Published in Sheffield Star, 30th September 2017.
Open Letter to Cllr. Julie Dore, Leader of Sheffield City Council
From STAG, Sheffield Tree Action Groups.
The many supporters of the Street Tree Campaign were heartened to hear John McDonnell’s trenchant rejection of PFI, and the enthusiastic support he received in the Labour Party Conference. We know that you have serious misgivings about the PFI system and hope you will feel this is a good time to look at how to unlock the miserable and expensive dispute over our street trees by reviewing their part in the Streets Ahead PFI Contract. We realise that you have rejected this in the past but times have changed.
Huge amounts of money have been spent by SCC, and Council Tax payers face very heavy penalties as a result of the Independent Tree Panel delays but you will be aware that resistance to the felling of healthy trees on our streets is as strong as ever. Yesterday between 60 and 70 Sheffield residents were out on the streets on a working day, protesting at felling sites across the city. Very few trees are being felled.
We don’t underestimate the difficulty of changing a PFI contract. However the justifications advanced to us by Amey for continuing to fell healthy trees are increasingly tenuous. STAG has technical evidence that Amey’s claims about the cost and difficulty of works around trees are inflated, taking advantage of their monopoly under the PFI.
It is also clear from works on several streets that highway renewal can proceed even where condemned trees have not been felled. If care of trees and associated footways and kerbs were taken back into Council control this would not interfere with the highway renewal and could transform our situation and conserve millions of pounds of city assets, as proven by the recent CAVAT survey.
The street tree crisis has had one beneficial effect. Awareness of and interest in street trees has never been higher across our city and we believe there is a real opportunity to get communities involved in managing and developing our street tree stock for the health and wellbeing of this and future generations. It would give STAG great pleasure to be talking to you about such opportunities and co-developing solutions, rather than continuing this grim conflict.
Yours Sincerely and with best wishes,
Rebecca Hammond and Chris Rust
Co-Chairs, STAG – Sheffield Tree Action Groups