What Sheffield Council’s tree felling debacle tells us about the problems facing local government in the UK

Urban greenery in Sheffield on the bank of the River Don

Sheffield City Council have been in the headlines a lot recently, but for all the wrong reasons; namely, the felling of thousands of street trees throughout the city, and the response to protests that have erupted to stop them. 33 police officers were deployed earlier this month to safeguard the removal of a single tree. Two protesters were arrested days before – including a 74 year old man – at the site of tree felling works in the suburb of Dore. This may seem extremely heavy handed to an outsider just reading about this for the first time, but highly organised and persistent protests (lead by Sheffield Tree Action Groups, or STAG) have been happening since at least 2015 with the intention of disrupting contractors carrying out the work. These protests started out small, but have been gradually increasing in intensity over the years, leading to multiple arrests and threats of legal action against the Council. A couple were even accused in January of serving poisoned tea to workers outside their home.

The tree felling isn’t exactly popular with people outside Sheffield either. Bianca Jagger and Ken Loach have spoken out publicly against the tree felling. Jarvis Cocker recently branded the tree felling as “crazy”. Even Michael Gove has called for Sheffield Council to stop the “unnecessary destruction of trees”. It’s safe to say that Sheffield Council aren’t exactly the most popular local authority in the country right now.   Read more

How Bicycles Built Britain’s Roads

Here’s an interesting little experiment I’d like you to do. Ask your friends, family, or co-workers:

“What are roads built for?”

The answer – almost unanimously – will be “for cars”. Most people will say it without hesitation. It will appear subconsciously, almost like a reflex. It doesn’t take any conscious thought to make that link between roads and cars. It’s seems kind of obvious. Roads are for cars.

…Right?

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Indeed, what is the matter with Sheffield: a response to CityMetric

Sheaf Square. Image: Wikimedia Commons

Recently, CityMetric published an article entitled “What’s the matter with Sheffield?”, in which Jonn Elledge used the Centre for Cities data tool to show that Sheffield comes close to the bottom (out of the largest eight English cities outside of London) on almost every measure of economic performance, including business start-ups, GVA per worker, and workplace earnings. It also comes close to last on the ratio of public to private sector jobs and overall employment rates. Confusingly, Sheffield does pretty well on the education front, having a decent number of pupils achieving 5 A*-C GCSEs including Maths and English, having relatively few residents with no qualifications, and sitting comfortably mid-table for people with degree level qualifications. It also has two relatively big universities that are nationally and internationally respected, churning out as many graduates as the other large cities of the north. So, what’s going on here?

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The Reality of Regional GDP Inequality: Inner West London vs Literally Everywhere Else

Anyone with even a vague interest in the UK economy knows that London outperforms the rest of the country. The taxes collected there partially subsidise the rest of the UK, but Londoners also benefit from massively disproportionate amounts of public spending. This is nothing new: the North-South divide has existed for almost as long as the UK has been a country, and shows no sign of going away any time soon.

Still, despite being aware of this, this fascinating article on CityMetric yesterday brought to my attention some pretty eye-watering regional inequalities in GDP across the UK. The author uses Eurostat data from 2000 to 2015 to show that – in relation to the EU average – South Yorkshire’s GDP per head is strikingly similar to Greece’s:

Given the consistent media furore over Greece’s “tanking” economy, you’d expect there to be similar levels of outrage for the plight of the residents of South Yorkshire, right?

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The Illusion of Gentrification: A Case Study of Kelham Island, Sheffield

“Clever” graffiti in Kelham Island

Gentrification seems to be happening in every big city right now. Large swathes of previously undesirable inner-city areas in old industrial cities have seen their residential demographics shift in the past 10-15 years; from poor people living in sub-standard (but cheap) accommodation – in old, predominately ex-industrial, crumbling, mostly-disused buildings – to young, wealthy, educated, liberal types who flood the areas with coffee shops, renovate the old buildings, and push up house prices. London has experienced this to a much greater extent than any other city in the UK, but it is definitely happening elsewhere, e.g. in Manchester and Birmingham.

There is a lot of anger surrounding these new residents. There are claims that they are “rich kids co-opting the lives of the poor”, trying out living in these areas like it’s some sort of novel educational experience in nostalgia slumming, but never really having to worry about poverty or destitution. There is also a claim that they are the gentriying foot soldiers of capitalism: they “make the first move into post-industrial, post-welfare state wastelands like brownfield sites and council housing estates and sow the seeds of cultural capital”, enabling developers to move in and build a bunch of expensive flats several years later.

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