The Liberal Democrat candidate for Sheffield Central has defended the party’s role in the controversial Streets Ahead contract, responsible for felling many of the city’s trees, insisting that his party’s plans for the city’s roads were “messed up” by the council.
Shaffaq Mohammed denied accusations that the Liberal Democrats were responsible for the controversial tree replacement scheme, which saw several protesters arrested.
“After 2010, we’d lost control of the council and we were the minority council. So in the final year, Labour councillors were working with us because we knew Labour would be coming in and they knew that as well,” he said.
“Yes, we secured the money but there is a whole 13 months between us losing control of the council before the contract was signed. Therefore if Labour or the Greens didn’t like any detail or anything we’d started to negotiate with the Department of Transport, they could have easily changed it.”
Mr Mohammed, who initially supported the tree felling programme but has now played a large part in the campaign against it, also said that it is not the contract signed by the Lib Dems but the Labour council’s way of dealing with it that has made the scheme a point of contention in recent months.
“Labour negotiated it and Labour signed that contract but more importantly, Labour have chosen to ignore concerns expressed by the various different tree campaigns,” he said.
“I am a bit angry about the way Labour have gone about it. You know, it wasn’t the Liberal Democrats that asked the Labour council to send in the police at five o’clock in the morning to wake people up. It isn’t the Liberal Democrats that are ignoring the recommendations of the Independent Tree Panel.”
He also condemned the council’s refusal to listen to several petitions that were launched in response to the programme, each of which received thousands of signatures, saying, “Labour had plenty of chances to amend their ways.”
The scheme is part of the council’s Streets Ahead programme, which was launched in 2012 to improve the conditions of the city’s roads and pavements. But the project has been heavily criticized by local people who say that healthy trees are being felled against the Independent Tree Panel’s recommendations.
Mr Mohammed said that the Labour council’s failure to listen to and support protesters has tarnished the whole programme which should have seen positive changes being made to the city.
“I’m quite happy and proud of my involvement, having secured over a billion pounds worth of investment. It’s just a crying shame they’ve messed it up,” he said.
He added that it was not only in discussions about trees that Labour was not listening to the concerns of the Sheffield people, but also with regards to Brexit.
Labour “not listening” to Sheffield’s concerns over Brexit
“This is a constituency where 70 per cent of people voted to remain. They deserve an MP that’s going to reflect that view in parliament and Paul Blomfield is not reflecting that view because he voted to trigger Article 50 alongside the Conservatives,” he said.
“If elected, my primary concern will be protecting jobs from the danger of the hard Brexit that’s going to come down the line. Forty percent of Sheffield steel and trade is done with Europe. That will have a huge impact on all of Sheffield, whether people work in the Steel Industry or not.
“The best deal that we can do with Europe is the current one. Anything else that comes down the line will be inferior.”