We have had two sessions with SCC and Amey, totalling three days of meetings, with a three week gap to think about the information given to us in the two-day first session.
At some point Sheffield Council will have to decide they are ready to share their plans with the general public, meanwhile we are willing to keep talking to them as long as there is an opportunity to keep tree campaigners’ priorities on the agenda and make sure SCC has no illusions about how campaigners might respond to any scheme.
We have made it very clear that STAG Steering Group are not in a position to agree or endorse any plans from SCC. Campaigners, as individuals and groups, will have to decide their own response.
After the last mediated session there was pressure to produce a statement very quickly for the TV news people who were waiting outside the door. Lewis Dagnall proposed that we would each make our own statement as it was difficult to come up with something in a hurry worded carefully enough to satisfy both parties.
Cllr Dagnall then gave an interview which was surprisingly forthcoming, indicating that SCC had a plan that included saving some trees from the remaining 305 ‘Core Investment Period’ trees and phasing felling of others. He stopped short of revealing any numbers and obviously that has led to many questions and speculations.
We were quite surprised and Paul Brooke gave a brief response being careful to keep our side of the bargain and not reveal what had been discussed in confidence. The next day we put out a press release making it clear that we had not reached an agreement with SCC and it was not our remit to do so. The Star published a helpful article with a big headline making it clear that the dispute was still going on.
Right now we anticipate further meetings with SCC to clarify the detail of their proposals and ensure that, when they make their scheme public, there will be full disclosure of all the significant aspects of the plan and any issues that we believe are relevant.
The conversations we have had with SCC will be kept confidential to ensure people are willing to speak their mind. That is normal with a mediated process. But it would be unacceptable if either party refused to disclose to the public any information that is significant, especially the reasoning and evidence behind any plans or decisions. There has been far too much secrecy in the history of this dispute and the public will expect openness in any new scheme.
SCC, in consultation with Amey, have taken more than six months to come up with a plan. They have now spent a further month in discussion with ourselves and still don’t feel ready to tell the public any more than the bare bones of the scheme. It would have been much better if SCC had started talking with tree campaigners and the general public back last March and there are research methods for getting to the heart of people’s thinking if they would choose to use them (hint, they don’t include surveys or talking to your mates).
But meanwhile we re-iterate our promise that the STAG negotiating group will not come to any agreement with SCC to endorse their plans for future tree work, whatever they are. That is a matter for the campaigners and campaign groups to consider for themselves. It may be possible to agree a shared approach to some secondary matters such as how to develop a Sheffield Street Tree Strategy.
We also re-iterate the four main aims STAG have in these talks:
1) There should be no further reduction of the mature tree canopy in Sheffield by the unnecessary removal of healthy street trees.
2) Any proposals made should be based on current urban forestry good practice with independent expertise provided by the Council from outside of the contractor, Amey.
3) The future work by Amey on the management and maintenance of street trees should have proper independent oversight.
4) Sheffield City Council should adopt and implement a proper tree strategy for the sustainable stewardship of our street tree assets and the wider urban forest.
We also stated at the start of talks that it was important to have an independent inquiry or review into what had gone wrong and why.
We will also carry on sharing the information from the discussions with the wider STAG Steering Group which consists of 22 representatives from 15 local and specialised groups across the city.
– posted by Chris Rust (having consulted on the wording with the negotiation group, which is Ann Anderson, Paul Brooke, Helen Kemp, Christine King, Paul Selby, Deepa Shetty and Chris Rust)