I wanted to write with an update on the 25 year tree replacement work being undertaken by Sheffield Council in light of recent media coverage and concerns that have been expressed to me.
Firstly, it is crucial to say that in light of unprecedented cuts to local authorities from central government, councils are finding that they have fewer and fewer options available to them across a whole range of services. This has been highlighted most vividly with Tory Northamptonshire County Council going bankrupt and the Leader of the Council resigning, saying she was made a scapegoat by local Conservative MPs and the Government. Labour local authorities across the country continue to lead the way in innovation and in continuing to provide vital services in the face of unrelenting Tory austerity and the crisis in local government funding.
I met with local Sheffield Labour MPs several months ago to receive an update on the situation with regards to the tree felling and street maintenance programme. Since then, both Paul Blomfield MP and Louise Haigh MP have made their concerns public in relation to the Amey contract and the way it is being implemented. Both Labour MPs have raised concerns directly with Sheffield Council and with local police. Due to the importance of this issue, I have kept the Labour Leader’s office informed of progress.
I have had conversations separately with Cabinet Member Cllr Bryan Lodge and Leader of the Council Cllr Julie Dore to discuss concerns in relation to the tree felling. My concerns have been followed up formally in a letter where I have also reiterated my offer of assistance in mediating the situation between protesters and the council to try and find a way through.
Nobody wants to see much loved, healthy trees felled. Despite the fact that more trees will be planted by the end of the works than will be removed, I have urged Sheffield Council to exhaust all alternative options to felling the remaining trees and to fully acknowledge the environmental and community significance that these trees have.
My formal offer to help mediate the situation and my request for Sheffield to pause the works to explore other options still stands. Practical solutions and sensible dialogue are what is needed, not jumping on political bandwagons and throwing fuel on the fire as we have seen from Michael Gove. It is extremely disappointing that following a direct request from Paul Blomfield MP for Michael Gove to provide the funding to save the trees in question, that the answer was an emphatic no. This is yet another example of the Secretary of State being full of hot air and bluster on the environment but failing time and again to follow through with meaningful action.
Labour has made it clear that in government we would review all PFI contracts with a view to bringing them back in house and that we will end the current choke hold of austerity gripping councils and local communities up and down the country.
I will endeavour to provide updates on this matter and continue to offer my support in finding a way through the current situation in Sheffield.