Will the Government’s new ‘Tree Champion’ have powers to halt felling in Sheffield?

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A “Tree Champion” has been appointed by the Government to help expand the country’s woodlands and prevent unnecessary felling.

Sir William Worsley has been given the new the role - but it is not clear if he will be able to intervene in a long-running row over street trees being cut down in Sheffield.

He has been appointed to the job by Environment Secretary Michael Gove, who has criticised tree felling as part of a highways contract in the South Yorkshire city. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) said Sir William would boost planting rates and support the introduction of a new duty for councils “to properly consult with communities before they cut down trees.”

But Defra said his appointment had not been influenced by the situation in Sheffield.

Mr Gove said: “We have a responsibility to make sure the next generation inherit the woodlands, forests and trees they deserve. We are beginning to see good progress in growing tree cover, but we need to go further and faster.

“I’m confident Sir William Worsley will bring the expertise and vision required to rapidly drive forward planting rates and prevent street trees being felled.”

The appointment was welcomed by opposition councillors in Sheffield, where thousands of trees have been felled as part of a £2.2bn highways maintenance contract with Amey.

Laura Gordon, Liberal Democrat Parliamentary Campaigner for the city, said: “The city is divided and we need compromise and conciliation. Hopefully an outside figure such as the new Tree Champion can provide this.”

Sir William will be tasked with driving forward a Government commitment to plant 11 million trees as part of the 25-year Environment Plan, launched in January this year.

Defra said that since the introduction of the plan, almost £6m had been committed to help create an ambitious Northern Forest near the M62 motorway,

A Defra spokesperson said: “He will bring together mayors, city leaders and other key players across local government to prevent the unnecessary felling of street trees, alongside supporting the introduction of a new duty for councils to properly consult with communities before they cut down trees.

“We want to see 50 million trees planted over the next 25 years from Liverpool to Hull, boosting habitats for woodland birds and bats and protecting iconic species like the red squirrel.”

Defra said woodland schemes included more than 600,000 trees to be planted at Doddington North Moor in Northumberland and 200,000 at Lowther Park in the Lake District.

Sir William, who owns North Yorkshire’s Hovingham Hall, said: “I am delighted to be appointed as the Government’s Tree Champion.

“Trees and woods are an important part of my life, as they are to local communities. They transform our landscapes, improve our health and wellbeing and help grow the economy.”

Sir William, who chairs the National Forest Company, has been appointed to the Tree Champion role for one year.

The role includes working with Defra and the Forestry Commission on future land management schemes outside of the European Union.