Post by Lee Heykoop, SCT board member
Beautiful , mature trees in the city are the gift of someone’s vision a generation or more ago. Besides the shade that makes a city tolerable when there’s a heatwave, I would be lost without trees marking the seasons- taking me through Spring, into deep Summer and out into Autumn. They are real live elements of the city. Is this why it is that trees affect so many people?
Recent ‘tree issues’ in Sheffield have been heated. And while the intricacies are too detailed to summarise here, the aspects this article will focus on are:-
- The criticism and the Council’s response
- The quest for clarity
- Persistence to find out if a contractor of the council is empowered to deal with trees even if their action can result in damage or loss
- And despair at changing things for the better
- A possible solution to pavement damage—the Stockholm Tree Planting System
Letter from the Fulfilment Team:
I have found a barrage of criticism answered by a seven and a half page letter from our council’s ‘Fulfilment Team’. It’s function is clearly to explain, and answer questions and spread a feeling of fulfilment to ease away all concerns. So why am I left wondering if this is the whole truth and who is it actually from? Who are the Fulfilment Team? There is no personal signature (no personal responsibility). It is signed from ‘Streets Ahead’. Does Amey have any input into this?
Accountability and Contract details:
To return to my reluctance about being reassured, the letter addresses the issue of requests from the public to see the Amey contract. No problem, it reads, the contract is online. Or is it? Enter the e-correspondence trail from David Jones’s Freedom of Information request in February 2014 which ends with these entries this June:-
- 10th June – Vincent Bowen: the link given by Sheffield Council (to the contract) doesn’t work
- 11th June – David Jones: it worked a year ago, shame it doesn’t now
- 15th June – Paul Whitlow: try this one https://www.sheffield.gov.uk/business-ec (the link now leads to a ‘page 404 not found’ message, and a search of the council’s website got me no further than Amey’s contract ‘Data Sheet’ which appears to be company statistics/ promotional material.
- 16th June – Keith Alford: he had read the contract the previous year, but so much had been redacted that ‘the document was of little use to any resident of Sheffield who wishes to check the scope of or specification of the work’ against the contract requirements.
Is there a Sheffield Tree Strategy which applies to the Highways?
Contained in the long apologetic letter mentioned above, there has been no mention of strategies for new street planting, only replacement trees. A more proactive view is voiced in Sheffield City Council ‘s, ‘Sheffield’s Tree and Woodland Strategy: consultation document’. It is a shame then that this dates from 2001, and that there doesn’t appear to be an actual Tree Strategy for Sheffield – it looks like this document was never adopted by SCC. The shame is that a Tree Strategy would have set out a vision for trees; it would have described the different aspects of that vision, giving examples; it would have been referred to in the contract as indicative of the performance level to be achieved.
I admit I read the Fulfulment Team’s letter before I read in full what it was responding to—namely the 29 page document from the Save Our Rustlings Trees campaign group, which I commend. They know (they say this) that the topic is wider than trees just on their road. It is an excellent document and deals with all aspects regarding trees:
- What the law requires of Local Authorities (LAs)
- Policy documents e.g. Trees in Towns II; the UK Forestry Standard and its Guidelines; National Tree Safety Group.
- Health and Safety and where guidance does not expect more from responsible landowners
- Questions about contractual requirements that SCC make on Amey (and yes where are these contract particulars)
- SCC’s lack of recourse to professional expert advice which would help, guide and instruct contractors – as would a Tree Strategy. But where are these?
What should we do?
My personal view is that, alongside excellent maintenance of existing tree stock, I want to see some strategic improvements and strategic new planting and re-planting in Sheffield. And this might be coordinated with pavement and road repairs so as to utilise the Stockholm tree planting system; a method that solves the future possibility of pavement heave. First comes investment in expertise and quality and from these are generated sustainable (including monetary sustainability) approaches.
Are we there yet?
Given that Sheffield City Council don’t have a Tree Strategy, don’t consult (or not enough) with experts, and don’t make the content of the contract with Amey public, I don’t have confidence in their capacity to manage such an important, living, asset.