Council leader Julie Dore rules out inquiry into Sheffield tree scandal

Sheffield Council leader Julie Dore has ruled out an inquiry into the city's tree-felling scandal - weeks after the authority was found to have misled the public over its controversial strategy for removing thousands of street trees.

Coun Dore said she did not believe an inquiry was necessary, with the council committing to create a new archive containing every document relating to the controversy instead.

It follows growing recent calls for an inquiry after a Local Government Ombudsman report found the council had misled the public, misrepresented expert advice and acted with a “lack of honesty” over the issue. The findings of the report were fully accepted by the council and cabinet member Mark Jones said in the wake of the report that an inquiry could potentially be part of the "healing process".

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But Coun Dore said there had already been several investigations into the issue.

Sheffield Council leader Julie Dore.

“We have had the Ombudsman report, an independent report by the Forestry Commission and the review by Sheffield Council, Amey and Sheffield Tree Action Groups (STAG)," she said.

“We will continue to develop from the lessons learned in that document and continue to work with partners, including STAG.

“We have already had several inquiries in effect and I think we are now in a really positive position to move forward.”

Around 5,500 trees - 2,000 of them healthy but deemed to be damaging pavements and road surfaces - were chopped down and replaced with saplings under a £2bn highways project called Streets Ahead that started in 2012. Felling work was paused in spring 2018 as growing protests against the work attracted international condemnation when dozens of police officers and private security guards were sent to support the operations and multiple arrests were made

The council also made attempts in court to have a number of demonstrators jailed for breaching a protest injunction, with three given suspended jail sentences.

A new strategy has since been introduced following lengthy talks with campaigners and hundreds of previously at-risk trees have now been saved from the axe through solutions such as kerb repairs.

One of the key findings of the Ombudsman’s report was that prior to the change in approach, the council had taken the “unacceptable” decision to publish official strategy documents which said its contract Amey would consider 14 possible fixes before removing any tree.

The council repeatedly claimed in public that removing trees was a “last resort” but the Ombudsman found the 14 fixes were never part of the contract and Amey “would never use some of the ‘solutions’ referred to”.

The Ombudsman instructed Sheffield Council to apologise to the people of the city after it found “numerous problems” with the way it removed street trees.

The Ombudsman found the council did not, at times, act with openness and transparency when removing trees across Sheffield, and when dealing with people’s complaints about that work.

Following the publication of the report, Green Party councillor Alison Teal - who faced legal proceedings in 2017 in which Sheffield Council applied for her to be committed to prison for allegedly breaching a civil injunction against protesting directly under threatened trees but the case against her was dismissed in court - called for Coun Dore to resign. Cabinet member Mark Jones said last month Coun Dore, who intends to stand down as a councillor following the next council elections, retains the support of her Labour colleagues.

Coun Dore said the new archive will include all tree-related materials, including emails and reports, and will be housed at Sheffield Archives on Shoreham Street.

She said the documents would remain there “in perpetuity” and new information would continue to be added. Any documents which were redacted or where financial details were exempt will remain so.

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