Head of Sheffield tree inquiry aiming to help the city 'move on'

The former UN humanitarian chief who has been appointed to run the inquiry into Sheffield’s highly controversial tree-felling programme said he wants to help the city “move on”.

A protester and a police officer at a Sheffield tree-felling site in 2018. Picture: Scott Merrylees
A protester and a police officer at a Sheffield tree-felling site in 2018. Picture: Scott Merrylees

Sir Mark Lowcock said he is aiming to complete the investigation by the end of the year and determine “what happened, why it happened and what needs to be done to make sure it can’t happen again”.

It comes after thousands of trees were cut down by Sheffield City Council contractors Amey, as part of a £2.2bn project which began in 2012, and a number of protesters were arrested and taken to court for trying to stop the work.

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Sheffield City Council said the trees were dangerous, dead, diseased or dying and would be replaced with saplings, but campaigners claimed that many were healthy and could be saved.

Former UN humanitarian chief Sir Mark Lowcock has been appointed to run the independent inquiry into the Sheffield tree-felling dispute

Sir Mark is a former civil servant, who spent four years working as Under Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator at the UN and dealt with a range of disasters, including wars in Syria and Yemen and the Ebola outbreak in Central Africa.

He said during the inquiry, he will examine the actions of the council and its contractors, South Yorkshire Police and the protestors, but none of them will be able to read the final report before it is published.

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Sir Mark said the terms of reference will be published “very soon” and his team are planning to conduct a number of interviews, hold public hearings and look through all of the documents Sheffield City Council holds.

But he is also encouraging anyone who has any information which they believe should be considered to get in touch.

“I hope I’ll be able to help the city and the people of the city move on, avoid a recurrence of these problems in the future and recover from them,” he said.

“I’m completely independent, I don’t have any axe to grind here. I’m only interested in helping the city and the people of the city find solutions and move forward.

“I have a lot of experience in dealing with conflict and I’ve worked on truth and reconciliation processes and environmental and forest issues around the world.

“I have a set of experiences and skills, which mean I have some ability to understand the issues and understand why people behaved in the way they did and what incentives they face and what pressures they were under.”

Sir Mark said the council has signed a contract which states it will not withhold any information from the inquiry, but no one else will be under any legal obligation to provide evidence.

“Nobody has to come and tell their story but people believe they had reasons for doing what they did and so there are a lot of people who are happy to come and explain what they did and get people to understand things from their perspective,” he said.

Anyone who has information they would like to share with the inquiry should send it to [email protected]