Sheffield tree campaigners reject council's compromise plan after 'storm of feedback'

Tree felling in Sheffield has been the cause of controversy for several years.
Tree felling in Sheffield has been the cause of controversy for several years.
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Tree campaigners in Sheffield have rejected a council compromise plan for felling, saying the proposals will still see “too many healthy trees felled for questionable reasons”.

The announcement has come ahead of new inspections of dozens of trees that were previously listed for felling but may now be reprieved starting tomorrow.

It is the latest chapter of a long-running dispute about the removal of thousands of street trees in the city and their replacement with saplings as part of a £2.2bn highways improvement project also involving work to the city’s roads, pavements and street lights.

Tree-felling in the city by council contractor Amey was put on hold last March after the issue came to national attention when dozens of police officers and private security guards were used to support operations in the wake of growing protests.

Around 5,500 trees have been felled since work began in 2012, with about 2,000 of them healthy but deemed by the council to be damaging pavements and road surfaces. That position is challenged by protesters who argue many were removed unnecessarily.

After work was paused in March, mediated talks between the council, Amey and representatives of the Sheffield Tree Action Groups organisation subsequently took place before the council put forward new proposals in December to retain almost 90 of 300 trees currently listed for felling and said the removal of others would be delayed. Engineering solutions, regular monitoring and ongoing maintenance work paid for by Amey will be used to save trees that were previously going to be removed.

Sheffield Council to fell fewer trees in bid to resolve dispute

But leaders of STAG have now said its members are unhappy at the council’s proposed way forward, saying it will still result in too many healthy trees being removed.

Chris Rust, a member of the STAG negotiating group, said: “During the talks we tried to explain to Sheffield City Council that their ideas were not likely to win over campaigners. However they were determined to push on with the scheme they had worked out beforehand, rather than discuss what might gain agreement.

“Once the confidential discussions were over and the plan was made public we had a storm of feedback from tree campaigners. They are not prepared to stand by and see healthy trees felled.”

One key area of dispute remains over a contract requirement which prioritises highways work delivering straight pavement kerbs over saving trees. The council has agreed to relax this temporarily but campaigners want a permanent policy change.

Council rejects call for inquiry into dispute

Despite the STAG announcement, tomorrow members of the organisation will cooperate as Amey officials begin to carry out detailed technical inspections on several street trees that were originally earmarked for replacement but may now be saved.

The inspections will be carried out by an Amey team of tree and highways specialists.

Amey Streets Ahead Account Director Darren Butt said: “The additional funding being provided by Amey will allow us to use new and existing engineering treatments in a much more flexible way, monitor trees closely and re-apply treatments where possible. As a result, we should be able to retain trees for an indefinite period as long as the highway remains at a good standard.

“The team itself will not remove any tree but has authority to carry out immediate highway remedial work to safeguard the tree, when required.

“Crucially, we will still be delivering the long-term benefits of the Streets Ahead contract at no extra cost to Sheffield’s taxpayers.”

Prior to the STAG announcement, Councillor Lewis Dagnall, cabinet member for environment and street scene at Sheffield City council, said: “Back in December, following a series of mediated talks between the council, Amey and STAG, we announced that on street inspections would start in the New Year, with a view to retaining as many trees as possible.

“The inspections are the first step in what we hope to be a promising year for the city’s street trees, where we will see a large proportion of trees, including the Vernon Oak and the majority of memorial trees, retained. We will also start work on a new street tree strategy in the first half of this year.

“We’re optimistic that by adopting a more collaborative approach, we will achieve a way forward which is beneficial for the entire city.”

Paul Selby of STAG added that the new approach to inspections was a positive step.

“We welcome this new collaborative approach, which we believe will increase the number of trees that can be indefinitely retained, at the same time as increasing our understanding of the reasons why Amey and Sheffield City council say some trees cannot be retained. We encourage residents to come out and see the inspections taking place, if they are able to, to maximise the transparency of the work being done.”

Amey is also pledging to plant an additional 12,000 extra trees for community groups by the end of the highways contract in 2037.

A Forestry Commission report into the legality of the felling which has already been carried out remains ongoing.