Sat, 05 Sept 2020
WEST Berkshire councillor and Green Party activist Steve Masters has responded furiously to claims he is not properly representing his constituents and accused his critics of ‘dirty tactics’.
Mr Masters, who was elected to serve Speen ward in May 2019, has spent the last two months camped in a tree in Jones Hill Wood in Aylesbury Vale, Buckinghamshire.
Half the wood, which is home to an abundance of wildlife and reportedly inspired Roald Dahl to write Fantastic Mr Fox, is being destroyed to make way for HS2.
Mr Masters, who was arrested last week as he protested, is one of many ‘protectors’ who are fighting the Government’s decision to cut down ancient woodland to make way for the high speed rail line between London, the Midlands and the North.
Despite receiving widespread praise and messages of support from a number of people, he has been criticised by two members of the local Conservative Party.
Last week former council leader Graham Jones tweeted that it was “absurd to claim to be representing people if you live in a treehouse in the Midlands”.
And Conservative councillor Ross Mackinnon said that “if councillors go off campaigning on issues of personal importance then they should make that clear on their election leaflet”.
But Mr Masters this week countered his critics and had some strong words for his Conservative counterparts.
Speaking to the Newbury Weekly News on Tuesday, he said: “My attendance is still virtually 100 per cent.
“I even fully participated in a meeting while I’ve been locked into a concrete barrel and up a tree.
“If I didn’t have responsibilities as a councillor it would be easier, of course.
“But I choose to be a councillor for the same reason I choose to be an activist – because I personally believe I can make a difference to society as a whole.”
Mr Mackinnon told the Newbury Weekly News last week: “In general, residents expect their representatives to be local and accessible and I think that is reasonable.
“I am not talking about dialling into Zoom meetings – that is just a small part of it.
“I am talking about the day-to-day work of being a ward member.
“For example, [council leader] Lynne Doherty, who also happens to represent Speen ward with councillor Masters, she sees a bin that is overflowing and tweets the council about it and it gets sorted.
“In the last three weeks I have attended an illegal traveller encampment in my ward of Bradfield and arranged a meeting with a resident about a planning issue.
“It’s little things like that you can’t do remotely.”
He added: “Councillor allowances are provided in return for doing that.
“If councillors go off campaigning on issues of personal importance then they should make that clear on their election leaflet.”
Mr Masters hit back, saying: “Councillor Mackinnon and the Conservatives seem to be so fearful of me and the Green Party that they have to resort to dirty tactics.
“I am really disappointed by the comments.
“I would have thought in these times the Tories would have more important things to worry about than what I am doing.
“I think he’s just jealous that I am actually doing something for society.”
Speaking about his reasons for protesting, he said: “As I said before, I cannot look my grandchildren in the eye in 30 years time and say that I did everything I could if I didn’t and that’s what this is all about.
“Will councillor Mackinnon be able to look his grandchildren in the eye and say ‘I did everything to stop your generation suffering?’
“My answer to that would be no, he won’t.”
Speaking about the past two months, he said: “I have been sleeping in a treehouse every night for the last eight weeks in all weathers.
“It’s certainly no Enid Blyton life, like some people would have you believe.
“It is not a comfortable existence.
“I have to climb 55/60 feet up a tree every night. It is physically and mentally exhausting.
“It’s certainly a test of endurance.
“But I knew straight away that this was a place I was willing to fight for.
“I have a connection to it, both spiritually and physically.
“There is a beautiful tranquillity here.
“I am almost 60-foot up in a 150-year-old beech tree, but even in the extreme weather and gales of 60mph I feel completely and utterly safe.
“I am there with the protectors to save the wood, but at the same time it is protecting me from the elements.”