Sheffield Council admits 'we got things wrong' over tree-felling saga

Sheffield Council has admitted it “got some things wrong” over its hugely-controversial street tree-felling programme after a new action plan on the issue was agreed following talks with campaigners and highways contractor Amey.

The Sheffield tree-felling saga has caused years of controversy.

Thousands of street trees have been felled and replaced with saplings as part of the £2bn Streets Ahead highways improvement contract with Amey, with matters coming to a head in early 2018 after dozens of police officers were controversially sent out to support felling operations in the wake of growing protests.

Five damning findings from the Sheffield trees investigationThe newly-agreed action plan identifies practical solutions for retaining more street trees as well as proposing ways of doing things differently, while work is continuing on a wider street tree strategy for the city.

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Councillor Mark Jones, cabinet member for environment, street scene and climate change, said: “This is a day for holding up our hands and admitting we got some things wrong.

“We have been working collaboratively and productively with partners including Sheffield Trees Action Groups (STAG) for some months now, and this report marks the next step in the process of learning lessons from the tree replacement works that led to such a damaging situation for the city we all love.

“We wholeheartedly commit to the actions in this report, and are determined to move forward in a positive way, working with and listening to our partners.

"We fully recognise that our approach to managing street trees has, in the past, been the subject of different strongly held views about what is in the best interests of the city.

“Our vision for the city’s street trees remains unchanged - we always wanted to ensure a long-term and sustainable future for our urban forest, which includes managing and replenishing the stock until 2037. However, we know that we could have approached some things differently by listening to people’s views sooner and by being more open with what we were doing and why.

“None of the progress made so far would have been possible without the shared dedication and passion of the STAG representatives and we would like to thank them for continuing to work alongside us.

“It won’t always be easy and there will undoubtedly be some points where we can’t reach complete agreement but what’s certain is that circumstances have changed and we have made a strong commitment to turn the learning points in this plan into tangible actions, and indeed this is already happening.

“We will work in a collaborative way, and, by considering the use of more solutions, we are hopeful that we can harness our mutual love of our green streets and manage both the short and long term issues and benefits responsibly, for current and future generations.

“I have no doubt that as we continue to reflect on the work being done as part of this process, we will continue to learn lessons.”

Paul Brooke, co-chair of STAG, said: “We are pleased to have been able to work with the council on this report which is a vindication of the campaign by Sheffield citizens to protect healthy trees.

"It is a testament to the many hours put in by volunteers who care deeply about our city and our urban forest that we now see a new way forward being applied by the Council. We fully support the actions agreed in the report and we will continue to work with the Council and Amey to complete the Street Tree Strategy that is due in the New Year.

“Everyone who stood up for the trees of our city should feel justly proud. The report provides definitive evidence that campaigners were right to challenge the assertion that trees were felled only as 'a last resort'. There is still more to be learned about the last few years and we are pleased this report takes us a step closer to a resolution."

Bishop of Sheffield The Rt Revd Dr Pete Wilcox, who oversaw mediation talks between the council and campaigners in 2018, said today: "I am encouraged to see the publication of this document jointly by Sheffield City Council, Amey and Sheffield Tree Action Groups. It represents considerable progress in 12 months.

"An honest attempt to learn lessons from experience is always good: how else do we ensure improvements? I have been especially heartened by the assurance that the approach to the review has been ‘open and collaborative and looking to the future… to get best outcomes for the city’. To that, I say, Amen!"

Buy Saturday's Yorkshire Post for a special report on how the authorities kept an offer to save 100 threatened trees from the axe secret in the run-up to a costly and controversial police operation.