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)
September, autumn is setting in, and I’m driving from Devon to Nether Edge in Sheffield to learn about one of the most outstanding environmental stories of our time. The Sheffield Street Tree Festival is a perfect reason and excuse to go back to this city I loved. Returning to a once familiar place is always a little strange. Its picture-perfect, sandstone suburbs, edge of gothic storybook houses nestled amongst broad, gently curving streets and rare arboreal magnificence were my home-from-home for some 8 years. The people I knew then long gone, what is bringing me back now are the trees which have been disappearing, and the people taking action to stop that happening. I wanted to meet them, and to find out first-hand about their experiences and what the future for the city’s trees, and wider ecology in connection, looks set to hold.
The issue affects people living in and beyond the more privileged leafy-suburbs; trees are important for us all. Grown, healthy trees have been earmarked for substitution with saplings across the city. According to experts, the majority of the thousands of trees already taken, (and the 12,000 more still planned for felling over the next 20 years) were (and are not) in need of being replaced. A sapling for a prematurely lost, well-grown tree is a hugely unequal exchange. Executed on such a huge scale it is dangerous folly, and not only because air pollution levels in the city are already too high. Being sacrificed to city council and multinational corporate profiteering, Sheffield’s ecology — which includes humanity — is under enormous threat. Illnesses such as depression, anxiety and adrenal exhaustion are increasing in states of solastalgia as well-being is sacrificed to the tearing out of trees, as the campaigner and writer Joanna Dobson has noted. Through acts and events of indifference and despotism to force tree removals, the democratic reputation of the city council is in tatters, too.
Tall, in their prime. They lift your spirit. Leafy skies to look up to, shelter under, hear birdsong from, see tiny aspects of the other lives they support. A place of memory, a spot to meet friends. Beauty. Comfort, reassurance, inspiration. Marker of seasons, giver of fresh air and life. Despite their value, whether immeasurable or economically assessed, and although they were deeply wanted by the people who live alongside them.
In the independent collaborative report on the Capital Asset Value (CAVAT) of the street trees in Sheffield subject to the city council’s £2.2 billion Private Finance Initiative (PFI) contract with Amey PLC authored by volunteer expert, Ian Dalton, Matt Larsen-Daw of the Woodland Trust writes why the hard numbers are important. Although such surveys cannot include everything that trees mean and do, ‘The findings from such surveys … remind … that trees are not passive decoration, but active agents of change working for the benefit of wildlife, people and the environment. Our relationship with the trees around us is challenged. If they are working hard for us, shouldn’t we be prepared to work hard to help them survive and thrive?’
Festival speakers discussed the need to communicate and exchange with planners and engineers using CAVAT language, reasoning and signifiers. On the Street Tree Festival stage, urban forestry expert Russell Horsey shared his experience of this in Bristol and elsewhere. Adopting economic rationales for keeping street trees alive does not mean losing the deeper meaning or the relationships between people and trees: ‘the soft values are still there’. It means working and communicating effectively to achieve what is needed for healthy, sustainable urban environments. He noted the knock-on effects of tree-lined bus routes having been created in Bristol: public transport usage up by 50 per cent, private car use and hence pollution levels down, and qualitative and quantitative high-street retail benefits. This is wonderful for Bristol (although Horsey also noted that in fear of competition, people did not want to share the tree-based reasons for their local success). So, what about Sheffield?
With so much taken and gone, I expected to hear a large measure of embitterment and cynicism amongst the people with such a long fight ahead. I didn’t. The Street Tree Festival was much more the celebration it promised to be: ‘multifaceted, joyful and thought-provoking’, learning and sharing about the conflict and successful peaceful resistance, as well as about the trees.
Sheffield’s experience and people’s creative responses have made it a beacon twice over. In the first sense, the city heralds warnings. Though it sounds bizarre in a land where we still expect democratic process, the cutting of Sheffield’s beloved street trees began without the majority of the public realising what was happening or the scale of what was planned. Prior community consultation on the removal of street trees was poorly attempted, unconvincing,ineffective. The council’s invitations to residents were limited to one brown and unpersonalised envelope per household, presenting much like any old junk mail, rather than clearly signposting access for individuals to vital democratic participation and ecological responsibility. They were, unsurprisingly, overwhelmingly ignored rather than responded to. As Professor Jennifer Saul has documented, the council’s initial public discourse was of improving streets, of removing only the trees that needed to be removed — and when it became evermore clear this was not the truth, authoritarian methods were used to force their plans forward. And the Council simply lied, denying there was any plan and the content of it, until they had to admit otherwise.
When public realisation dawned that a massive process of ecological destruction was underway, people did respond, creatively and with determination. There’s laughter across the auditorium at mention of Councillor Jack Scott’s 2013 request for volunteer citizen ‘tree champions’ to look out for problems and help care for street trees, with Scott having been so centrally involved in the destructive policy of felling so many healthy trees. With the laughter came the comment: ‘he got his tree champions!’. They were just more ecologically conscious, braver, more committed, and more independent- and community-minded than the councillor had bargained for.
And with that, Sheffield has become a beacon in another sense: a torchlight for others experiencing similarly drysmian politics and environmental degradation. Local community campaign groups sprang up, linked, communicated and co-ordinated. Their organisation throughout the city under the umbrella group Sheffield Street Tree Action Groups (STAG) demonstrate concrete working examples of successful, peaceful, direct actions, how to create them, and reach out for effective support. Publishing videos of people, often pensioners, risking their physical well-being by chaining themselves to trees and being roughly handled by security workers are obvious headline moments in the campaign. Sharing knowledge of the law and its due process is, as ever, key for protesters in such circumstances.
But there’s been more: yarn-bombing and craft decorations, messages of love for the trees in chalk graffiti, poetry and singing, applications for Tree Protection Orders (which are, it is worth noting, in legal hierarchy trumped by Highways), connections made with experts, and the making of art, individually and in community. Many examples decorated the grounds and entrance at the Street Tree Festival, placards, and collections of tree drawings that seen together are affecting in their differences of colour, styles, perspectives, details, all the while portraying affection, contemplation, awe, wonder, and mystery within each of unknown connection between the sketcher and what a tree is to them.
Visual artist Lynne Chapman’s talk on bringing the urban sketching movement into play into the campaign was inspiring and instructive. Urban sketching is about going out into the world and taking time to stop being busy, to observe and simply to be, to rest in the sketching of something, portraying what is seen. She emphasised ‘it’s about process, not result — you do not have to be an artist’. She also spoke of the effect of the tree crisis on her community; how she now ‘knows her neighbours’, people to whom she would before have said little more than ‘hello’. Many of her campaign drawings are of the Sheffield tree fellings and protests taking place.
For me, the most touching story was of what happened on Armistice or Remembrance Day 2017, when some 100 people gathered to draw the trees on the Western Road alongside Chapman. As I looked through a large collection of drawings outside the main door, someone explained that each one of the Western Road trees had been planted in memoriam of a soldier killed in the First World War. And all of the soldiers represented had been to the primary school on that very street. Given the role of education in producing James Joll’s ‘mood of 1914’ — the nationalistic beliefs and sentiments that drove popular support for the war — the placing of these trees is particularly poignant, the memory more than important.
The Sheffield Street Tree conflict may seem a long way and very different from the history of the First World War. But Sheffield is just one example of a phenomenon of environmental conflicts around the world in which deaths are the result and financial gain above well-being the cause. There are parallels in all conflicts, and there are responses other than violence to unwanted situations — whether damaged pavements and roads, inequality of resources, environments and ownership, or harsh changes to one’s home environment.
When common enemies effect bringing people together, recognition and creative use and appreciation of that — despite whatever suffering has been caused — is a key step in working towards peaceful transformation of a conflict. Another is realising how common ground, and air, and language, and cares, are also shared. Sheffield’s street tree campaigners seem to know this well.
The first Sheffield Street Tree Festival was held on Saturday 29th September 2018, beginning with a choice of bird, elm and tree walks and continuing in the Merlin Theatre and its grounds in Nether Edge. Alongside of yoga, stalls, singing, placards, and conversation outside on the lawn, speakers in the theatre included the poet Robert Macfarlane, artist Nick Hayes, novelist Gregory Norminton, writer Peter Fiennes, artist Lynne Chapman, Dr Nicola Dempsey, David Elliott (Chief Executive of Trees for Cities), Rebecca Hammond (STAG), Russell Horsey and Joe Coles (Woodland Trust). Professor Jennifer Saul and Dr Katharine Cox chaired the panels. Local people from the campaign also spoke, and after copies of Robert Macfarlane and Jackie Morris’sThe Lost Wordswere presented to representatives of Sheffield schools, a community choir sang ‘Heartwood’, a poem written by Robert Macfarlane especially for Sheffield, but also as ‘a charm-against-harm for all trees everywhere threatened with unjust felling’.
Thank you to Paul Selby for his insightful talk and walk on Elm trees.
The full programme and further information can be found here:
1. Finances Update 1.1 Chris gave an update on the state of STAG finances. 1.2 There was a brief discussion about whether we should use this opportunity to pay off any loans outstanding. However Chris confirmed that all the individuals owed money were content to keep the current loans outstanding. 1.3 It was confirmed that the merchandising spend and income should have accounts. 1.4 There are two crowdfunders currently open. 1.5 All of the above information will soon be published in more detail with the STAG Steering Group minutes on the STAG website 1.6 STAG Steering Group wanted to formally record their thanks to Save Nether Edge Trees for their recent and historic efforts to organise so many events to raise money for the campaign overall.
2. Talks with Sheffield Council 2.1 The facilitator will soon be confirmed. Likely to be Fiona from CEDR. 2.2 They have expertise at complex multi-party community disputes. 2.3 Paul Brooke and Chris Rust have met Fiona twice now, and a number of other campaigners had recently met her as she did some tree walks to try to get a better understanding of the situation. 2.4 Paul and Chris sought Steering Group approval to go ahead and confirm Fiona as facilitator. 2.5 Fiona has already shifted the Council’s thinking about how long the talks will take. The Council had previously thought it might only take two two-hour meetings, but they now understand it could take two full days, followed by a minimum of another full day a few weeks later, with potentially more again needed if necessary. 2.6 When Paul Brooke and Chris Rust last met Lewis Dagnall, he also thought the process would take quite a few months. He also confirmed that there was no pressure from Amey to speed things up, and that he felt it was more important to get the right outcome regardless of time. 2.7 Still to be absolutely confirmed, but the first two full days for the talks are likely to be 27 and 28 September. 2.8 SG then held quite a long discussion about who should be represented on the STAG side given we could have up to six people in the room. 2.9 Chris and Paul Brooke had nominated themselves as co-chairs of STAG, and sought views on whether there was support for this. There was no dissent. 2.10 David Elliott (from Trees for Cities) was also suggested as another person, and again there was no dissent. 2.11 Paul Selby was also nominated. Again there was no dissent. 2.12 The final two participants are still to be decided, but there was a short list of suggestions, some in Steering Group, some not. These will be considered over the next few days, based upon availability, willingness to participate, and expertise. 2.13 On top of the main six fronting the talks, there is clearly going to be the need for many more supporting, both on the day in the background. 2.14 It was agreed that all Steering Group members should be part of this “wider group”. 2.15 Other names were also suggested, including independent arborists and independent highways engineers.
3. Forestry Commission Investigation 3.1 Paul Selby gave an update on this including input required from STAG.
4. Felling notification process 4.1 Not much change since last update at the last meeting as there haven’t been further notifications. 4.2 The situation regarding the Upper Albert Road potential felling that campaigners had been questioning seems to have become clearer. 4.3 As a result it is likely that campaigners won’t protest the felling. However they are awaiting some final FoI information.
5. AOB 5.1 Crookes Group is likely to be organising something for Armistice Day 11 November. 5.2 Heather Russell announced her intention to launch a “comedy” cook book based upon the tree campaign to raise funds.
Joint statement from Chris Rust and Paul Brooke, Co-Chairs of STAG and Councillor Lewis Dagnall, Sheffield City Council’s Cabinet Member for Environment and Streetscene:
“Representatives of Sheffield City Council and STAG have agreed to mediated talks, conducted by the Centre for Effective Dispute Resolution, CEDR, and overseen by the Bishop of Sheffield, the Very Reverend Dr Pete Wilcox.”
“Mediation is a process in which a neutral and independent person, agreed by both sides, actively assists parties to resolve a dispute. Mediation requires that all parties sign up to an agreement covering behaviour and confidentiality during the process. The Council and STAG have agreed that we will issue joint statements when progress is made, but both parties now request that we are allowed time to work through the issues before us.”
Initial talks will take place on Thursday 27th and Friday 28th September 2018. The Council’s delegation will include elected members, council officers and representatives from Amey. The delegation from STAG will include members of the steering committee and a representative of Trees for Cities.
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.
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.
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.