Up to 300 Sheffield trees could be saved from axe in council ‘compromise’

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Up to 300 trees that had been due to be felled in Sheffield may now be saved from the axe as part of a council “compromise” plan, it can be revealed.

Writing in The Yorkshire Post today, Lewis Dagnall, cabinet member for environment and streetscene at the council, said the authority’s contractor Amey is looking at ways to save as many of those trees as possible as part of a review of the way work is carried out.

Operations were put on hold in March following a national outcry against the council’s policy of felling thousands of street trees in the city and replacing them with saplings, along with the use of dozens of police officers and private security guards to support the work following growing protests.

Work to fell thousands of the city’s 36,000 street trees is being carried out as part of 25-year, £2.2bn highways improvement contract with Amey called Streets Ahead, which also involves work on roads, pavements and street lights.

Campaigners say many healthy trees have been removed unnecessarily and could have been saved. Around 6,000 trees have been felled so far and thousands more are still due to come down.

Coun Dagnall said: “Our contractor is exploring options for around 300 trees which have previously been identified for replacement. This includes looking to keep as many of those 300 as possible, while making the much-needed improvements to our roads and pavements. As part of any compromise, the contractor might have to go further with engineering solutions, and we might have to review our highway standards in some areas.

“When this work is complete, we will present alternative proposals as a starting point for dialogue with residents and stakeholders about how we move on. A compromise by the council and the contractor that retains trees might also need an acceptance from campaigners that for some trees - even with additional engineering solutions - there can be no viable option for retention.”

Coun Dagnall said dealing with the initial 300 trees “is just the first step”.

“If we can make progress, we can move on to the bigger question: how do we look after Sheffield’s urban forest for the next 20 years of the programme, and beyond?”, he said. “I’m increasingly optimistic that we can turn a corner, and that a shared energy and passion for trees on both sides can be harnessed for the future of our environment in Sheffield.”

Coun Dagnall also said no attempts would be made to end the highways contract with Amey, as some tree campaigners have called for. In January, Liverpool Council ended its highways contract with Amey four years early by mutual agreement. But Coun Dagnall said that would not be happening in Sheffield.

“Ending the programme – which, overall, offers huge benefits and investment to Sheffield – is not a precondition to finding a sustainable compromise on tree replacement,” he said. “With all parties willing to compromise, I’m confident we can find a solution within the programme – and realise the potential of Streets Ahead.”

But his comments come as the council look to extend a protest injunction designed to prevent campaigners standing directly underneath threatened trees for an extra three years. Speaking prior to the hearing, Paul Brooke, co-chairman of the Sheffield Tree Action Groups, said: “Coun Dagnall has said publicly they want to resolve this issue but their court papers say they plan to fell all the remaining 300 disputed trees.”