The Rustlings Road Tree Massacre

A knock on the door in the middle of the night. “Move your car or it will be towed”. Three peaceful protestors, including two public spirited women in their 70s, arrested for the crime of “suspicion of preventing lawful work“.

Is this an anti-terror operation? Is this happening in Putin’s Russia? No. It is a Labour council seeking to cut down eight trees on the highway, that residents have been campaigning to save for the last two years. Six of the eight trees could be saved according to the council’s own Independent Tree Panel – whose advice the council thoughtfully published at 4.30am, before starting the felling at 5am.

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The crime of “suspicion of preventing lawful work” – in this case tree hugging – is apparently a crime under the Trade Union and Labour Relations Act 1992 meaning that a Labour council has found a way to reinterpret a piece of union-bashing legislation aimed at unruly pickets to outlaw a peaceful protest. Hands up who thought our civil liberties were safe from Labour after 2010.

By 9am, 7 trees had gone and the 8th was having branches lopped off by two men in a cherry picker, while residents stood underneath as close as they could get without being arrested.

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The whole road was closed for this work – the council it turned out had taken out a Temporary Traffic Regulation Order entitling it to close this road (and a large number of others) at any time in the next 18 months, although the Order requires notices to be put up to restrict parking – so they way they got cars moved does seem to be unlawful.

It is stubborn, heavy handed and bloody minded to go to these extremes over a few trees, most of which should not be removed. The council has entered into a contract in which it demands flat pavements and unlifted kerbstones, and a little flexibility would do wonders for local environment. Listening to residents and following normal reasonable procedures for works, allowing for protests to cause some disruption is what we expect in a democratic society.

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[Badge on tree reads: Save me] We tried, mate. We tried.

* Joe Otten was the candidate for Sheffield Heeley in June 2017, is a councillor in Sheffield and is Tuesday editor of Liberal Democrat Voice.

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16 Comments

  • Lorenzo Cherin 17th Nov '16 - 8:07pm

    Well done , Joe that is the spirit ! On the trees , you are so correct. On the pavements , we must not presume pavement politics on flat pavements makes us flat – earthers ! Flat is safer , but safer with character merely means fixing the cracks , for once the correct solution instead of always replacing everything !

    We are and have been in a health and safety mad house for some years . In the communal area ,of the flat I am in, actually very private, and only shared with one next door neighbour , we are not allowed to put our wet umbrellas there in an umbrella stand , because of Health and Safety , but the postman leaves all the mail in the lobby , for the building ,which is dangerous in a fire , because he sometimes cannot be bothered to put in letterboxes.

    Keep up the much appreciated efforts , Joe !

  • Simon Freeman 17th Nov '16 - 9:13pm

    A bit over the top don’t you think. The Council and Amey didn’t want to cut trees down out of spite or some form of evil malevolence. I’m proud of the greenery of our city, I like walking, am an RA member. Look out of your window and you can see thousands of trees-more than in Leeds or Manchester or London I think. A similar thing is happening on Rivelin Valley where the tree are threatening roads and pavements where something will have to be done. Looks a bit of a heavy handed way of doing it though-I’ll give you that. One of the things that drove me out of the Lib Dems in the 1990.s was the party opposing everything the Labour Council did, whether it was building Supertram, sports facilities, renovating the Lyceum, Heart of the City project. A Lib dem parliamentary candidate who rambled on about his belief in competition privatisation and the market economy and hated public sector workers finally made me realise I preferred Helen Jackson to him, and could comfortably vote for Tony Blairs Labour Party-which I did for 20 years apart from a couple of votes for the Greens in a local election and a Euro-election. Nationally you are saying a lot I agree with-and you got my vote in the Hillsborough and Brightside by-election. Locally you have a bit to do. why did you vote for a lower council tax when that just means more cuts? are you against fracking? Do you support an archaelogical dig round the old castle and plans to build a park round it? what about a plan to renovate the old old town hall and the old Co-op. Do you support the plan for the old Primark. What about mini-hydro schemes on our fast flowing rivers and streams. And although you had my vote in the by-election your leaflets said nothing about policy but just had maps and slogans on. I write this as a friend-and I would have voted for your candidate in Mosborough. I liked Nick Cleggs book, and enjoyed his off the shelf talk-and having been very hostile to him in the coalition years now would vote for him if I lived in Hallam. i don’t like Corbyn’s Labour Party-but locally they do some good and face an impossible task of balancing the books. i want to support you but please try to be a bit more constructive in Sheffield. Maybe the answer here is to say sadly some old trees have to be cut down, but new ones should be planted to replace them and the wood used locally to make some benches?

  • Peter Andrews 17th Nov '16 - 9:34pm

    This is a real shame, I used to live just around the corner when I was at Unit in Sheffield and the trees lining the street really make an aesthetic difference to the area.

    Labour ought to be ashamed of the way the tactics they have used here to prevent legitimate peaceful protests

  • Karen Willsmer 18th Nov '16 - 8:50am

    Although I am very sad to see the trees chopped down, I am appalled at the heavy handed way this job has been done….Its a disgrace using the Police to wake people in the middle of the night !!!! What is this???? a police state!!!!!! I imagine that some of those people aroused were frightened and shocked. …how can this type of thing be right in a democratic society. Labours heavy handed disregard of the people of Sheffield is worrying and I feel they have no connection to ‘us’ the public. This is exactly the kind of thing that happens when any political party considers their position SO safe they can do as they wish… A sad day for politics, the environment, and the people who fought so hard to keep their trees.

  • Well done, Joe. Sad about the trees and the heavy handed way this was handled.

  • Oh,dear…Yet another of Joe Otten’s let’s bash Labour threads….Labour hell bent on killing trees?

    I note you missed the complaints from residents, including one with a mobility scooter, about the roots making the pavements unsafe; I wonder why? As for, “residents stood underneath as close as they could get without being arrested.”? Perhaps as close as they could get without being injured and claiming taxpayer’s money in compensation”?

    By all means question the council, their action seems a little heavy handed, but such a thread, padded with umpteen emotive adjectives (Putin’s Russia, massacre, etc.) just make us look silly….

    BTW…A quarter to five is NOT the middle of the night and, if you must close a road to cut down trees; do it long before rush hour…

  • Christopher Haigh 18th Nov '16 - 9:57am

    Sheff Uni X country club used to go on training runs thro’ Endcliffe Park and up Porter Clough. A beautiful part of the world ! Living up Brocco Bank we students also used to enjoy a pint or two of Tetleys at the Porter Cottage pub. I’m sure the beauty of Rustlings Road will not be damaged too much by this but trees can be very dangerous to property when they get too big.

  • Speaking as a non-tree-hugger I’d have preferred if the huggers had campaigned for extra replacement trees, perhaps in that rather sterile park in the photo. I wonder how many trees could have been planted with the money wasted on consultations and policing operations.

  • Jayne Mansfield 18th Nov '16 - 4:52pm

    @ John Peters,
    Endcliffe Park is a beautiful Park, and there are some Green statistics that Sheffield is rightly proud of.

    These include the fact that there are :-

    150 woodlands within the city, and 50 public parks.

    Over 44% of people live within 5 minutes walking distance of a wood and half the population live within 15 minutes of open country side. There are other green statistics available.

    It is rumoured, so you would need to fact check, that there are 4 mature trees to every resident.

  • John Peters 18th Nov '16 - 5:35pm

    @Jayne Mansfield

    Unfortunately the photo seems to show a playing field, which I suppose by its very nature will be sterile.

    The Sheffield stats for woodland access do seem appreciably better than the UK average (“Overall only 15.6 per cent of people in the UK have access to a wood at least 2 hectares in size a short walk from where they live.” according to https://www.woodlandtrust.org.uk/mediafile/100083906/space-for-people.pdf).

    I’m all for woodland and tree planting, just anti huggers and those who divert resources into policing their ultimately fruitless actions.

  • The locals should accept that when the trees were planted they were nice but have simply got too large. There is no spare money around and such large trees also harm the environment because of the damage they do. why don’t you all plant a tree in your garden to make up for these?

  • The last comment by Steve is so daft I have to respond. There is no such thing as a tree that has got too large just one that may need managing. We desperately need large trees as these are the best at combating global warming. Too many councils are prepared to cut down trees such as a spectacular London plane that was causing no damage and replace it with a small tree such as a hazel – Chelmsford City Council have committed this gross act of municipal vandalism this year.

  • “Labour Uncut” have an article on this, they are pretty angry too.

  • Barry Fleet 21st Nov ’16 – 10:15am…….The last comment by Steve is so daft I have to respond. There is no such thing as a tree that has got too large just one that may need managing….

    That is daft…There are trees that have outgrown their position…Tree roots, which can spread far beyond the immediate trunk, damage roads, pavements, drains, and houses (especially older houses)…
    A good rule of thumb is that ‘there is a place for everything’, but things aren’t always where they should be…

  • Rex Boulevard 27th Nov '16 - 10:35am

    Don’t you think calling the cutting down of trees a “massacre” is incredibly sensationalist considering the fact that they’re just trees?

  • Skating over the fact that the contract whose conditions you criticise was actually signed during the thankfully brief period the LibDems were in charge.
    You are also no doubt aware that the Tree Panel comment on the health of the trees, but not on the damage they are doing to the roads and pavements, so that’s another smelly red herring you’ve contributed to the discussion.

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