Opinion: Has the #treegate controversy sidetracked real issues?

19 October 2017

On Saturday afternoon Sheffield Tree Action Groups (STAG) will stage their third meeting of the week, a procession from Devonshire Green to Barker’s Pool in protest of the Council’s continued felling of thousands of street trees.

The “Trees of Steel” Rally comes days after key activist Calvin Payne climbed a 150-year-old Oak tree on Vernon Road in Dore as protesters held a candlelit vigil.

Last month also saw Environment Secretary Michael Gove come to Sheffield after Sheffield City Council ignored his demands to stop the “bonkers” felling of trees.

Protesters even managed to stop the felling of what is now known as ‘Michael Gove’s tree’.

Sheffield’s now famous #treegate dates back 10 years when a survey was conducted in 2007 of Sheffield’s 35,057 trees detailing their condition and health.

In 2012 the city council signed the £2.2 billion ‘Streets Ahead’ highway and street maintenance contract, using the 2007 survey to plan street tree maintenance.

It wasn’t until 2014 that the public began to protest after the felling of a 450-year-old oak.

As of December 2016, 5,000 trees have been felled, which is estimated to rise to 6,000 by the end of 2017.

After a 10-year narrative involving multiple arrests, a high-court injunction threatening a Green Party councillor with prison and celebrities being vocal over social media, has #treegate really gone too far?

Recently the BBC revealed that as a result of court hearings concerning the tree felling project, Sheffield city council will have to pay legal fees worth £250,000, which will come out of the council’s already stretched  existing budget.

Earlier this week Neale Gibson, Labour Councillor for Walkley, tweeted during a heated online debate: “Enough paper, time and money had been wasted on the subject of Street trees. I want to debate issues that really effect people’s lives. Employment, care, housing, traffic, policing, litter, homeless, these issues are far more important.”

The original Tweet from Councillor Neale Gibson:


Coun Gibson’s comment comes as a shock but his stance is understandable considering recent plans to close Sheffield’s Minor Injuries Unit and the NHS walk-in centre on Broad Lane, as well as a struggling police force in the face of Government cuts and crime waves.

And with many homeless people being forced to sleep on Sheffield’s streets this winter, perhaps the obsession with Sheffield’s quaint tree-saving battle has side-tracked us from the less easily solved social issues that people in Sheffield face on a daily basis.

Written by Harry Short

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