Two Sheffield MPs call for halt to tree-felling work in city as pressure grows on council

Police in riot gear arrested one protester on Kenwood Road last week after the man had crouched under a cherry-picker for two hours.
Police in riot gear arrested one protester on Kenwood Road last week after the man had crouched under a cherry-picker for two hours.
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A second Sheffield Labour MP has tonight joined calls for a halt to tree-felling work in the city as pressure grows on Sheffield Council and its contractor Amey.

Sheffield Central MP Paul Blomfield has joined Sheffield Heeley MP Louise Haigh in calling on Labour-led Sheffield Council to pause work and begin talks with local residents.

Tree-felling has caused major controversy in the city.

Tree-felling has caused major controversy in the city.

It comes after it was revealed the council’s highways contract with Amey which started in 2012 contains a target to fell 17,500 street trees in the city and replace them with saplings by the end of its 25-year term.

In recent weeks, dozens of police officers and private security guards have been attending tree-felling operations in Sheffield, with heated scenes and several arrests of protesters made.

Ms Haigh said earlier today (Wednesday, March 14): “The scenes taking place on the streets of Sheffield are troubling and it is simply untenable for the fellings to continue in this way. One thing is clear, this dispute cannot be solved by ramping up security.

"That why I believe that the only possible solution is a halt in the fellings and meaningful mediation with local residents going forward.

“I have always believed that PFI contracts in public services put the interests of shareholders not local residents first and that is why I have consistently opposed their use.

"The rigid confines of this private contract cannot be allowed to get in the way of a halt in the fellings, meaningful mediation and a negotiated resolution which is now urgent. The needs of the city and local residents must come first.”

In a statement published on his website tonight, Mr Blomfield said: “I would also like to see a pause in the work for more discussion to resolve the current conflict, putting the views of residents on affected streets first.”

He added that he had been “disturbed” by recent reports of the “apparent contractual requirement to replace 17,500 trees at a rate of no less than 200 a year” that has been revealed following a year-long Freedom of Information battle by campaigners.

“Any target of this sort is clearly unacceptable and I contacted the council immediately to seek a public commitment that trees will only be replaced if absolutely necessary,” Mr Blomfield said.

He added: "I will continue to monitor the situation, and to liaise with the council and the police, and I hope that we will find a solution to the problems we’ve seen over the last few weeks. It may require compromise on all sides, but we should make every effort to achieve it."

It follows Environment Secretary Michael Gove repeating calls for Sheffield Council to stop the "unnecessary destruction of trees" in the wake of the contract revelations and concerns that a senior Sheffield Council officer had significantly underestimated the number due to be felled when giving evidence to a High Court hearing last summer.

The council says the trees are either dead, dying, diseased, dangerous or damaging the highway. But campaigners argue felling is being carried out to save money.

Sheffield Council insist the 17,500 figure contained in the contract is not a target and it estimates 10,000 trees will be removed and replaced with saplings over the course of the contract.