Lee Heykoop, a member of Sheffield Civic Trust’s trustee board, gives her personal take on the treatment of street trees in Sheffield and offers her views on what needs to happen next.
The treatment of street trees in Sheffield, which has disturbed a lot of people, got me to try to pull together the main points as I know them. . . .
I have not been a consistent follower of the several campaigns goaded into being by Amey’s cavalier approach to felling trees in the Streets Ahead project. So it can be hard to keep track about everything happening with Rustlings Road and the SORT campaign; in Greenhill, Nether Edge, Dore, Heeley and the Rivelin Valley and with STAG, the Sheffield Tree Action Group which is an umbrella organisation.
I understand that while Amey excuse their excessive tree felling as necessary, much of it is ill-informed, unnecessary, and serving the bottom line. I have heard Prof. Ian Rotherham relate that an Amey representative excused the felling of a 400 year old oak on the grounds that it was replaced with a new tree!
I grasp the fact that all that Amey have done does not contravene their contract with Sheffield City Council (SCC). And that no matter how hard I have tried to read the contract I cannot. It has been subject to an FOI. But to whom it was available and for how long is to be discovered. Comment trails on online discussions speak of it being unavailable or heavily redacted and meaningless.
Surely there were some well considered quality standards included and referenced in the Amey contract that I can study by which they can be called to account? That would be a Tree Strategy, which would articulate well-informed, long-, medium- & short-term policies and aims, and which would then be expressed as objectives and specific deliverables. But there isn’t one! There was a Draft Sheffield Tree Strategy 2001 which was not adopted. Do I suspect political/financial motives at that time ahead of contracting the Streets Ahead project?
The absence of a Sheffield Tree Strategy may be the reason for the incomprehensive and incomplete statements in the parts of the Streets Ahead literature on professional arboricultural practice. Perhaps the authorities believe there is no gap here, after all there is a ‘Streets Ahead 5 Year Tree Strategy’. But this document hints at being put together for the use of it title. So it is useful to read Brian Crane’s analysis which dissects its pretensions. The analysis is available here, via Ian Rotherham’s blog:
But then what need is there of a guiding strategy if professional arboricultural advice is being taken by Amey in any case? Would it make a difference once you know these arboriculturalists are not independent practitioners but are employed by Amey?
Would it make you really really want your local authority to use good procedures and to most definitely have to follow guidance from a yet-to-exist Sheffield Tree Strategy if you thought the council were putting tree felling up for a vote? It is important that democratically raised sentiments are not ignored or manipulated, nor the responsibility to preserve and enhance, and to act sustainably for this and future generations, ducked. The Council’s questionnaire which was delivered as a leaflet in Nether Edge certainly implies that a number of voices wanting trees to be felled (some people don’t like leaves dropping or birds sitting on branches doing droppings on their cars) would be taken into account.
It is good to think that things are getting better. Campaigners sought and gained on February 9th an interim (3 month) injunction on tree felling until a Judicial Review. Charles Streeten, of Francis Taylor Building, instructed by the Environmental Law Foundation is working pro bono on this. Funds are being raised to cover the court fees if the case isn’t won.
And the Council now seem to be promising a Sheffield Tree Strategy. To this end they held a consultation event at the Town Hall on 26th February 2016. It was interesting and I learned that the Parks and Countryside team (who hosted the event) have been doing a lot of tree planting in the city’s woodlands and parks. A pity though that street trees are outside their remit.
But I came away with a greater concern. My conversation there with Chris Healey, Head of Parks and Countryside, revealed that the forthcoming Sheffield Tree Strategy is intended to make recommendations ‘for consideration’ at the Street’s Ahead annual review. This is too weak – it has nil enforcement value.
There are currently no mechanisms in place for taking further the aims and policies that will be expressed in the Sheffield Tree Strategy into actions for delivery.
The annual review of the Streets Ahead (so-called) 5 Year Tree Strategy is not a sufficient mechanism for including the scale and nature of changes necessary , since contravention of the contract would be cited to not take action.
Sheffield City Council should be made to renegotiate their contract with Amey.
Professional voices should be listened to:
I hope campaigners will sustain their campaigning. Their feeling and passion seems to be legitimately rooted in outrage about what is seen to be incompetence and wreckage.
Sheffield has become a clean city after its industrial heyday. It offers greenness and invigorating lifestyles to make people who come for manufacturing or engineering, for the knowledge economy or creative industries, love this city.
The city’s trees are a significant part of its USP.