Sheffield Council fails to call an Ecological Emergency

At the Sheffield Council meeting on February 3rd a petition was presented from Greenpeace and Sheffield Green Parents asking them to call an Ecological Emergency. The response from Mark Jones, the Cabinet member for the Environment and Climate Change, was predictable. He agreed to work with different groups to improve the Council’s policies, but failed to recognise the dire state of our biodiversity, which requires an emergency response which will impact on all the Council’s policies, not just those to do with nature. 

Cllr Mark Jones addresses the Council Meeting

Why are we in an ecological emergency?

  • Our environment has changed significantly Three-quarters of the land-based environment and about two thirds of the marine environment have been significantly altered by human actions. 
  • The effects have been global. 60% of the world’s wild animals have been lost since 1970.  83% of the wildlife in freshwater rivers and lakes has gone. 
  • But also impacted South Yorkshire . Local species at real risk include the turtle dove, the water vole and white-clawed cray-fish. Birds in danger include the Lesser redpoll which suffered a 64% decrease, the Willow tit (47% decrease) and the spotted flycatcher (40% decrease) Ash die back is currently a big concern. 
  • Nature has been adversely affected by human activity. Industrial agriculture, land conversion, hunting, pollution and pesticides are the primary drivers of wildlife decline and climate change is beginning to play a significant role.
  • These changes threaten our health, prosperity and security. 75% of human grown crops require pollination by insects, whose populations are in rapid decline. In the UK, populations of butterflies fell by 46% between 1976 and 2017, and 23 bee and flower-visiting wasps have gone extinct since 1850. This poses a huge threat to the global food supply.
  • And many species are facing extinction. One in eight bird species is threatened with global extinction  and 41% of insects. 20-30% of the species on Earth may be at risk of extinction if we see 1.5°C warming

Anna Parkin from Sheffield Green Parents presented the petition. They have organised a city centre protest and founded “Kids Plant Trees” who planted 3300 trees with help from families across Sheffield. She said experts from Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth and the Wildlife Trust agreed there is no time to delay the declaration. Anna concluded “we know mental health has been impacted by the pandemic. We see how nature has come to our rescue, now let’s come to its rescue.”

fbt
Kids Plant Trees at Manor Park Fields (Jan 2020)

Cllr Mark Jones, the cabinet member for environment and climate change, explained that the Council are making  parks and open spaces more hospitable to a range of plants and animals as part of the nature project. Through planning and regional development they are looking to embed biodiversity gain within the planning system. He said “Labour Councillors recognise the immense challenges facing nature and our wildlife and quite simply this is too important to get wrong. To rush to be seen to do something, anything, rather than focus collaboratively would actually do more harm than good.”

Declaring an emergency is not an action plan, it is recognising that there is a massive problem that has to be dealt with urgently. When you see a fire you don’t hold a committee meeting before you ring the fire brigade. The Council should have declared an ecological emergency and then worked with the experts to sort out the priorities that need to be tackled first. It is two years since Labour declared a climate emergency yet they have only just released their plan of action, which is not yet available to other Councillors or the general public. This is not behaving as your house is on fire- this is continuing the business as usual outlook that got us into this emergency in the first place. 

Cllr Jones spoke about ongoing trials to find a replacement for the use of glyphosate on our streets and in our parks and playgrounds. “We are constantly reviewing Council use of herbicides. Trials are constantly ongoing on physical and chemical means to remove disruptive plants from our highways whilst trying to find better ways of dealing with plants in softer areas such as parks.”

Glyphosate spraying on the Manor

40 Councils that are concerned about biodiversity all around the country have  stopped using Glyphosate for general weed killing including Bury, Glastonbury, Cambridge, Bristol, Brighton and Trafford. There are concerns not just on the danger to insect life, but also human health as it has been found to be carcinogenic. Sheffield Council could cooperate with these Councils to find the best alternative methods of controlling weeds, if indeed they need controlling. Sometimes it is far better for nature to just let them grow. 

I am sure everyone who has concerns about our local biodiversity will be keen to work with the Council to help them improve their policies. But the Council need to recognise this is an emergency and needs treating as such.

Democracy only works when citizens are involved.

The Government have announced that the local elections, postponed from May 2020, will go ahead this May. But due to the pandemic volunteers from political parties will not be able to distribute leaflets. They can, however, pay a delivery company to do this for them. This will give parties with rich individual or corporate backers a massive advantage over others, particularly small parties and independent candidates. This of course is exactly what Boris Johnson wants!

We are currently facing three interlinked crises. Each crisis on it’s own has the potential to destroy our civilisation. The Covid pandemic, the climate crisis and the ecological crisis are all hitting us at the same time. Never before have we so desperately needed politicians with a vision to bring systemic change to our society as it is very clear that business as usual is leading us to disaster.

So I am writing this letter to make an appeal both to the Sheffield Star and Telegraph, and to local organisations.

To the newspapers, I really want you to step up to the challenge of covering these elections thoroughly. Investigate the policies of the parties and the personalities of the candidates. We don’t want to elect people like the bullies who have recently been given so much publicity on Handforth Parish Council. Those like me that sometimes attend Sheffield City Council meetings will be very aware that such behaviour also happens in our chamber.

To local organisations I want to ask you to consider hosting a local hustings. Please get in touch with your local candidates and invite them to a Zoom meeting. All you need is someone to handle the technology and a good chairperson to keep the meeting in order. Ask your members to come up with some questions and see what the candidates have to say for themselves. Record the meeting and post it on your website if you have one, and on social media, so others can find out about their candidates.

Many of the candidates that stand in local elections are not serious. They are called paper candidates and are only standing to ensure the party has a “full slate”, to give the party more publicity. These candidates probably wont turn up to the hustings.

Those that are serious will turn up and you will discover if they have the vision, talent and skills to represent us and change our city for the better. Democracy only works when citizens are involved. Let’s make these elections a turning point for our local democracy.

References

May 2021 polls delivery plan

https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/may-2021-polls-delivery-plan/may-2021-polls-delivery-plan

“Read the standing orders” Handforth Parish Council

https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/video/2021/feb/05/chaotic-parish-council-zoom-meeting-viral-handforth-video

A momentous Council Meeting

http://archive.sheffieldgreenparty.org.uk/2017/04/10/a-momentous-council-meeting/

Less sugar, more bees please!

Do you, like me, have a sweet tooth? You may then be concerned to read that the Uk’s sugar industry is in big trouble.  Last winter was exceptionally mild in England, with few frosts. This allowed record-breaking numbers of aphids to survive. They transmit a kind of beet malaria (virus yellows) to the sugar beet. This disease decimated crop yields. Some farmers lost 80% of their crop and some have now given up growing beet. Farmers have demanded that they should be allowed to protect their crops by using pesticides containing neonicotinoids. These were almost completely banned in this country in 2018 because they are harmful to bees and other insects. At the time environment minister Michael Gove said  “The weight of evidence now shows the risks neonicotinoids pose to our environment, particularly to the bees and other pollinators … We cannot afford to put our pollinator populations at risk.” But now the Government has U turned due to pressure from the National Farmers Union. 

This is bad news for the bees. A 2019 study found  that  a third of the 353 species of wild bees and hoverflies in Scotland, England and Wales were in decline. While some pollination is carried out by honeybees in hives, much of the pollination of food crops and wild plants is carried out by their wild relatives and other insects, especially hoverflies. We should not be reversing the ban on dangerous pesticides when nature is already in such decline. Without insects to pollinate our crops, we starve. 

Globally insects are in spectacular decline in what is being termed the 6th mass extinction. Sheffield Green Parents and Friends of the Earth  are currently urging Sheffield Council to recognise this by declaring an ecological emergency. Council policy must start to protect our local biodiversity. A good first move would be to stop using Glyphosate on our streets and parks.

Do we really need all the sugar the farmers are producing? As a child I was given sugar sandwiches, so I definitely developed a sweet tooth! But now we understand much more about the damage sugar does to us.  Too much sugar leads to weight gain, tooth cavities, heart disease and diabetes. On average, the UK population consumes around 1.35 million tonnes per year , or 56g per day, which is about 14 teaspoons’ full. Adults consume around twice their recommended daily level of free sugars, and children and teenagers consume around three times higher. The sugar tax has done very little to reduce our addiction to the sweet stuff. Yet, 39% of adults believe they don’t consume too much. We clearly have a blind spot when it comes to sugar. 

Currently, the UK produces approximately half of the food we consume, and we import £11.1 billion worth of fruit and vegetables per year. In the future as climate chaos becomes more extreme, it will be increasingly  difficult to import food. Like our sugar beet crop, crops around the world will fail due to droughts, floods, plagues and other climate related events and countries will understandably prioritise their own populations.  We must become more self-reliant if we are going to be able to feed ourselves.  In 2018, 110,000 hectares of UK agricultural land was used to grow sugar beet, roughly the same as the 116,000 hectares of land used for the production of all UK vegetable crops .

I believe it is time to move our production away from sugar beet, to grow more healthy food. 

Growing sugar is very damaging to our soils. Soil is lost due to crop harvesting  when soil clings to the root or tuber as it is pulled from the ground. Nutrients such as nitrates are removed so they are replaced with fertiliser, leading to more  greenhouse gas emissions. Soil is also lost when it is washed away by rains, or disturbed and blown away during tilling or ploughing. Sugar beet is harvested in autumn and winter when soils are wetter, causing more damage to the soil structure and more soil to stick to crops and farming equipment. Attempts to grow sugar organically in this country have not been very successful. 

UK sugar production is largely profiting British Sugar at the expense of our health and environment. With the huge food security and sustainability challenges posed by climate change, we cannot afford to waste valuable land, soils, and resources growing sugar. Nor can we afford to pay for both subsidies to grow sugar and NHS bills to treat the negative health effects of this destructive industry. Now farmers require bee killing pesticides to grow it, surely it is time for a rethink.   The UK must quickly transition to food production that maximises the nutritional value while at the same time improves our environment leading to healthier diets and a healthier planet.

References

Government breaks promise to maintain ban on bee-harming pesticide Guardian

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2021/jan/09/pesticide-believed-kill-bees-authorised-use-england-eu-farmers

Government to let farmers use bee killing pesticide banned in EU-Independent

https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/bees-kill-pesticide-insect-sugar-neonic-b1784693.html

Too much of a bad thing

Bees: Many British pollinating insects in decline, study shows

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-47698294

Decline of insects

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/feb/10/plummeting-insect-numbers-threaten-collapse-of-nature

Health problems of sugar

https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/324854

Are the BBC beginning to tell the truth?

Ever since Extinction Rebellion was formed in 2018 one of their major targets have been the BBC. In November that year on a cold wet winter morning they protested outside BBC Radio Sheffield. So why are the BBC a target, and have things begun to change?

In London climate activist Jon Fuller has regularly led protests outside BBC headquarters to demand they tell the truth. His complaints include

  1. There has been little or no coverage of major climate events.
  2. There has been little or no coverage of “the tipping points” which will lead to runaway climate change.
  3. There has been a lack of rigorous economic analysis.
Jon Fuller

In Sept 2017 there was a UN General Assembly Meeting immediately after Hurricane Maria devastated Dominica, St Croix, and Puerto Rico. It is regarded as the worst natural disaster in recorded history to affect those islands. Speaker after speaker called for immediate action to stop carbon emissions. One speaker asked “What’s next, the complete evacuation of the Carribean?” None of this was reported on the BBC.

In December 2017 there was another major conference called the One Planet Conference. Theresa May attended. President Macron of France gave a speech which he wanted the world to hear. He said  “If we decide not to change ….we will be responsible for billions of victims”.  This was totally ignored by the BBC.

In September 2018 the UN Secretary General António Guterres issued a major announcement on climate change in which he explained we are now approaching runaway climate change. He said this is a direct existential threat and we have to act now. Again the BBC completely failed to report it. 

There are many tipping points which we are frighteningly close to. Some may already be unavoidable. Each tipping point reached makes others more likely, making an ever increasing spiral of heating. There is evidence melting permafrost in the Arctic is producing  abrupt increases in emissions of CO2 and methane from the carbon rich soils. Methane is 30 times more powerful than CO2 as a greenhouse gas. Ice sheet disintegration in Greenland and the Antarctic will not only lead to higher sea levels and coastal flooding, but could cause major disruption to our current weather patterns. The cool fresh water flowing from the ice into the sea will disrupt ecosystems and further change our weather. In the Amazon there is a danger that current deforestation will lead to hotter, drier conditions with more wildfires, causing dieback of the rainforest and a shift towards savannah. There are many more tipping points. The BBC hardly ever mention them, so are keeping the public in the dark about how serious the situation is.

XR demonstrate at the BBC

Jon’s third point is the economy. The Paris Agreement commits us to paying for negative emissions technologies in the future to reduce the amount of carbon in the atmosphere. This massive debt will fall on the next generation and is estimated to be as much as £125,000 per person. Add to this the cost of adaption (building flood defences, rebuilding homes to replace those abandoned due to flooding, converting to renewables  etc) and destruction of homes, crops and businesses through extreme weather the cost of doing nothing now is ginormous. But when the BBC interviews advocates of HS2, or road building schemes or Heathrow expansion this economic fact is never mentioned. Clearly any project that increases use of fossil fuels is completely uneconomic. 

The BBC’s pension fund is mainly invested in fossil fuel industries. These will become stranded assets when Governments take the necessary action to stop emissions. So BBC personnel have a self interest in delaying the action we need to combat the climate emergency. Perhaps that is why they are so reluctant to ask the difficult questions. 

But there are signs of hope. David Attenborough’s outstanding documentary A life on our Planet was shown on prime time BBC and although not as hard-hitting as some would have liked, it began to tell the truth about what is happening to our planet.  Women’s Hour interviewed Gail Bradbrook, one of the founders of Extinction Rebellion, and let her explain that we are on course for the death of billions of people.  Panorama has examined how UK weather is becoming more extreme leading to more flooding, loss of crops and people overheating in their own homes that were not designed for the temperatures we are now experiencing. <a href=”https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/m000pzlx/countryfile-plant-britain?fbclid=IwAR2aEzok21B2LmFZnCWLHmULCe_660XAJOd_YL2pxVwqu1ThFI6ZBBR5KE”>https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/m000pzlx/countryfile-plant-britain?fbclid=IwAR2aEzok21B2LmFZnCWLHmULCe_660XAJOd_YL2pxVwqu1ThFI6ZBBR5KE</a>Q</p&gt; Countryfile reported that a million species are now at threat of extinction. As I write I am hearing the BBC report that high emitting countries like the UK will be accused of climate genocide if we don’t change course,  by the Prime Minister of Barbados

It is only when the general public realise the massive threat we are facing that they will demand Governments take the necessary emergency action. The BBC must continue to do better and inform us what is happening to our only home, planet earth. 

References

Countryfile

https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/m000pzlx/countryfile-plant-britain?fbclid=IwAR2aEzok21B2LmFZnCWLHmULCe_660XAJOd_YL2pxVwqu1ThFI6ZBBR5KEQ

Jonathon Fuller speech

Womens Hour Gail Bradbrook

https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/m000q3lc?fbclid=IwAR3-fVnAXSpROABDol5XKudKw0PNV_GrFf1HQypB4tSUSoIo5YdIWzJCPzk

Panorama

DEFRA article

Guardian

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/dec/07/snow-may-not-settle-in-most-of-uk-by-end-of-century-study-suggests

Tipping Points

Climate tipping points-too risky to bet against

https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-019-03595-0

Prime Minister of Barbados

https://www.sbs.com.au/news/high-emitting-countries-committing-climate-genocide-without-bigger-reductions-barbados-pm-says

What should have been in the headlines, but you may have missed.

With the papers concentrating on Covid and the American election, there’s a good chance you may have missed some of the recent news about the climate. Most important must be Donald Trump’s last act as President, to pull out of the Paris Agreement. Fortunately, President-elect Biden has pledged to rejoin as soon as he takes office. Biden’s policy is a target to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. He plans for a $1.7tn investment in a green recovery from the Covid crisis, which would reduce US emissions in the next 30 years by about 75 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide or its equivalents. This is great news, but unfortunately, Bidens plans don’t go far enough to keep us safe. 

Boris Johnson has also come up with a 10 point plan to tackle the climate crisis. Nearly as soon as it had been published, it turned into a 9 point plan as the pledges to convert our gas boilers to air and ground source heat pumps by 2023  disappeared! The 10 point plan has been widely criticised for being far too little too late. 

Green MP Caroline Lucas compared the “paltry” sum of new money ( sources disagree on how much this is, but £4 billion seems a fair consensus) with the £27 billion earmarked for roads and the £36 billion being invested in a green recovery in Germany. Compared to Biden’s $1.7 trillion (£1.3 trillion) it is just 0.3% of the American plan.

Green Party leader Jonathan Bartley  commented, “It’s like dialling 999 when your house is on fire, but Boris Johnson turns up hours late with a garden hose.”

 What Biden’s and Johnson’s plans have in common is that they are both aiming to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.  A 2050 target means the earth is likely to exceed 2 degrees warming, so there is a great danger that global heating will spiral out of control, as numerous feedback loops kick in.

The goals of the Paris Agreement are to limit warming to “well-below 2C above preindustrial levels” and pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5C. Unless our politician’s economic plans match what the science is telling us is needed to save us from climate breakdown, they are futile.

Recent global news reveals many continued signs of the planet reaching breaking point.  Temperatures in the arctic this November have been 6.8oC degrees above the average for 1990. Hurricanes are on the increase. Local climate scientist John Grant tweeted “Just read on the NOAA Hurricane Centre website that #Iota is now a hurricane!  It is already a record-breaking storm as it’s the 30th for the Atlantic this year (the largest number ever recorded). Terrifyingly this might NOT be the new normal but the beginning of an ongoing change?”

In the Antarctic, scientists continue to warn of the catastrophic effects we would face if the Thwaites glacier continues to melt. It could lead to a 12-foot increase in sea levels. Scripps Institution of Oceanography scientist Jeffrey Severinghaus compares the glacier to a boulder rolling down a hill. It is already being pushed, but soon it could gain its own momentum, and when this happens nothing will be able to stop its fall into the ocean. The scientists say this is not yet inevitable, but it depends on how quickly we can reduce our greenhouse gas emissions. 

Leading climate scientist  Kevin Anderson says that it is the lifestyles of a relatively wealthy few that gave rise to the lion’s share of emissions.

“Globally the wealthiest 10% are responsible for half of all emissions, the wealthiest 20% for 70% of emissions. If regulations forced the top 10% to cut their emissions to the level of the average EU citizen, and the other 90% made no change in their lifestyles, that would still cut total emissions by a third.

Greta Thunberg recently commented on “Frequent-flying “‘super emitters” who represent just 1% of the world’s population caused half of aviation’s carbon emissions in 2018.” 11% of the world’s population flew in 2018. Everyone is not equally responsible for causing the climate crisis. “

We need to do far better than Johnson’s or Biden’s plans. Locally an impressive coalition of Green and Trade Union groups called the Green New Deal UK (South Yorkshire hub), are calling on the Sheffield Regional Mayor Dan Jarvis to invest in our colleges. We need to get  Further Education colleges across the region gearing up now to teach the skills needed for making our existing housing stock energy-efficient, for the nature restoration work to reduce flooding risks and protect biodiversity, and to install and maintain new energy technologies – be that heat pumps, on-shore solar and wind capacity, or zero-emission buses.  Planning for the longer-term future is clearly the right thing to do, but we need to take action now. 

References

https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2020/nov/08/joe-biden-paris-climate-goals-0-1c

Kevin Anderson on Johnson’s 10 point plan

Jonathan Bartley on the 10 point plan

Carbon Brief on Johnson 10 point plan

Arctic temperatures

Johnson pledge vanishes

John Grant on Twitter

Yale Scientists on Thwaites Glacier

Greta Thunberg

Why an inquiry into the street tree debacle is necessary.

Julie Dore eventually gave an apology at the Cabinet meeting on Wednesday 21st October.  It is an “unreserved apology” but fails to mention many of the things she has done wrong. She says “the dispute shouldn’t have been allowed to get to the point it did” and that the “council’s poor practice in managing the issue did contribute to the opposition to the programme”.

She obviously hopes this will be the end of it, but it can’t end here. Is she sorry for the arrests of peaceful campaigners, the stressful and expensive court cases,  the attempts to imprison and bankrupt campaigners, the false accusations of assault or the assaults on campaigners by Amey security, none of which were investigated?

Is Julie Dore sorry for the way she treated Councillor Alison Teal? I remember the day she was expelled from the Council Chamber, for calling out the lies of the ruling administration. All of the opposition politicians left the chamber to show their solidarity with her.

Alison wrote “Three years ago today I faced the possibility of going to prison for allegedly breaking the Council Injunction to prevent the use of Non Violent Direct Action to protect street trees. The evidence against me was fabricated. Camera angles, altered timings, contributed to the ‘misleading’ picture that Amey and the Labour Council chose to paint. Mr Justice Males heard the evidence against me and then dismissed the case. I didn’t even have to take the stand, and yet, the Council PR spin team said:  “The dismissal of the case against Ms Teal was clearly on a technicality.” Wrong. The case against me was clearly politically motivated. As more of the truth about the depths of their deceit comes to light, the calls for an inquiry will continue to grow. This Labour administration must be held to account for their actions.”

Russell Johnson from Sheffield Tree Action Groups demanded that the Council pay back the costs that had been incurred by campaigners who broke the injunction.  This injunction was designed to stop people protecting the street trees that we now know should never have been targeted for felling. He listed five reasons for compensation to be paid.

1. “The injunctions were granted by the High Court based on dishonest submissions on behalf of, or by, Sheffield City Council.” The court was told the Council was obliged to fell healthy street trees under Highways legislation. This was later shown to be untrue. The court was told that there was ‘wild speculation’ that the Streets Ahead contract called for the removal of half of City’s street trees. Freedom of information requests later revealed that this was true.

2. “The felling of thousands of healthy trees was almost certainly illegal.” The Forestry Commission found that 600 trees may have been felled illegally.  Felling without a licence where it is required is an offence that can result in large fines. Due to the Council’s poor record-keeping and failure to provide information, there was not enough evidence to prosecute.

3. “The grounds invented by Sheffield City Council for ‘last resort’ fellings were largely spurious.” Joint Tree Investigations, where campaigners accompanied Amey personnel to inspect trees, found that most of the trees threatened with felling could be saved with very simple engineering solutions. The Council insisted on felling trees to ensure perfectly straight kerbs, when leaving out a kerbstone would have been a perfectly good alternative. Trees surrounded by big humps of tarmac, assumed to be caused by roots, were actually caused by build-up of tarmac from previous repairs. 

4. “SCC’s approach to decision making and communication was/is deeply flawed.” The Local Government Ombudsman Report found the Council had made misleading responses, misrepresented specialist advice,  listed solutions to retain trees that were not part of the contract with Amey and not considered residents distress and outrage for starting work without warning at 4.30am in the morning.

5. Large sums of public money were squandered on expensive barristers and intimidating peaceful campaigners, both in the use of police, sometimes 30 at a time,  and “bouncers” who were employed to physically prevent members of the public protesting.

Meersbrook Park Road by Russell Johnson

Thousands of pounds were extracted from tree defenders with no legitimacy. If Sheffield Council is sorry, reimbursement of costs will give some credibility to the apology. 

Russell Johnson’s suggestion is that reimbursed monies that had been crowdfunded by tree campaigners should be placed in a new tree planting fund for the City. Tree campaigners have already raised £5000 to plant trees along Abbeydale Road. Hundreds of new trees throughout Sheffield would be a marvellous tribute to the massive efforts to save our glorious street trees. 

Policing at a tree felling by Russell Johnson

Sheffielders are eagerly awaiting  genuine green shoots of a ‘new dawn’ of honest and open governance. An independently chaired Inquiry with full Council cooperation would go a long way to restoring citizens’ confidence.

Footnote

Unfortunately, the Sheffield Telegraph did not publish this article, but Now Then magazine published this update.

References

Julie Dore Apology

https://www.thestar.co.uk/news/politics/council/it-shouldnt-have-got-point-it-did-sheffield-council-leader-julie-dore-issues-tree-felling-apology-3010911

Review of Tree Investigations

https://www.sheffield.gov.uk/content/dam/sheffield/docs/roads-and-pavements/managingtrees/Review%20of%20Tree%20Investigations%20Lessons%20Learned%20and%20Actions.pdf?fbclid=IwAR3m3ybpfNATrv_ED7CJ6gHSm1g3m-0YCqPcbimpVQ0tPqfLJ3oo9Tm6Arw

Ombudsman’s Reports

https://www.lgo.org.uk/information-centre/news/2020/oct/council-should-apologise-for-tree-controversy-ombudsman-says

https://www.lgo.org.uk/decisions/environment-and-regulation/trees/17-016-034

Illegal felling of trees-Forestry Commission

https://www.yorkshirepost.co.uk/news/politics/five-damning-findings-sheffield-trees-investigation-485487

Abbeydale Road Trees

Alison Teal on Facebook

https://www.facebook.com/groups/392913244219104/permalink/1671181199725629/

Correction-Sheffield City Council Elections

Please can I correct a mistake I made in last week’s column “We must defend democracy“? I stated that next May, two-thirds of the Councillors will need to defend their seats in the Sheffield City Council elections. This is incorrect, as 2021 was due to be a “fallow” year, with no elections. The postponed 2020 election is now due next May, and one-third of the seats will be contested as usual.
This does not change the fact that these elections are crucial, as the ruling Labour group could easily lose control of the Council. The current make up of the Council is Labour 46 seats, Lib Dems 26, Green Party 8, Independent 1. There are currently 3 vacancies, all from previously Labour-held seats. So if 8 seats change hands from Labour to opposition parties, they will lose overall control of the Council.
Many thanks to the sharp-eyed readers that pointed out my mistake.

Sheffield- Where democracy goes to die.

At last, Sheffield City Council has been forced to apologise to the people of the city over its handling of the destruction of thousands of street trees. Forced apologies never seem sincere, especially when the first attempt doesn’t include the word “sorry”. Now Councillor Mark Jones has rephrased his apology and there are even murmurings of a public inquiry. That is what is needed. Those that have lied in court should be facing prosecution, those that were responsible for the lies and malfeasance outlined in the report should resign. Campaigners who risked their liberty to protect street trees should not just receive an apology and compensation for their costs, but should also be honoured by the city. A plaque at the front of the town hall, near the memorial for the mass trespass on Kinder Scout in 1932, would be a great idea!  

A forthcoming book by tree activists Calvin Payne and Simon Crump is eagerly awaited so we can all read the inside story of those on the frontline of the dispute.  

I would be more charitable about the Council apology if it was clear that they had learnt their lesson regarding lack of transparency and openness. Last week I attended my first virtual Sheffield City Council meeting. Having submitted my questions within the 2-day notice, I went fully expecting to hear some answers. I wanted to understand what is happening regarding the plans to build a new dual carriageway from Park Square to Granville Square, through Sheaf Valley Park. I asked

1.What alternative plans are being considered? 

2, Where can these plans be viewed? 

3.How can citizens influence this decision? 

4.Will the Council commit not to build a new dual carriageway?

No answers were forthcoming as Cllr Iqbal was not well. I  hope he is now feeling better. But surely he is not the only one in the cabinet aware of the proposals to spend £1.5 billion on our city centre? I was promised a full written answer, but I am still waiting and have experience of being fobbed off like this before. I suspect, now that the Eastern leg of HS2 has been “paused” the plans for the Sheaf Valley are no longer being considered. But it would be good to hear that from the Council, as well as what alternatives might now be considered.

This might seem bad, but what followed in the Council meeting was extraordinary. The ruling Labour group decided to ban any debates in the Council chamber until next March. They appear to be using the pandemic as an excuse to completely avoid scrutiny of their decisions. With no more debate until the budget in March, the Council are proceeding in a completely dictatorial fashion. This follows the earlier decision to use emergency powers to shut down all scrutiny of executive decisions, so opposition councillors have not been able to question decisions like the massive bailouts to Sheffield International Venues.

Women of Steel statue with placard saying "Sheffield, where democracy goes to die!"

Reaction to this included Green Cllr Paul Turpin tweeting “@SheffLabour deny scrutiny and block all alternate views till after the election next May. No motions. No debate. Nothing that could highlight their failings. This council is a dictatorship. This leader is a dictator.” 

Lib Dem Cllr Joe Otten retweeted It’s Our City. “Today Sheffield Council’s ruling group (voted in by <10% of the electorate) pushed through a vote preventing the city’s councillors from proposing, debating or voting on any decisions until March 2021! Many councils have maintained democracy during the pandemic. Why not Sheffield?

So what is it the Council are so scared to debate that they are willing to impose such draconian measures? 

Is it the cover-up regarding the Hanover Tower cladding? 

Is it the findings of the Ombudsman’s Report on the trees?

Is it the Councils complete inability to address the issues surrounding the Climate Emergency? Since they declared an Emergency in February 2019 they have done very little to reduce emissions. On their website they have written “for Sheffield to make its fair contribution to global climate goals, the city must not exceed a ‘budget’ of 16 million tonnes of carbon emissions over the next 2 decades. At current rates of energy consumption, Sheffield would use this entire budget in less than 6 years.” We have already used one-quarter of the time to sort out this problem, yet progress is not being made. 

Next May, Covid regulations permitting, the Council face elections that will include those seats not contested last May. Also the long-awaited “It’s our City” referendum will take place, challenging the Council’s current “strong leader” model where just 10 Councillors out of 84 have any power to make decisions. Sheffielders must defend democracy in these elections.

Graham Wroe October 2020

This article previously stated two thirds of the Sheffield Council seats will be contested in May 2021. See correction here.

References

Green World

https://greenworld.org.uk/article/sheffield-councillors-undemocratic-use-covid-19-powers

Yorkshire Post on Ombudsman’s Report

https://www.yorkshirepost.co.uk/news/politics/sheffield-council-misled-public-and-acted-lack-honesty-over-tree-felling-scandal-damning-investigation-finds-3002854

Hanover Tower cladding

Labour are afraid of scrutiny

Yorkshire Post article on the tree apology

https://www.yorkshirepost.co.uk/news/politics/sheffield-council-misled-public-and-acted-lack-honesty-over-tree-felling-scandal-damning-investigation-finds-3002854

Questions to Council concerning the planned new ring road.

I went to Full Council this afternoon to ask these questions.

In the Draft Development Framework, there are plans to build a new dual carriageway from Park Square to Granville Square, behind the station through Sheaf Valley Park. This will be extremely unpopular with the residents of Park Hill and Norfolk Park, due to increased noise and air pollution, the decrease of walking routes into town, the loss of green space and the end of the useful life of the Amphitheatre which would now be so close to a noisy road, audiences would not be able to hear performers. A petition against the road proposal was launched very recently and already has 639 signatures. The petition is here. https://you.38degrees.org.uk/…/stop-the-new-dual…A Council that was serious about the climate emergency would not be considering such a proposal. A new dual carriageway will encourage more drivers to drive. What we need to do is improve the public transport system to encourage drivers to leave their cars at home. Swopping the tram and the road routes will do very little to improve public transport.

1.What alternative plans are being considered?

2, Where can these plans be viewed?

3.How can citizens influence this decision?

4.Please, give a commitment not to build a new dual carriageway today.

Unfortunately no answers were forthcoming. The reason given for this was Cllr Mazher Iqbal was not well, so was not able to answer. Surely the leader of the Council could have answered on his behalf, especially as all questions have to be submitted at least 2 days before the meeting. I have been promised a full written response, was will keep you all informed.

Graham Wroe at Sheaf Valley Park with trees that may be felled to make way for the ring road.

Stop the new dual carriageway in Sheffield

A new dual carriageway is being proposed, to run from Park Square to Granville Square, behind the station through Sheaf Valley Park. It is part of a £1.5 billion scheme to revamp the Sheaf Valley area of the city centre. 

Map of new road

City planners have had the gall to proclaim that this will help meet our climate targets! Although the aims for pedestrianised streets and better public transport to the front of the station are laudable, to say that a new road will reduce emissions is laughable. The carbon footprint of the building plans will be humongous. The construction industry accounts for an incredible 36% of worldwide energy usage, and 40% of our CO2 emissions. Swapping the tram tracks for dual carriageway behind the station and vice versa in front of the station will be massively expensive in terms of money, carbon emissions and disruption to the public, but will give no real improvement to the transport system. Demolishing the relatively new Cross Turner Street car park, only to rebuild it at Granville Square, is wasteful not only in money but in the carbon already embodied in the building.

Any big transport plan should encourage drivers to opt for less polluting means of transport, be it tram, bus, train, bike or walking. Only reducing traffic will lead to fewer emissions which needs a carrot and stick approach. 

The carrot should be looking at expanding the tram and rail systems, reopening old stations like Heeley and Stocksbridge, and expanding the tram network to where people want to travel, such as the hospitals and the commuter belt, bringing the transport system under Council control and subsidising fares. Only then will people start to leave their car at home. The stick would be introducing road pricing, to discourage driving in polluted areas like the city centre at peak times. The Council are discussing their Clean Air Zone, but they are only proposing charging taxis and buses, not the cars which make up the majority of the traffic. Sheffield should also consider a workplace parking levy that has worked very successfully in Nottingham.

Residents in Park Hill and Norfolk Park will be faced with the pollution and noise from the new road. Sheffield Station is one of the most polluted places in the country, especially for Nitrogen Dioxide as the diesel fumes from the trains and taxis combine with the road traffic. NO2 is responsible for increasing lung problems, asthma, cancer and stillbirths. Moving the road may move some of this pollution away from the front of the station, but it will be closer to the residents of Park Hill and Norfolk Park. A sensible solution would stop the pollution, not move it from one place to another. 

Covid has dramatically changed our city. The aftermath of the illness is leaving many with respiratory problems. Covid has, however, had some positive effects. Businesses have found that many of their workers can work from home, and do so very productively. Why then are the Council proposing building even more new office blocks? The green space at Park Square roundabout for instance, where I recently watched a kestrel,  will be filled with office blocks between 10 and 14 storeys tall. Where is the demand for these offices?

The new road will cut deep into Sheaf Valley Park, presumably taking out many of the trees that have been planted in recent years. It will ruin the Amphitheatre, as the road will be so close to it that audiences will no longer be able to hear the performers. Now the survival of theatres is seriously threatened, this outdoor performing space should be greatly valued.  Open-air performances are far safer than in the theatres. 

A Handlebards production at Sheaf Valley Amphitheatre

The scheme is being proposed to accommodate the hugely destructive HS2 project. Only this week HS2 destroyed a 300-year-old oak tree at Hunningham. The tree wasn’t even in the path of the track, it was felled to make way for a service road. Throughout the length of the route, tree protectors are currently camped out to try to save nature, but they are meeting strong and sometimes extremely dangerous force from security,  ensuring the destruction continues. HS2 is the most expensive and environmentally destructive infrastructure project in UK history. The project is set to destroy 108 ancient woodlands and almost 700 wildlife sites. As well as costing the UK taxpayer well over £200 billion, the high-speed rail project is causing extensive and irreversible damage to the environment and will be a vast new source of carbon emissions for at least the next 120 years. The money would be far better spent on improving local transport, making it sensible for commuters to leave their cars at home. Don’t let HS2 ruin Sheaf Valley Park.

If you are opposed to the dual carriageway please sign the petition here. http://bit.ly/stopringroad

References

Draft Development Framework

 The construction industry accounts for an incredible 36% of worldwide energy usage, and 40% of CO2 emissions.

https://www.british-assessment.co.uk/insights/what-is-sustainable-construction-and-why-is-it-important/

Recycle and reuse buildings to curb climate change, report insists

https://eandt.theiet.org/content/articles/2020/02/recyle-and-reuse-buildings-to-curb-climate-change-report-insists/

Clean Air Zone

https://www.sheffield.gov.uk/home/pollution-nuisance/clean-air-zone

Work place parking levy. Nottingham City Council

http://www.nottinghamcity.gov.uk/wpl

Government Committee on the Medical effects of Air Pollutants

https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/411756/COMEAP_The_evidence_for_the_effects_of_nitrogen_dioxide.pdf.

HS2 Rebellion

Stop HS2

Cabinet Minutes (see point 18)

Another day, another ancient tree felled: 300-year-old Hunningham Oak near Leamington is knocked down to make way for HS2https://www.leamingtoncourier.co.uk/news/environment/another-day-another-ancient-tree-felled-300-year-old-hunningham-oak-near-leamington-knocked-down-make-way-hs2-2984031