Update on Tree Talks

STAG Steering Group has been working with Cllr Lewis Dagnall on arrangements for the long awaited ‘talks’ and we can now confirm the details.

The Bishop of Sheffield will chair a process of talks that will be independently facilitated by an experienced professional mediator.

The first session will be over 2 days on the 27th and 28th September. Follow up sessions in October are planned and dates are to be confirmed.

Representatives for the Council, Amey and STAG will work to a framework set out by the independent facilitator.

With Cllr Dagnall we have jointly appointed Fiona Colquhoun from CEDR to design and manage a process of talks as the independent facilitator. We are confident in her independence and experience and she has explained that she will treat this in the same way as any other mediation between two parties in dispute. In preparation, Fiona has been to Sheffield twice, has met campaigners and been shown examples of the healthy trees currently planned for felling.

STAG have been clear on the broad aims that we have and the Council has stated that it will share new proposals on the remaining 306 trees originally scheduled for felling in the Core Investment Period and wants to discuss the future management of street trees. 
STAG has made it clear that it cannot make decisions or commitments on behalf of the large number of diverse campaigners and groups across Sheffield. They will make up their own minds, but we will make every effort to represent the concerns and doubts that campaigners will have.

The need for a process over a period of time is because following the 1st session, STAG will need to consult with a wider group of professional experts and with the membership of STAG local action groups. The STAG representatives are being finalised but we are pleased to confirm that David Elliott (from Trees for Cities) will be joining us. We have offers of support to provide us with professional expertise that we can call on when we know what proposals are being put forward by the Council.

Sharing information (please bear with us). The facilitator will require that all parties sign up to an agreement covering behaviour and confidentiality during the process. This is normal and to be expected. It may limit what information we can share on a public platform during the process and we anticipate that any press statements will be jointly agreed if all goes well.

There is the possibility of genuine change and for the evidence put forward by campaigners over many years to be listened to. Until we try we will not know.

– Paul Brooke, STAG Co-Chair.

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Posted in Council tree talks

STAG Steering Group meeting: 28th August 2018

1. Notification Process for Urgent Fellings
1.1 Process still hit and miss. Earlier notification would be better than the current one or two days.
1.2 Specific problem identified with a tree in Wadsley with a sign for felling from 17th August. It states felling is due to disease and will happen at some point in the proceeding two weeks. Spotted by a resident but the STAG hadn’t been notified of this by Amey. This omission would be raised with Lewis Dagnall and Darren Butt.
1.3 The tree on Upper Albert Road, which was notified to STAG a while back, is still being queried. Heather Russell has a number of FoI requests outstanding about this tree. 1.4 Christine took an action to ask Helen McIlroy to contact Darren Butt to warn him that Amey should not attempt to fell. It is likely to be protested against by local residents and attempting to fell would harm trust at this very sensitive time.

2. Tree Replacements
2.1 Christine notified SG of a survey one of her group had completed of nearly all the tree replacements in her local area. Findings listed below.
2.2 The sapling failure rate (even with lots of residents watering trees) is much higher than Amey’s claimed 1%.
2.3 The trees being planted are not what Amey had promised to plant (often being unsuitable for the location).
2.4 Lots of the trees planted in verges have been seriously damaged/weakened by grass strimmers
2.5 Christine agreed to write up a high level summary of what had been found.
2.6 Chris/Paul Brooke will then present to Sheffield Council as an emerging issue. If no agreement for us to work together on resolving, STAG could take to the media.
2.7 Christine also gave a brief update on the People’s Audit, from her recent involvement.

3. Financial Update
3.1 Chris gave a high level update.
3.2 Chris made the point that for any future fundraising it needs to be clear for what purpose money is being raised.

4. Talks with Sheffield Council
4.1 Chris and Paul gave a detailed update.
4.2 Two potential facilitators have been ruled out because of prior links to Sheffield Council.
4.3 Two potential organisations are acceptable to both sides and a decision will be made in due course.
4.4 Agreed to confirm which facilitators should be used only when we know more detail about how the talks might be conducted.
4.5 Chis and Paul B had met Bishop Pete to get a feel for his role in the talks. It appears that the Council haven’t been particularly clear with him about this. However both Chris and Paul had been impressed and reassured by his statements.
4.6 Chris and Paul will make a proposal to Steering Group in the next few days about how they believe the STAG side of the talks should be conducted and who should be the Stag reps.

5. Forestry Commission investigation
5.1 Chris and Paul S gave an update on the current situation.

6. Independent Enquiry
6.1 Paul B stated that STAG had been open with the Council that it would continue to call for an Independent Enquiry into the last three years events.

7. No Stump City
7.1 No Stump City have approached STAG with a request to become one of the member groups of STAG.
There was a discussion with the general consensus that we should accept, subject to a few conditions.
However a formal vote was thought important, which will be done for all Steering Group members on Facebook, shortly after the meeting.

8. STAG Support for Roy’s WR protest
8.1 Russell raised the point that Roy’s protest at the Town Hall each week was attracting lots of good PR attention and that more support would be welcomed.
8.2 It presented opportunities for other aspects of the campaign to other issues to be highlighted alongside Roy’s campaign.
8.3 One NSC member is supporting Roy a lot, but doesn’t have a car and doesn’t use Facebook, so has requested more help with taking props down to the Town Hall and promoting the initiative.
8.4 It was suggested that this request should be put to the Crookes and Western Road local group for further consideration. Roy’s campaign will continue to be promoted on the STAG FB page.

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Posted in Minutes from official meetings

STAG Steering Group meeting: 31st July 2018

1. Funding Position
1.1 Chris summarised the latest position, having sent round the details a few days earlier.
1.2 There was discussion about which order various costs and demands should be paid. Options were agreed.

2. Discussions with the Council
2.1 Cllr Dagnall wrote to Chris and Paul Brooke as co-chairs of STAG late last week about opening talks.
2.2 The tone was more positive than previous letters. However it left many questions unanswered which Paul Brooke had requested answers to.
2.3 There were some answers received just prior to the meeting. A subsequent conversation between Chris and a Council official answered some more.
2.4 On the whole Steering Group members remain sceptical about Council reassurances until such time as their actions demonstrate a change of direction.
2.5 It was agreed that we should agree to hold an initial meeting, as per the invite in the letter. This first meeting could be characterised as “talks to agree how to go about the future talks”.
2.6 However there were a number of key questions that needed answering before any agreement could be made to attend further meetings after the initial meeting.

3. Early warning about urgent fellings
3.1 warnings were still being received with short notice.
3.2 A question had been raised about a tree on Upper Albert Road, which the Council claim is doing damage to a third party property. Inspection by a highways engineer friendly to the campaign suggests very minor cracks to a garden wall, not necessarily sufficient on its own to justify felling the tree.
3.3 The Council have produced no evidence of monitoring or validation of any insurance claim. Therefore, at present, local campaigners might protest at the felling, if/when felling crews arrive.

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Posted in Minutes from official meetings

Sheffield Council ‘has no obligation to axe 17,500 trees despite contract payment’ – Yorkshire Post

https://www.yorkshirepost.co.uk/news/sheffield-council-has-no-obligation-to-axe-17-500-trees-despite-contract-payment-1-9318854

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Posted in Blog, Citywide Tree Preservation Order, Healthy Felling, News

When is a target not a target?

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 
policy. 
  
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 
link: 
[1]http://www.sheffield.gov.uk/content/shef… 

[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.

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Posted in Blog, Council tree talks, Streets Ahead contract analysis

Thoughts on the Council talks process

by Paul Selby (of Save Nether Edge Trees)

First then, to the talks. I attach an image of the press release from STAG Steering Group about the talks. To be clear, there is still a huge degree of scepticism about the talks across campaigners, and the first meeting is only really a meeting to discuss how the full main talks might be conducted. Whilst it’s easy to be sceptical, particularly given everything that has happened this last 3 years, it is still important to realise this is the first time that Sheffield Council seem to be wanting to handle conversations with campaigners properly. All historic conversations, prior to March 2018, were pretty much lectures by various Councillors or Officials about why the campaign was wrong. The campaign has for a long time sought external facilitation of any talks, to ensure the Council acted appropriately and didn’t simply filibuster meetings with non-core issues and lectures. These new talks will have external facilitation, as the Council have now agreed to this important step. The tone from the Council has also changed.

Where there are still real concerns, it is that appears that the Council are going to be coming to the campaign with a fully formed plan. No external independent tree experts have been involved in formulating the plan, it is has been created by the Council and Amey alone. Now, theoretically, the plan could be a perfect one, but given the lack of consultation in constructing the plan, this is clearly a cause for concern.

Two side issues to the talks, a personal perspective from me, about realism.

Firstly I’ve heard a number of people in the campaign stating that the aim of the talks should be to end the PFI contract. We’re all entitled to our views, but let me clear from a Save Nether Edge Trees perspective, we are a local street tree campaign group. Yes we have major concerns about the PFI contract. But our primary aim is (and always has been) to ensure that all healthy street trees that can reasonably be retained using industry best practice, are retained. That is the aim of our campaign and indeed is what we’ve fed into the overall city wide STAG position. Now it may be that this aim can’t be achieved without a change to the PFI contract (or termination of it). But it may be that our aims can be achieved without changes to the PFI contract. So to repeat, ending the PFI contract is not a primary aim. If people have that goal as a primary aim, they need to also join other groups.

Secondly, I’ve heard a number of people state that the talks should be 100% recorded on video. I totally agree that, in a perfect world, they should be. The fight for transparency is something that drives me in both my job and my personal life. But I’m also a pragmatic realist. I know that there are things that the Council can say in private that they couldn’t say publicly. Key things. Things that may be crucial in helping the talks move forward to our desired outcome. I say this from a strong evidence base. Very few (if any) peace deals in history have been held in full open transparency. The honest truth is that we don’t live in a perfect world, and so to achieve the outcomes we want, and to allow the Council to be honest (privately) about potential solutions that are available, we need to be realistic about how much transparency is possible. To be clear, that doesn’t mean there won’t be ongoing open feedback to wider campaigners as talks progress. There will be.

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Posted in Council tree talks

Invitation to talks from Sheffield City Council, and STAG’s reply

A message from STAG Co-Chair Paul Brooke:

Dear Tree Campaigners

There has been some speculation on the promised talks between SCC, Amey and STAG representatives. In this post I’ve put pictures of the letters received from Cllr Dagnall and the reply sent today from STAG Steering Group.

We have set out four broad areas that we need to discuss in the proposed talks and these are drawn from the local group consultations done some months ago. In addition we are reiterating our call for an independent inquiry. (Letter extract below)

Chris and I, along with the group representatives on the Steering Group, are under no illusion as to the difficulties ahead in any discussions with SCC and Amey. We have made it clear that any talks will need to include time for STAG representatives to consult via local groups. Check the pinned post for contact details for local groups.

We understand SCC is planning to consult with other groups and organisations but we have no information on that at this point.

We are assured that the ‘pause’ will continue. Our campaign will continue.

Paul

 

STAG letter extract

We want to be clear on the broad aims that STAG has for a process of talks and that we consider are essential for the Council and Amey to take account of in any proposals and options you publish.

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 to 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. 

It is also our intention that a process of dialogue will lead to a parallel examination of how and why Sheffield arrived at the current position we are in, with the establishment of an independent inquiry into issues including but not exclusively; the contract specification, felling targets and incentives, information and media releases, the Independent Tree Panel and the actions of tree campaigners, Council officers, Amey and its contractors and South Yorkshire Police.

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Posted in Letters to and from Sheffield City Council
Crowdfunder: street trees legal fund

We are currently collecting to support the small number of campaigners who are facing court costs after cases brought by Sheffield City Council.

Sheffield Street Tree Festival

We are proud to announce  the first Sheffield Street Tree Festival with events taking place throughout the day on Saturday 29th September.

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