SHEFFIELD Council has already suffered considerable reputational damage through the mishandling of its now notorious tree-felling programme, a major failure of public policy which resulted in dozens of police officers and private security guards being deployed to normally quiet residential streets to support removal operations in the face of growing public outrage.
Work is currently on hold as contractor Amey, which is conducting the removals as part of a secretive £2.2bn highways maintenance contract running for 25 years, reviews the way felling is conducted in the wake of condemnation from across the political and social spectrum.
Much of the recent outcry has focused not just on the use of huge police numbers, but also the revelation that the ‘Streets Ahead’ contract signed in 2012 contains a target to fell 17,500 of the city’s 36,000 street trees and replace them with saplings. This was only brought to light last month following the intervention of the Information Commissioner after a year-long Freedom of Information battle by campaigners.
However, lessons do not appear to have been learned, with the council now refusing to publish its official contractual policy for tree replacement work on the grounds that keeping the information secret is for the “greater good”. The Yorkshire Post has now requested a review of this decision and intends to take the matter to the Information Commissioner should the council maintain its current stance.
The situation is simple; the council has continually insisted that felling takes place only as a “last resort”. If this is indeed the case, then publishing the official contractual policy will confirm the council’s publicly-stated position. However, if the contract tells a different story, it can only be for the “greater good” of the public and local democracy that this information is unearthed as soon as possible.