, but this no longer appears to be the case – certainly at the Trinity Leeds retail complex. Is it because of ignorance – or people in a world of their own on their mobile phones?

COMPARE and contrast Wales and British Lions rugby union player Jonathan Davies, who ferried doctors and nurses to hospital in the snow, with football pundit Jamie Carragher, now suspended by Sky Sports after spitting at a 14-year-old teenage girl. And football wonders why it has an image problem.