Over the course of the last three years Sheffield has succumbed to the forces of post-truth politics. When the STAG campaign originally got off the ground most people, including myself, were under the impression that the Council planned to fell and replace only 6000 trees. Although this figure is high it pales into insignificance next to the 17,500 ‘felling target’ first alluded to back in 2015 by the then Deputy Leader of the Council, Leigh Bramall (he actually said 18,000). Campaigners have gone back and forth trying to establish the validity of this figure, which represents half the city’s street trees, only to be told that 17,500 represents a ‘insurance policy’, not a target.
As recently as March 2018, Cllr. Bryan Lodge stated that:
“For further clarity, we explained that, while the figure of 17,500 trees is included in the contract wording, this is most certainly not a target or a fixed number that Amey must replace; it simply gives the council the option to replace this number within the agreed contract price.”
“The contract wisely gives the ratepayer ‘insurance cover’ to ensure we aren’t vulnerable to long-term risks as the health and impact of our street trees continue to change over time. If for any reason, such as major disease outbreak, the council has to replace a number of trees it can do so without any extra cost to the Sheffield ratepayer.”
This sounds reasonable enough, however his statement does not stand up to scrutiny. The part of the contract relating to tree replacement that has been published includes the following wording:
“The service provider [Amey] shall replace highway trees in accordance with the annual tree management programme at a rate of not less than 200 per year so that 17,500 highway trees are replaced by the end of the term.”
When the contract language was highlighted during unofficial communications with the Council campaigners were assured that, in spite of the turn of phrase, there is no target and that our suspicions were unfounded. Some campaigners had even begun to move to a position of granting the Council the benefit of the doubt, especially in light of positive noises coming from them with regard to upcoming ‘tree talks‘.
Then confirmation that the target is indeed nothing other than a target came from a most unlikely source, the Council themselves.
“Dear Ms Hammond,
Thank you for your recent request for information relating to Streets
Ahead Contract which we received on 30/07/2018.
Please find below, Sheffield City Council’s response to your request:
The Streets Ahead contract includes a Performance Requirement relating to
the replacement of Highway Trees.
6.38 The Service Provider shall replace Highway Trees in accordance with
the Annual Tree Management Programme at a rate of not less than 200 per
year so that 17,500 Highway Trees are replaced by the end of the Term,
such replacement to be in accordance with the highway Tree Replacement
Policy, unless Authority Approval has been obtained or deviation from this
My questions are:
1 – Please can you state whether this Performance Requirements is
mandatory or optional.
The Performance Requirements are a contractual obligation.
2 – If it is mandatory, will there be any penalties or financial
adjustments for failure to meet this Performance Requirement?
Service Point deductions could apply if the Performance Requirements are
not met. This would depend on a number of circumstances, all of which are
outlined in the Streets Ahead contract which can be found by the following
[The whole FoI request exchange can be read here.]
So who is telling the truth? It is hard to see how Cllr. Lodge’s statement from March can be understood as anything other than spin. Unfortunately this is typical of how communications around the tree replacement programme have unfolded between concerned citizens and their elected representatives. Even at the dawn of a potentially more constructive era, when it would seem that the Council are taking campaigners more seriously, facts are still being distorted and fed to an increasingly sceptical public.
Why all the layers of secrecy? The Council’s PR-machine is continuing with their attempt to deflect attention away from the issues that lie at the heart of the problem: who is responsible for the decision to fell half of Sheffield’s street trees? And how did this policy go unchallenged? Although I am not confident that these facts will ever come to light, I am as determined as ever to protect healthy street trees from bureaucratic incompetence.