In 2018, the Forestry Commission launched an investigation into the legality of Sheffield City Council’s actions regarding the felling of street trees. Their decision has now been published:
Read STAG’s response to this publication here.
In 2018, the Forestry Commission launched an investigation into the legality of Sheffield City Council’s actions regarding the felling of street trees. Their decision has now been published:
Read STAG’s response to this publication here.
Fresh inspections of over 200 trees that Sheffield Council had claimed had to be chopped down from city pavements as a “last resort” have identified just one that cannot be saved – leading anti-felling campaigners to say today their protests had been vindicated.
In March 2018, work to remove thousands of street trees in the city and replace them with saplings as part of a £2bn highways contract with Amey was put on hold following increasing protests against the strategy and national political condemnation of the use of dozens of police officers and private security guards to support operations.
At that time, around 300 trees earmarked for felling during the first five years of a 25-year contract had still yet to be removed after about 5,700 trees had been axed already. Campaigners argued many healthy trees could have been saved but the council repeatedly said removals were only carried out as a “last resort”.
But following months of mediated talks with campaigners, a new approach was introduced this year designed to reduce the number of trees being removed through increased use of other solutions such as kerb repairs.
So far, just one tree previously listed for felling has now been deemed unsaveable.
“It is vindication for the campaign, it is exactly what we said to them all along,” he said.
“Over the last few months we have been able to observe Amey workers doing simple highway repairs to a good standard, such as fitting thin kerbs and removing old built up tarmac.
“The announcement that 62 per cent of the 309 trees, that we due to be felled ‘as a last resort’, can now be retained indefinitely is great news but no surprise. It is what we campaigned for.
As part of an agreement reached at the end of the mediated talks, a new Street Tree Strategy for the city is to be developed and the council has announced that Liz Ballard, Chief Executive of Sheffield and Rotherham Wildlife Trust, has now been appointed to the role of independent chair of a group including campaigners and council officials which will oversee the development of the strategy.
Councillor Lewis Dagnall, cabinet member for Environment, Streetscene and Climate Change at Sheffield City Council, said: “In recent months the Council has been working closely with both Amey and representatives of STAG to enable work on the Street Tree Strategy to begin.
“Simultaneously, significant activity has been underway across the city to assess individual trees. As part of this process, a specialist team, made up of tree and highway specialists from Amey, has been exploring possible solutions to retain trees, considering all viable options and often, carrying out suitable remedial works in the same day.
“I have every confidence that the new group will navigate through what may, at times, be complex matters and arrive at a suitable, and satisfactory, resolution so that we can continue taking positive steps forward.
“Whilst it’s recognised that there are still challenges to overcome, we hope that by continuing to work with stakeholders and affected residents in an open and structured way, we will agree on a long-term solution for the benefit of everyone in the city.”
Mr Brooke said: “We hope that the development of an exemplary Street Tree Strategy will protect the future of our much needed urban forest and will result in an increase in the street canopy cover with all the health and environmental benefits that brings.”
A Forestry Commission investigation into the legality of the fellings that were carried out which was launched last year is understood to be close to completion
1. Actions from the last STAG Steering Group meeting
1.1 Paul Brooke had followed up with Dave Dillner about whether STAG had been set up as a Woodland Trust Charter branch.
1.2 Dave confirmed it had been, in his name, and was happy to transfer this to someone else in STAG.
1.3 Volunteer from STAG Steering Group required.
2. Co-chair of STAG
2.1 Christine King has volunteered to be co- chair and this has been supported by all other SG members.
3. STAG meetings with SCC
3.1 Following the lack of progress from SCC in fulfilling most/all of their promised actions, Paul Brooke has requested that the Bishop of Sheffield be involved once more to move things forward.
3.2 Consequently there has been a meeting two weeks ago between Julie Dore, Lewis Dagnall, Paul Brooke, Christine King and the Bishop. It went as well as could have been expected. The Bishop understood the score, and re-emphasised the importance of SCC following through with its promises, outlined in the joint agreement.
3.3 New dates for re-clarified actions were put in place.
3.4 Council Officers (Paul Billington) were held responsible for the delays by Councillors which, if true, should be resolved when the replacement, Mick Crofts, moves into post this week.
4. Independent Street Tree Strategy Review
4.1 Paul Brooke and Paul Selby updated Steering Group members on the meeting that Deepa, Paul and Paul had with Mick Crofts (SCC) and Liz Ballard (Wildlife Trust) the day before.
4.2 Most of the meeting was spent reviewing what had been agreed 8 weeks before with Paul Billington, and honing the wording of the “project plan.”
4.3 The high level summary is that the aim is to begin the review in July, and have the discussion phase of this wrapped up by late October or early November, with the drafting complete by the end of December, and the implementation of the new strategy beginning in April 2020.
4.4 STAG will have three members in the review group, Amey and SCC will have two each.
4.5 Other members will include an academic with a specialist in tree valuation, an expert at harnessing community partnership working with councils, the Woodland Trust, an independent arborist, and someone from another local authority who has experience of drafting and implementing a respected street tree strategy. These will form the “core steering group” membership, chaired by Liz Ballard.
4.6 The core steering group will seek input and review from other specialists (eg Ecologists, highways engineers etc) on specific topics and in quality assuring drafts.
4.7 We aim to be in a position to announce more detail publicly in approximately 3 weeks.
4.8 There was a discussion about who the STAG members would be. It’s likely to be led by Paul Selby with two from Deepa, Heather and Christine for the other two slots.
5. Forestry Commission Criminal Investigation
5.1 Paul Selby updated on the latest situation, which remains that the report is imminent
6. Pingle Road tree report
6.1 Phil Yates has been doing some forensic investigation into a tree felled on Pingle Road, which was felled “as a last resort” due to pavement damage.
6.2 The tree has now been replaced with a sapling, and the road resurfaced.
6.3 However the pavement hasn’t been resurfaced and an FoI answer has revealed that SCC/Amey believe that there is no need to resurface the pavement or plans to do so.
6.4 The old tree root remains in the pavement, and Phil has some interesting pavement scans to prove this. In other words, the tree was felled for pavement damage. But the pavement is not sufficiently damaged for it to be resurfaced!
6.5 There was a discussion what to do with Phil’s excellent report.
7. Deepening Troubles at Amey
7.1 Amey have announced a new round of redundancies, and are about to shrink their road resurfacing staff from 47 to 23, relying more in the future on subcontractors, as and when required.
7.2This has caused issues amongst their staff and is impacting on the already inefficient joint inspection process.
8. New list of 20 dead trees
8.1 Amey are still working collaboratively to notify Helen Kemp and others of newly identified dead/diseased/dying trees and a new batch of 20 were recently notified.
8.2 Many were agreed with by SG but some need querying.
8.3 Darren Butt has promised to not fell any of the trees where questions are outstanding.
8.4 Helen Kemp agreed to post details on the STAG Facebook page to keep supporters informed
9. Academic Conference on Urban Trees and Politics
9.1 There was a lengthy discussion about whether STAG should fund some places at the conference. It was ultimately agreed that it would fund two places
10. Tree Disease Conference
10.1 At the previous STAG SG meeting, Christine and Shelley had agreed to begin setting up a conference in Sheffield to discuss the emerging Phytophthora disease outbreak, and how to react to it in an urban environment, perhaps also focusing on Ash Dieback too.
10.2 Christine and Shelley were asked to update on progress when possible.
11. Fellings on Sheffield University Land
11.1 There has been some concern on STAG Facebook Group on this topic in recent weeks.
11.2 A dedicated campaigner has managed to set up a meeting with the University and asked for a STAG rep to accompany him. Heather kindly volunteered.
12. STAG Future Aims and Objectives (Legacy)
12.1 Following a discussion at the previous STAG SG meeting, Paul Brooke led a workshop session beginning to explore the future of STAG if/when a more normal relationship with SCC and Amey is in place.
12.2 Ideas were suggested, and we agreed to continue to work through these ideas at future meetings with a view to further consulting with the wider campaign in due course.
1. Matters arising
1.1 Disease issues – Paul B has contacted Dr Wilson. There is no easy route to a decision on whether to fell an individual tree with phytophthora. A discussion is needed on the technicalities in each case. Andy Greenwood will be contacted by Paul B about the potential to bring in external expertise to help form an operational plan.
1.2 The potential for a co-hosted conference on the subject was discussed. Christine, Shelley, Phil and Rebecca all expressed interest in helping investigate that.
1.3 Evidence collection for an inquiry – Christine and Helen have met Chris Rust. A website is up for collecting evidence. Justin will continue his parallel work on holding individuals to account legally. Mark is setting up forum threads which may fed into the process.
1.4 Phil is still in the process of producing a two page summary on the small saplings issue helped by Caroline Millman.
2. Round Table discussions with SCC
2.1 Paul B reported that we were still happy to meet SCC for meetings if there had been any progress on the previously agreed actions. Bishop Pete has been contacted about moving matters along. Still no date for a review meeting.
2.2 There are priority trees and streets still awaiting inspection because of the process Amey are now following.
3. Dead and notified trees
3.1 20 new trees are now on the felling list because they are dead or dying. They need inspecting by SG members. SG members asked to notify Helen K which trees they can inspect by FB thread.
4. Meeting with Louise Haigh MP
4.1 Heather and Paul B met with Louise Haigh after initial contacts. Further actions have been agreed.
5. Forestry Commision
5.1 No further feedback.
6. STAG Moderators
6.1 There was discussion on how to deal with posts tangentially connected to STAG. Agreed that they may be deleted or comments turned off to prevent clouding of directly relevant posts. Posters are usually asked to explain why posts may be relevant.
6.2 Volunteers always needed for extra moderators.
7.1 Discussion on ways of boosting sales by attendance at events and/or FB or Twitter in collaboration with Jane Miller.
8. Meeting with Andy Greenwood
8.1 Andy showed their interactive map of all street trees. Agreed it has lots of potential uses.
9. 3D scans
9.1 Phil has done 3D scans of Millhouses Lane. It will show any deviations from straight kerbs and any future movement of structures, eg walls.
9.2 Contact Phil if anyone has any potential uses for the technology, eg third party claims.
10.1 Flagged up need for STAG to work on legacy issues. Work to be done at next meeting.
10.2 Tree Charter Day 23 November – What might STAG do? Dave to be contacted by Paul B about our membership status.
10.3 Flagged up for next meeting with Amey – What are they doing about vandalism issue?
1. Update about 3rd Party Fellings
1.1 At the previous STAG Steering Group meeting, there had been a lengthy discussion about 3rd party reasons for felling. Specifically, about the reasonable process relating to Insurance claims against street trees from residents but also about the very weak process for simple accusations of damage.
1.2 Paul Brooke and Heather Russell met Darren Butt and Amey colleagues in early March to discuss concerns about the process in general, plus specific concerns about a number of trees recently listed for felling for this reason, including the most prominent one, on Upper Albert Road.
1.3 The discussion went positively, with Amey removing all but one of the trees listed for felling from the list, with hardly any discussion.
1.4 The one tree still listed for felling is in Fulwood, and relates to a resident chopping big roots of a street tree that were within the households boundary. This is something the resident is legally allowed to do, but was advised not to by Amey. The tree is now unsafe, and Paul Brooke visited to confirm this, so it will have to be felled.
1.5 Ensuring the 3rd party felling process is satisfactory in the long term will be dealt with in the upcoming Street Tree Strategy Review
2. Finance Update
2.1 Ahead of the meeting, Chris Rust had shared the latest update on STAG Finances.
2.2 Discussion took place about the summary, and the four recommendations put forward by Chris for action.
2.3 consensus decisions were reached on the 4 recommendations for action.
3. Joint Inspections Feedback
3.1 The daily reports on the STAG Facebook page contain most of the relevant information required so not much need for discussion at the meeting.
3.2 There was a brief discussion about the shocking organisation and communications of Streets Ahead.
3.3 All agreed to formally record in the minutes of the meeting the huge thanks to all who have taken part in the joint inspections so far.
4. Publishing Outcomes of the Joint Inspections
4.1 Despite regular chasing emails, and fortnightly meetings, SCC are prevaricating.
4.2 The Joint Agreement that was published in early December makes clear that all trees inspected would be reported on, and would include the asset value of the tree, the joint assessment of any damage caused, a cost benefit analysis of retaining the tree, and the SCC decision.
4.3 SCC seem to have woken up to the fact that this would mean publishing on their own website the information that they would be felling trees worth £30,000+ despite a solution being available that may cost less than £1000. Also that Amey would be responsible for the cost and all because SCC wouldn’t accept a kerb that isn’t completely straight.
4.4 The prevarication led Paul Brooke to ask Bishop Pete to get involved, which has caused SCC to agree once again to comply with the Joint Agreement.
4.5 Some of the finer details of the decision making process from SCC are still to be agreed on.
4.6 However, Amey will be sending their assessments to STAG first, for us to complete our own assessments on the same document, prior to submission to SCC.
4.7 Agreement that the first set of decisions would be on 8 trees out of the 47 or so trees inspected in the first few weeks of the Joint Inspection Process.
4.8 Still no dates for when this will be, but likely to be sometime in the next six weeks.
5.1 The Whitely Wood trees which are looking very sick, and have absolutely confirmed diagnosis, will be felled this week, subject to weather conditions.
5.2 The other trees, including those on Thornsett Road, still need their disease to be absolutely confirmed.
5.3 New insight is emerging about potential ways of treating trees with Phytophthora, including with fungicide injections.
5.4 Also, whilst the best practice of clear felling trees with infectious disease makes sense in commercial forestry, it is not completely clear this is best practice in urban forestry so work to bring in outside experts is ongoing.
6. Independent Street Tree Strategy Review
6.1 Paul Brooke, Paul Selby and Deepa Shetty met with Paul Billington and Liz Ballard.
6.2 The aim had been to not say too much up front and get Liz to outline her own thoughts on how she would want the review to be conducted.
6.3 All present were extremely positive about Liz. It was clear she was not afraid to challenge Paul Billington, and had a reputational stake in getting it right, recognising that her and the Wildlife Trust would be criticised by campaigners if not.
6.4 She made a number of good suggestions for other experts who should sit on the group that she would chair.
6.5 STAG Steering Group agreed with the choice of Liz Ballard as chair of the Independent Review
6.6 The next meeting is likely to be in roughly a months time, and would get into the detail of Terms of Reference, governance, membership and timescales.
7. Tree Planting
7.1 Paul Brooke reported that the Paul Powlesland/Calvin Payne tree planting the previous weekend had gone well.
7.2 The intent is to do something similar, with more notice, in the 2019/2020 planting season.
7.3 Russell Johnson offered to lead on this topic for STAG Steering Group.
8.1 At the previous meeting, Christine King and Helen Kemp had offered to work with Chris Rust to draw up a high level plan for what 10 or so key topics the Inquiry needed to cover and which we would to collect evidence for. This followed Chris’s offer previously to set up a repository for storing the key evidence.
8.2 Christine and Helen reconfirmed their support for this and had contacted Chris.
9. It’s Our City
9.1 Shelley Cockayne gave an update on this initiative for our information.
10. Overly Small Saplings
10.1 Phil Yates has worked hard and collected evidence about lies and incompetence from both SCC and Amey on this topic, something we’d discussed in more detail at the previous months meeting.
10.2 Paul Brooke asked Phil to condense the evidence into a simple two page story, that could be used by the media, for example.
11.1 Paul Billington had announced in the Street Tree Strategy meeting that he was taking early retirement, and will be around for the next three months only. He doesn’t know who his replacement will be, or indeed if there will be one.
1. Update on Inspections and recent conversations with Amey and SCC
1.1 Broadly positive feedback on new approach as all the Facebook updates etc show.
1.2 Amey drawing up recommendations to go to SCC. Most reports recommending to SCC that inspected trees are retained.
1.3 Even with the ones that can’t be retained by immediate solutions, Amey are generally recommending that trees be retained, should the Council agree to vary the contract specification.
1.4 Some solutions might require technical drawings which could delay decisions as they will have to be submitted to SCC Highways dept.
1.5 The main problem is delay on the SCC side on making any decisions official.
1.6 There does seem to be disconnect between the politicians and the officers, with the politicians believing that flexibility is being allowed and communicated to Amey whilst Amey operatives are telling STAG that this hasn’t been communicated to them. It would be helpful to clarify this at the next STAG/SCC meeting.
1.7 The very recent move by Amey to inspect all trees on a road (including phased felling trees and currently non-threatened trees) is broadly seen as a good thing. Amey’s aim is to put in place a “whole road solution” that saves all the trees in one location also ensuring that currently safe trees don’t get identified for felling later on. For example, a “whole road solution” for Rundle Road might involve bringing the whole kerb line out by a few centimetres.
1.8 Whilst this was recognised as a good idea there are risks if SCC do not agree. The inspection of currently safe trees on Rundle Road is identifying roots in the carriageway, potentially meaning they are added to the felling list, should SCC not allow the kerb line to be brought out or curved kerb lines to be implemented. This will be added to the list of things to be discussed at the next SCC/STAG meeting.
1.9 Agreed to target Hugh’s time at investigations to reduce strain on his time.
2. Street Tree Strategy
2.1 Meeting arranged with potential chair for meeting on Street Tree Strategy, Liz Ballard.
2.2 Some campaigners are very concerned about Liz Ballard being compromised and not a suitable chair for a meeting. The specific concerns are that the Wildlife Trust receives a small amount of its overall funding from SCC, and that it has to maintain good relations with SCC in the long run.
2.3 There was some discussion. A decision on the chair still hasn’t been made. Others have been approached, but none have yet shown interest.
2.4 An exploratory meeting with Liz is planned in the next few weeks where questions will be posed to ascertain her suitability as a chair as far as STAG is concerned.
3. Third party damage fellings
3.1 Four more third party damage trees have recently been notified to STAG by Amey, and their intention is to fell soon. Of these four, three are scheduled for simple third party damage, one for subsidence.
3.2 Heather pointed out that she and other Steering Group members had met Darren Butt in the late summer to discuss Amey processes around this. They were relatively confident about Amey’s processes around subsidence, as it involved insurers, and a proper monitoring and inspection process.
3.3 However they were not at all confident with the process Amey use to investigate simple third party damage claims. If a resident blames a tree for damaging a boundary wall, an Amey staff member visits, makes a judgement and a recommendation.
3.4 Steering Group agreed that this process potentially opens up many more trees for felling should residents make debatable complaints.
3.5 In the short term Steering Group agreed that these concerns needed to be expressed to Amey and SCC urgently at the next meeting.
3.6 In the longer term robust processes for Third party damage claims need to be reflected in the Street Tree Strategy.
4.1 There was a brief discussion. Currently no agreed list of the issues that need to form the basis of any inquiry.
4.2 Helen Kemp and Christine King agreed to work with Chris Rust on this. Paul Brooke said he’d contact Chris.
5. SCC Cabinet changes
5.1 it was noted that Cllr. Dagnall now has additional responsibilities following Cllr. Scott’s removal and that the Cabinet now has only 9 members.
6. Local Groups and the upcoming Local Elections
6.1 Local groups may wish to look at who they might want to support in their area.
6.2 Theresa Green has drafted some questions for local candidates. Local groups may wish to use these in their area. Paul S and Paul H happy to comment on these if required.
7. Roles and Responsibilities of local group representatives
7.1 The question was raised as to how much activity local reps should be organising. Agreed this was a matter for local circumstances to determine. Communication, via whatever means is most appropriate for each group, is the key responsibility.
7.2 SNET has an informative information dissemination mechanism and anyone who wishes to sign up can do so via the SNET website.
8. Facebook Group daily “Pink Boxes”
8.1 Agreed to continue sharing pink boxes on local websites despite one complaint. SG members encouraged to like and comment on these where possible and/or appropriate.
9.1 STOMP have been measuring a large number of the replacement saplings as they believed they were smaller than the contract specification and not what had been quoted in multiple court cases. Their evidence from around 295 saplings is that 100 or so of them are indeed too small.
9.2 This is not just recent ones from the “dodgy batch” (see below) that Amey records acknowledge are too small, but also ones which Amey records say are the correct size
9.3 The “dodgy batch” of saplings are a large order of trees which Amey had mistakenly accepted and paid for even though they were the wrong size. Darren Butt has openly admitted to this error. No evidence that SCC have requested any action as a result.
9.4 Christine and Caroline agreed to work with Phil to come up with a simple document of evidence to be sent to Cllr Dagnall requesting answers and rectification.
10. Anniversary Celebration
10.1 Cecilie mentioned that she was organising a social to celebrate it being a year since the felling pause began. Agreed that this was a good idea, so Cecilie will continue arrangements.
10.2 Also mentioned that it was John Errington’s memorial party on 24 March.
1. Joint Investigations
1.1 Amey teams are currently averaging one investigation per day.
1.2 Most of STAG observers have now seen at least one investigation.
1.3 Amey pavement crews have been authorised by Arbs to cut tree roots up to 25mm in diameter.
1.4 The works that save trees could throw up information for test cases around the issues of work outside the narrow limits of the contract that could have been done before.
2. Meeting with SCC/Amey
2.1 Notes of meeting have been produced by Christine.
2.2 Issue of straight kerbs raised by Julie Dore. She has stated that the teams have been authorised to be flexible about this within the bounds of ensuring public safety and mitigating flood risk issues.
2.3 The learning from the investigations will be taken into the joint review process involving Amey, SCC and STAG.
3. Ecclesall Road parking meter works
3.1 Shelley raised an issue that had arisen following recent works to dig holes for new parking meters. One hole outside Spencer’s Estate Agents had a root from a nearby tree tracking through it.
3.2 Russell to query with Arbs at next investigation to see whether they had been consulted about how to proceed.
4. Street Tree Strategy – Chair
4.1 Paul B had initiated exchanges with Liz Ballard from SRWT.
4.2 Ian Rotherham has stated that he is willing to be on panel, but not willing to Chair it.
4.3 Therefore Liz Ballard is the only currently proposed Chair.
4.4 Queries have been raised over potential conflicts of interest with SRWT because of some of their contractual relationships with SCC.
4.5 It was felt important that there was at least independent arboricultural expertise to input to the panel.
4.6 Paul B to express our potential concerns to Liz Ballard to gauge whether they were valid.
4.7 Agreed that if there was another Chair we would still be happy for her to be on the panel.
5. Tree Officers
5.1 Deepa raised the issue of the lack of Tree Officer expertise in the Council. Now is an opportune time to raise with SCC. To be raised at next joint meeting.
5.2 Lee mentioned that an FOI found that the contract states that a “Council Tree Officer” has to sign off trees that need felling according to Amey. He will send another FOI to ask for details of who has signed off fellings.
5.3 Paul B and Chris R to raise at next joint meeting.
6. Ombudsman decisions
6.1 Ombudsman has stated that SCC have lied about the information they gave to a resident about he Aldam Way alder tree. Has stated that they must apologise.
6.2 Chris R has prepared a press release which will go out after the news about the SYP compensation to protesters has died down.
6.3 In addition a complaint about repeat parking notices has been upheld by the Ombudsman.
6.4 Once the Ombudsman report has been published local groups may wish to take out additional complaints in relation to some of their trees.
7. DEFRA consultation
7.1 STAG response to this would be good.
7.2 Christine has put Woodland Trust information into the document to help with responses.
7.3 Phil will forward Paul S email to Christine to put on Steering Group page.
7.4 Christine will try to amalgamate comments and input into joint response.
7.5 Deadline is 28 February.
8. STAG Aims and Objectives
8.1 Some aims and objectives are on Facebook Page. Slightly different ones are on the website.
8.2 The terms of reference for the talks would seem to form basis of a reasonable set of objectives which may reflect the changed situation better. Only item missing is desire to increase street tree canopy cover.
8.3 Paul B to draft new set of objectives on basis of 8.2 above and circulate for comments.
9.1 Position remains open. Work will be shared around SG while this remains the case.
10. Steering Group Representatives
10.1 Cecilie will be stepping down from representing Crookes, Walkley and Western Road group. May continue on SG as 2nd rep for Fun Group. Elizabeth Mountain will replace her for Crookes group.
10.2 Question of how many reps from which groups to be returned to at a later meeting.
11. Compensation from SYP
11.1 Some queries have been raised about what happens to this money. Stated that this is a matter for individuals concerned and is not a STAG matter.
12. Town Hall 6 February
12.1 Joint protest tomorrow with Extinction Rebellion group.
13. Decorations on saved trees
13.1 There was no agreement on what style or colour should be used. Local groups should do their own thing. Recommended that yellow ribbons be left in place
14. Next meeting – 5 March 2019, venue tbc