Sheffield tree scandal: Council leader pressed over claims ‘nobody’ held to account over tree scandal

Tree campaigners have quizzed Sheffield Council’s leader over the street tree scandal, calling for those responsible to be held to account.

Only days after Sheffield Council had published its apology letter sent to the Lord Chancellor over misleading the Court, campaigners were able to challenge Coun Tom Hunt on the matter during yesterday’s (February 7) full council meeting’s members’ questions segment.

A recurring question in these meetings is the claim no one has been held to account for what happened during the city’s street tree dispute. Someone asked Coun Hunt whether he agreed with his concerns that “nobody has yet been held to account”. The council leader said none of the politicians or senior officers in post at that time remained in a position of responsibility.

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Coun Hunt added the council had no power to formally hold former employees to account or to call them to apologise. Another member of the public asked him whether the council had sought a “barrister’s advice” before or during the drafting of their apology letter to the Court over the street tree saga. Coun Hunt said it had not.

Sheffield trees.Sheffield trees.
Sheffield trees.

Coun Tom Hunt was also asked: “Following the council’s apology to the Courts for misleading them in two cases, does the council have any message for other local authorities about the wisdom of misusing public money to take out injunctions against environmental protesters?”

Coun Hunt said Sir Mark Lowcock’s report was clear that the council’s strategy at the time (taking out injunctions) was “ineffective in deterring protesters or resolving opposition to the Streets Ahead Programme”.

He said this – relying on legal solutions – had caused the council “wider reputational damage” and cost the council a significant amount of money.

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Coun Hunt said the council had learnt that a “collaborative, respectful but challenging partnership approach ” based on mutual trust and understanding has delivered more for the city and the street trees than in those four years of dispute.

Last year, Sir Mark Lowcock’s report said the council was slow to grasp the reputational damage of the debacle which had become a defining fact about the city, years later.

His 100,000-word report detailed the failings of the Streets Ahead programme that aimed to fell 17,500 street trees as part of the £2.2billion contract between the council and Amey.

Sir Mark found that the council overstretched its authority in taking drastic action against campaigners, had serious and sustained failures in leadership and misled the public, courts and an independent panel it set up to deal with the dispute.

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One of Sir Mark’s recommendations was that the council apologises to the court. In June, the council issued an apology to all residents of Sheffield for Sheffield City Council’s actions during the street trees dispute.

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