STAG’s campaigning efforts have been recognised by The Big Issue in their list of Top 100 Changemakers. You’ll need to take my word for it as the print on the cover image is too small to read.
We are all extremely proud to be part of a citizen-powered environmental movement that has had positive impacts reaching far beyond Sheffield. So much so that we have even started to influence national policy.
Happy New Year and here’s to a year without mindless destruction of perfectly healthy trees, talking of which………
Upcoming joint inspections with Amey
As you will (or maybe will not!) know, there will be a process of joint inspections with Amey for a significant number of the currently threatened trees over the next few weeks.
It has now been agreed that these will begin on Tuesday 15th next week. The full text of the announcement from Paul Brooke (co-chair of STAG) is as follows:
“IMPORTANT STREET TREE Joint Investigation/assessment – DUE TO START TUESDAY 15th Jan
There are a total of 45 trees that, as per the Council’s new proposal, are listed for ‘reinvestigation’ and are due to have an on-site assessment/investigation to see if an engineering solution can be applied. There are a further 60 trees that they say they need to fell in 2019 and these will also be subject to an on-site assessment/investigation. There are some WW1 memorial trees that are now ‘retained’ but that will need some investigation work to identify the appropriate engineering solution.
We have been in discussion with Amey on the process as set out in the Joint Statement and we want to assure you of the following;
1. Amey will notify residents adjacent to any trees due for investigation with a hand delivered letter.
2. Amey have assembled a ‘specialist team’ to carry out investigation works in public and in liaison with independent highways engineers offering their support to STAG
3. NO decision or action to fell a tree will be taken during the investigation. The crew will not have a chipper on tow.
4. If the crew can use an engineering solution and repair the kerb/pavement to the standard required by the Council, they will complete the work that day or the following day depending on time available.
5. If they are not able to fix the problem they will discuss this with our engineer and we will produce a joint report setting out what Amey and what our engineer recommend.
6. If our Engineer is not available on the day Amey inspect the tree, Amey will remove the kerb/tarmac as required and leave the site exposed (protected by barriers) so that our engineer can assess when available.
7. If Amey conclude they cannot resolve the problem and after our engineer has assessed the site, Amey will make the site safe with a temporary repair and refer the tree to SCC for a decision. We are in discussion with SCC about how this information, including the CAVAT value and cost/benefit of works will be published.
8. People are encouraged to come and view works. STAG reps and local residents are able to enter the workzone if needed to photograph and view works when safe and by arrangement with the site crew. Safety wear can be provided.
It is our anticipation that more trees will be retained indefinitely as a result of this work and we want to support and assist the site crews to be creative and effective in delivering sensible solutions.
Planned work schedule:
Amey are not sure how long works will take as they will be learning as they go!
We think they will be able to do 1 or 2 trees per day. Look out for daily updates in the coloured Daily Alert Box on the main STAG Facebook page here:
We encourage as many of you reading this as possible to turn up to show we haven’t gone away. But to do so peacefully and calmly as we believe that close to 100% of the trees will ultimately be saved indefinitely.
DEFRA consultation about street tree protection
Recently we made reference to the DEFRA consultation about street tree protection, here is a bit more supporting info for you
Firstly, whilst the results of a central government consultation can be ignored, they are a matter of public record. The aggregated and anonymised results are either published or can be accessed by freedom of information (FOI) request. So if 100% of responses said one thing, but DEFRA did completely the opposite, that would be on the public record, potentially embarrassing, and would have to be justified. So the consultation is not pointless at all, it is a genuine opportunity to share your views with DEFRA.
Secondly, if you’re not sure what to say when responding, here are a few pointers:
a) Consultation can be risky. Popular opinion is swayed by many other factors, including a general lack of knowledge about the positive benefits of living alongside street trees vs the inconveniences they might cause e.g. leaf litter. Therefore opinions offered through consultation may be far removed from evidence-based decisions.
b) The definition of what an acceptable consultation is needs to be defined, give specific evidence about the flaws of the unmarked brown envelope used in Sheffield’s ITP process, plus many other specific details
c) The reasons for deciding to fell need to be detailed and transparent – Saying a tree is “Damaging” is not sufficient. Why can’t simple virtually costless patch and repair solutions not be used
d) That in no circumstances should they be exempt from consulting – even with emergency fellings, councils should be forced to give transparent retrospective justification
e) We’re glad that there will be duty to report on all tree felling in relation to their street tree stock – Transparency is the greatest form of disinfectant
g) We’re glad there will be guidance on what constitutes a good Tree and Woodland Strategy
h) That the proposals still don’t go far enough. The current interpretation of the Forestry Act (1967) and how it relates to the Highways Act (1980) gives too much freedom to fell street trees without proper justification. Either that same legislation needs reinterpreting, or changing, to strengthen street tree protection.
It has been a while since weI mentioned complaints about Amey. Back in April 2017, an organisation called Sheffield Residents Holding Amey to Account (SRHA) was established to make it easier for residents to make genuine complaints about the shoddy work of Amey in Sheffield. The reason we did this was because it was really hard to navigate the Sheffield Council website to find the way to complain. So the website http://srha.site was established as an easy to use form to make a complaint.
Since then, our estimate is that around 10% of all the complaints made about Amey in Sheffield have been directed through our site. Even as early as one month into the site being live, Amey workers were heard talking to themselves about how they’d better be more careful in their work as more complaints were being made by “tree huggers via their new website.”
So we’d just like to re-promote this site, and encourage you all to use it to make genuine complaints. They don’t have to be tree related, although some are (issues with saplings or tarmacking up to tree trunks). Many in the winter are about the dangerous slippy new surfaces. What about the fact that Amey seem to be only sweeping leaves once a year, or only after people complain? Are you happy about that? Or the constant no parking notices that never turn into actual street work? Or the shoddy new road surfaces on some roads? Or the surfaces that break up after less than a year? Or blocked drains? Or street light issues?
We walked down Montgomery Road last week, which is only about 450 metres long, and counted 20 separate issues worthy of complaining about. It is the same on all roads.
But are you actually complaining? Are you holding Amey to account for its shoddy work?
Making the initial complaint via http://srha.site takes less than 5 minutes. You’ll then need to keep on at Amey, when they eventually respond to you, which should be within 5 days. They may try to fob you off. Don’t give up, keep escalating the issue if you aren’t happy. Copy in your local Councillors or Cllr Lewis Dagnall if the issue is dragging on. Keep on at Amey and make sure your complaint is resolved to your satisfaction.
It’s Our City!
We’’ve been flagging the efforts of It’s Our City since it launched its petition in late August. Whilst not a street tree campaign, many of the leading members of the organisation came from the street tree campaign, and set the organisation up when they learned just how Sheffield Council worked (or didn’t work). In these quiet times (for some!) with no felling going on, we encourage all who have the time to get involved in It’s Our City. Signing the petition is easy, if you haven’t already, see the link below. But even better would be to get more involved and join in efforts to encourage more people to sign.
The petition is still live. If you haven’t yet signed the petition, then can we politely ask that if there is one thing you do this weekend, please sign it if you haven’t already! You can do so at the following weblink:
1. Matters arising
1.1 Leaf clearing – Darren Butt has offered to provide large sacks to any groups of residents who wish to do their own leaf clearance on their roads.
2. Talks with SCC and Amey
2.1 The latest version of the statement is now available.
2.2 Figures from SCC/Amey indicate that 83 trees have been saved. 49 are earmarked for further investigation. 173 are phased fellings to be done over a number of years. 60 of these are for felling in the first 12 months.
2.3 Given timescales and the promises made to talk with residents and allow joint investigations into those trees earmarked for phased fellings at present, this proposed process by SCC/Amey at least gives time to work with Amey staff to potentially make additional progress on removing some more of these trees from the proposed fellings lists.
2.4 The promise of a proper street tree strategy was welcome.
2.5 It is highly regrettable that SCC have refused to hold an independent enquire into events up until now. Questions on this will continue to go to SCC.
3. Consultations with Local Groups
3.1 Groups need to be informed of he categories and the phasing proposals.
3.2 The lists of trees in each category needs to be made available.
3.3 Consultations should make people aware of the different categories and their meanings and also that the phasing proposal means that local groups have the opportunity to influence the future.
4.1 Chris gave a report on the current financial position.
4.2 The hard work of various individuals in organising events and merchandising has brought in additional income lately.
5. Supporter conduct
5.1 A suggested new process for dealing with harassment was discussed.
5.2 Paul B and Chris will find some people who can take a balanced view on proposals and take forward.
6. Forestry Commission
6.1 Investigations continue.
6.2 The Woodland Trust will be in communication with the Forestry Commission about the matter.
1. Talks with Amey/SCC 1.1 A statement on the talks has been issued. Further announcements are expected soon. 1.2 A confidential discussion on progress took place.
2. Forestry Commission Investigation 2.1 Paul Selby gave a further update.
3. Fellings owing to Third-party damage claims 3.1 Meetings have been held with SCC concerning this. 3.2 According to SCC, assessments for third-party damage are done in two ways. Firstly, a full assessment over time. Secondly, through an assessment of direct damage. The second method is problematic because it doesn’t take account of the value of the trees. 3.3 According to Paul Billington’s figures 48 trees have been taken down for third-party damage. The discrepancy with figures obtained through FOI request is being pursued. 3.4 It is likely that some campaigners would protest at some of the more contested fellings in this category. Therefore it has been decided by SCC/Amey to only fell those in the emergency category for the time being until such time as there is a street tree strategy in place so decisions can be defended.
4. Malicious damage 4.1 It has been reported that person/s unknown have privately cut some branches off a street tree. Rebecca will check. Please encourage people to report any such occurrences.
5. AOB 5.1 Russell reported on an event to distribute a flyer “The 12 days of Amey” on the morning of 15 December. 5.2 The cabinet member will be meeting the public in the Winter gardens on 28 November at 6 pm. 5.3 there will be a stack stall at Sharrow Vale Christmas market on 2 December and Nether Edge Christmas market on 9 December. 5.4 One day conference on street heritage being held at Hallam University on 1 December.
Following more than two months of very detailed discussions between SCC, Amey and the STAG Steering Group, Sheffield City Council have announced a new approach to managing street trees within the 25 year ‘Streets Ahead’ highway management programme operated by Amey.
A joint statement by SCC, Amey and STAG can be seen here.
The scheme will see fewer trees felled and other condemned tree fellings ‘phased’ over the next 10 years. Amey have undertaken to implement a wider range of engineering approaches to retaining trees and ‘phased’ fellings will be reviewed before they take place. Amey and STAG will jointly investigate trees that are planned for felling, with the involvement of local residents and SCC will publish the outcome over the coming months.
STAG has not agreed to any particular plan or list of fellings as we believe it is down to local groups and individuals to assess the scheme on its merits. We are not a formal membership organisation but a forum for various informal local groups so we are not able to form agreements on behalf of the wider tree campaign.
Before the talks started, STAG had four main aims, based on consultation with tree campaigners across the city:
1. An end to the unnecessary felling of healthy mature trees.
SCC’s scheme goes part of the way towards achieving this and further work by Amey and STAG may improve the picture. We welcome the commitment to reviewing phased fellings, giving everyone a few years to reflect before most of the decisions must be enacted or changed. In the end, if Tree Campaigners feel that valuable trees are still being felled without good reason they will continue to oppose the work.
2. An exemplary Street Tree Management Strategy.
We welcome the plan to develop a new strategy over the next few months in collaboration with several partners and under the guidance of an independent chair with relevant expertise. This will be a great opportunity for public policy to be debated and for everyone to develop a better understanding of the complex issues. It will be a great success if Sheffield ends up with a strategy that has widespread approval and other parts of the country will want to adopt for themselves.
3. Using External Expertise.
We welcome the commitment to working together on assessing trees at risk and we hope that the new street tree strategy will provide a reliable framework for this. Amey have committed to involving STAG and local residents in their investigations and STAG will be bringing in external experts in engineering and tree management to inform the process.
4. An inquiry into what went wrong.
Given the many serious questions that have been raised about SCC processes and decisions over the past 10 years we regret that SCC do not wish to do this. We believe that learning from what has gone wrong is vital for the success of future projects in the city as well as being an opportunity for reconciliation between all parties involved in this difficult dispute.
The Schedule of retained trees and proposed phased fellings can be seen here. (Excel Spreadsheet)
Sheffield City Councils Press Statement about the nes scheme can be seen here.
A very busy week with quite a bit to update you on.
As flagged in last weeks weekly email, the STAG negotiating team held a fourth day of mediated talks with Sheffield Council on Monday. More progress was made, and in case you haven’t seen it, a joint press statement was put out, which said the following, in italics:
This is a jointly agreed press statement following a morning of talks today (below). As campaigners are aware, the group from STAG SG that have been engaged in the talks, have been trying to assist the Council in formulating a proposal on a new way forward for the identified 300 or so trees from the Core Investment Period and for the remaining trees on the highway network over the coming years. We anticipate that the detail of the Council’s plan and a further joint communication will be published shortly.
“Cllr Lewis Dagnall, Cabinet Member for Environment and Streetscene, and Chris Rust and Paul Brooke, co-chairs of Sheffield Trees Action Group said: ‘Sheffield City Council, Amey and STAG have completed a fourth day of constructive talks on the street trees issue, chaired again by Rt Rev Dr Pete Wilcox, Bishop of Sheffield. We intend to do a further joint communication shortly with more details of what has been discussed and publish the Council’s plan for the way forward.’
Bishop Pete added: ‘This morning’s meeting was the last in the series which it was my privilege to chair. The end of this phase of the process is an encouraging sign. I have been impressed by the commitment of everyone involved and I can vouch for the real progress which has been made’.”
So what this means is that we are only a week or so away from sharing the detail of the Council’s proposal, our views on the proposal, and what we have learned from the talks.
Government’s Environmental Minister raises #saveshefftrees cause
On Saturday last week, we were privileged to join a number of other Sheffield street tree campaigners at the first ever Woodland Trust Street Tree Awards, held at Alexander Palace in London. This was held a year to the day since the Woodland Trust launched it’s street tree campaign. What was wonderful about the day was hearing how the Woodland Trust were inspired to launch its campaign because of what has happened in Sheffield, and what we have all done to raise the profile of street trees in the UK, and how important they are to our health and wellbeing, and how much we love them. Similarly, many other campaign groups from across the UK were there, also up for awards, most of whom said that they had been inspired to act because of what we have done in Sheffield. Many of you don’t realise this, but we have changed the course of history in terms of UK street trees, and one way or another, very soon, legislation that gives more protection to UK street trees is on its way, all because of what we have done in Sheffield.
It was because of this that the Woodland Trust gave STAG a special award, in recognition of all we’ve done. The one sadness we had about the Awards was that only 14 of us from Sheffield could be there to receive the award, as spaces were limited. So many many more people have contributed to where we are today, in so many different ways, big or small. The award is for all of us. Well done to us all!
War Memorial Trees Saved
Good news! As a result of STAG’s negotiations with Sheffield Council, 32 of the 35 threatened War Memorial Trees have been saved.
“In this, the week of Remembrance Day, I am confirming that we have developed a plan to retain 32 of the 35 war memorial trees that were originally earmarked for replacement.”
Councillor Lewis Dagnall
The remaining three, which are reportedly too diseased to retain, are currently being independently investigated.
The talks with the council are still ongoing, however the negotiating team requested that the news be announced prior to Armistice Day on the 11th November.
Read the councils release here.
#Saveshefftrees Website Help
The current version of the savesheffieldtrees.org.uk website has been the work of two writers, supported by invaluable contributions from many experts.
Sadly one of the principal writers, Mary, died earlier this year meaning that we now are down to one ‘staff’ writer, who is also the editor.
Consequently the website is not getting the time and attention it deserves.
Several pages need updating or rewriting to reflect the tumultuous events of 2017 and early 2018.
So we are launching an appeal for writers who are familiar with the ins and outs of the campaign. Even if you can only commit a limited number of hours we are interested in hearing from you. Ideally we would like to build up a small team of dedicated individuals who can help share the load between them – no-one will be lumbered with more responsibility than they can handle.
We are also looking for people with web skills who have knowledge of making and fixing websites. These do not have to be the same people as the writers.
All reliable offers of assistance are welcome.
If you can help please contact: email@example.com
Update on the STAG Auction Site – Jane Miller
Over the next week, the final auctions will end for the time being, some on Sunday 2nd, in the evening, and the remainder on Friday 7th December, starting 9am and ending with two Panto tickets for Peter Pan in the evening.
The page will still promote talks, events and items for sale, linking direct to seller. A huge thank you to the very many kind donators and generous bidders, more on totals raised later.
Still time, just, to bid on the page and get a lovely item, and benefit STAG funds.
They have put out a call for additional sales items. So if you are looking to clear space in your houses, ahead of anticipated Christmas presents, why not go to the site and offer up some of your unwanted items on the site?
It’s Our City!
The petition is still live. If you haven’t yet signed the petition, then can I politely ask that if there is one thing you do this weekend, please sign it if you haven’t already! You can do so at the following weblink:
One of It’s Our City’s leading members, Anne Barr is also looking for people to take paper copies of the petition, and to work on achieveing signatures from their friends, families, neighbours, co-workers, and whoever else. If you are able to do this, and I encourage all of you to consider doing so, please contact Anne at firstname.lastname@example.org
Saturday 8th December, 8pm until late (doors open at 7.30pm) at Millennium Hall on Ecclesall Road -Let’s Dance for the Trees. A pre-Christmas social event for all tree campaigners and their friends. Featuring “The Free Radicals” (Sheffield’s biggest dance band) and “Break a Leg.” Tickets are available for £10 in advance fromwww.savesheffieldtrees.org.ukor £12 on the door. All proceeds to STAG.
Thursday 20th December (6.45pm arrival for a 7pm start) at the Nether Edge Bowling Club -A talk called “Bones: Ancient Maya to Modern Murder”by the forensic anthropologist Julie Saul (the mum of loyal campaigner Jenny Saul).Followed by a social for all our loyal Save Nether Edge Trees campaigners, which will start at 8pm. All proceeds raised to Save Nether Edge Trees.
Wednesday 5th Dec 12 noon – 2pm ACTION FOR SHEFFIELD STREET TREES – CARRYING ON THE SPIRIT OF THE TOWN HALL PROTEST – Arthur Baker
The summer town hall protest to save the Western Rd trees has been largely successful with 20 of the 23 threatened trees being saved. To this end we have suspended the twice weekly town hall protest during the winter months. It must be remembered, however, that the Council still want to fell 3 Western Rd trees.
There are still many trees city wide that face the chop. Plus many issues remain unresolved – the disgusting behaviour of the City Council, the distress caused to the Crookes community, the grotesque waste of tax payers money on the hapless Task and Finish Working Group and many other areas of concern. To this end during the winter months we plan to lobby full Council meetings until Spring 2019.
Future lobbies 12 – 2pm will be on the following dates. Council meetings start 2pm:
Wed 9th January.
Wed 6th February.
Wed 6th March (Budget Meeting).
SAVE ALL THE HEALTHY WESTERN RD TREES. AXE THE PFI. AMEY OUT
And that folks is all for now, please share if you would be kind enough.
Jointly agreed press statement following a morning of talks today (below).
As campaigners are aware, the group from STAG Steering Group that have been engaged in the talks, have been trying to assist the Council in formulating a proposal on a new way forward for the identified 300 or so trees from the Core Investment Period and for the remaining trees on the highwaynetwork over the coming years. We anticipate that the detail of the Council’s plan and a further joint communication will be published shortly.
“Cllr Lewis Dagnall, Cabinet Member for Environment and Streetscene, and Chris Rust and Paul Brooke, co-chairs of Sheffield Trees Action Group said: ‘Sheffield City Council, Amey and STAG have completed a fourth day of constructive talks on the street trees issue, chaired again by Rt Rev Dr Pete Wilcox, Bishop of Sheffield. We intend to do a further joint communication shortly with more details of what has been discussed and publish the Council’s plan for the way forward.’
Bishop Pete added: ‘This morning’s meeting was the last in the series which it was my privilege to chair. The end of this phase of the process is an encouraging sign. I have been impressed by the commitment of everyone involved and I can vouch for the real progress which has been made’.”
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.
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 in2015by 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 statedthat:
“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: http://www.sheffield.gov.uk/content/shef…“
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.
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.
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.
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.
Mass felling of healthy street-trees in Sheffield has led to public uproar and a realisation that privatising tree maintenance removes the community’s influence.
With cities like Sheffield suffering from under-funding for many decades (1), it is unsurprising that many local councils prefer to remove trees rather than carry out expensive, on-going maintenance. Especially problematic, the older and bigger trees have higher maintenance costs, potentially damage pavements and have other perceived problems; yet these trees also bring the greatest benefits like climate mitigation.
When public concerns began to emerge over the Sheffield ‘Streets Ahead’ Private Finance Initiative (PFI), research was undertaken by the author with local community stakeholders, including four city-wide meetings and discussion events. This indicated that most people valued their trees very highly which was a view counter to that of the leading City Councillor responsible for the scheme and who suggested that most people wanted rid of the trees because they were a nuisance. What’s more, the meetings confirmed that in Sheffield the removal was without effective consultation and frequently done by stealth.
Sheffield’s ‘Streets Ahead’ PFI
In 2007, Sheffield City Council commissioned York-based Elliott Consultancy (2) to report on the state of its highways trees. This study concluded that from a population of around 35,000 street trees about 1,000 needed removal; being dead, dying, or dangerous. A considerable number of trees needed care and maintenance; reflecting long-term neglect on-going since the late 1980s.
The Sheffield ‘Streets Ahead’ project is a 25-year Private Finance Initiative (PFI) to carry out essential restoration works on roads, pavements and bridges. The project including improvement and on-going maintenance to Sheffield roads, footways, highway trees, traffic signals, and street lights, was originally entered into by the ruling Lib-Dem council, but later negotiated in detail by the then Labour-controlled authority.
By 2012-2013 major problems with tree-related aspects of the PFI were emerging. Furthermore, the community dialogue with tree management teams involved in the removal and replacement programme was non-existent. Through involvement in local (newspapers and BBC Radio, the author became aware of increasing public anxiety across the city. He therefore arranged to meet the head of the AMEY street-tree programme and the team responsible for public relations and liaison. What followed was a frank and open discussion which revealed how AMEY had signed the street-tree element of the £2.4bn contract for highways almost on the back of the engineering project. Furthermore, they had no knowledge of any existing City Council strategies or policies relating to trees, the environment, nature conservation, or public engagement. Worryingly for such a large, long-term project they had not done due diligence on policy issues or on the resulting constraints or costs. Similarly, the City Council officers negotiating the contract had no knowledge or interest in these aspects either. The consequence was that by 2013, as tensions began to rise to the surface, both bodies in the PFI partnership were locked in a contractual agreement that paid no heed whatsoever to tree conservation commitments. Additionally, each party was cleverly using this contractual arrangement to ‘hide’ behind the other when asked to deviate from their chosen strategy of tree removal. Both at the meeting and afterwards, AMEY officers were advised that the present situation was ill-advised, untenable, likely to be environmentally damaging and also very unpopular. Suggested ways to address the issues were proposed to the AMEY officers but flatly rejected.
Key observations from the author’s consultation and research
The numbers of trees involved:1,000 street-trees, dead or dying, required removal (2007 Elliott Consultancy report to SCC2) but already by 2017 about 5,000 trees were felled. Figures released in 2018 suggested that maybe 18,000+ would be lost from a total of 35,000 street-trees.
Selection of trees to fell:The policy was based on the test of ‘6Ds’ with trees described as ‘dangerous, diseased, dying or dead, damaging, or discriminatory’ – the latter was supposedly where trees block pavements and affect people with disabilities such as partial sight. When asked how many incidents had ever been reported to the City Council the answer was zero.
Tree management:It was accepted that according to national best practice a small proportion of the street-tree population would always need renewal. However, a large proportion of the urban street-trees require on-going maintenance and care, especially the large ‘forest’ trees.
An aging population:It was also suggested by AMEY and SCC that between 70% and 80% of the present street-tree population was reaching the end of their natural lives. As large ‘forest trees’, maybe 80 to 120 years old, this is simply untrue. Many of these trees can live over 300 years. Furthermore, such specimens have persisted through around 100 years of horrendous atmospheric pollution when Sheffield was one of the most polluted places on the planet. Since the 1960s, air quality has improved dramatically and consequently many trees are in excellent health.
Policy and strategic issues:Throughout the consultation it became clear that neither SCC nor AMEY had any coherent over-arching strategy for street-tree maintenance. Furthermore, in determining and signing the street-tree contract, existing strategies, policies and community commitments by SCC were ignored and national guidance on urban trees was not followed. There is therefore no strategic overview or joined-up thinking on issues such as wildlife value, flood mitigation, climate resilience, health, and quality of life.
Health issues:Life-expectancy in Sheffield differs over a couple of kilometres from west to east by nearly 10 years. It is suggested that street-trees are hugely important in the poorer ‘silent suburbs’ of Burngreave, Firth Park, and similar areas. Here, economic and environmental deprivation leads to serious physical and mental health issues and limited contact with nature. With increasing evidence for the impacts of air-pollution (PM10s) on cot-deaths for example, big street-trees help remove this. In poorer Victorian and Edwardian suburbs these trees are the main green infrastructure. However, because of the social, economic and demographic profiles of these areas they have been poorly-represented in local street-tree campaigns.
Climate moderation:In UK urban areas, peak summer temperatures may be 5Oto 8OC above previously expected norms. At these temperatures of from 35oto 40oC or higher, vulnerable people become at serious risk of health problems, as found across southern Europe during recent heat-waves. Big urban trees drop these peak summer temperatures by 5oto 8oC thus mitigating expected increases.
Wildlife value:Strategic green corridors and links were identified for Sheffield in the City Council’s 1991 ‘Nature Conservation Strategy’(3), with street-trees as key components of green corridors and connecting throughout the urban area. Furthermore, recent surveys confirm the importance of the urban street-trees as heritage trees (and sub-veterans), and for breeding birds and invertebrates. They are especially important for pollinating insects such as bees and provide a substantial volume of habitat per unit area of ground.
Economics:Cuts to local authority services and budgets and handing over to profit-driven private sector partners has cost the local authority a massive amount of money – at least £2.4bn over 25 years. The actual details of costs and re-payments are not in the public domain. However, the nature of the private-sector contract encourages saving on expenditure through reduced maintenance budgets over 25 years by removal of most big trees. This also makes savings by reducing hand excavation around trees to facilitate cost-effective ‘planing-machines’ removing tarmac from pavements when re-surfacing. Additional financial consequences have occurred and are on-going due to public dissatisfaction and protests. These include major additional charges for policing, the hire of private security firms, and associated legal actions and court costs.
There have been particular disputes that highlight hidden financial issues of the contract and the lack of independent advice to the authority. For example, there is the case of the Chelsea Road Elm, a disease-resistant Huntingdon variety, a mature tree, and home to locally-rare white-letter hairstreak butterflies. The tree is lifting a couple of pavement kerbstones but not catastrophically. Amey has consistently over-estimated the costs of alternative solutions to save specific trees and in this case claimed it would take over £50,000 to save it; an independent highway engineer estimated between £1,500 and £3,500.
Engineering solutions:It is perfectly possible to manage most of these trees sustainably with good practice measures such as flexi-paving and metal root-guards.
Misinformation:Serious misuse of 2007 Consultant’s Report2by AMEY and SCC with deliberate misinterpretation of the figures and quotes led to the report’s author to publicly correct them and distance himself from the subsequent Trees Ahead removal of street trees. City Councillors have persistently misquoted carbon-sequestration figures from the Forestry Commission
Public-Private-Partnerships, PFIs and funding:The recent collapse of major PFI projects with private sector partners such as Carillion going bankrupt has brought the concept of Private Finance Initiatives into closer inspection and the costs have proved to be astronomical. According toThe Guardian (4), annual charges in 2016-17 for 716 PFI projects were £10.3bn. Jeremy Corbyn and other senior politicians have been influential in challenging the merits of these public-funded deals with the private sector. A key aspect of the PFI situation is that information on contracts is lost to the public who are paying for these and whose services are being delivered.
Sheffield the Green City:An immediate consequence of the debacle to date has been damage to Sheffield’s global reputation as a ‘green city’ – something carefully nurtured since the Clean Air Acts of the 1950s. The impact has reverberated around the world with comments from Americans for example, “Gee the place that hates trees …”This negative reputation clearly has an economic impact on the value of ‘Sheffield plc’.
A city divided:Not only is Sheffield a city divided by issues of wealth and life-expectancy but it is now deeply divided on issues relating to street trees; sometimes with neighbour against neighbour.
Throughout much of the early public debate the City Council and AMEY both claimed that they were only doing what the independent consultant, Elliott Consultancy Limited2advised in the survey of Sheffield street-trees. However, in 2016 the author of the report issued a public denial to distance him from the claims:
“Did I tell them they needed to remove half of their tree stock? No. Did I tell them 70% of trees were nearing the end of their life? No. Did I even suggest that the 10,000 bits of tree work were urgent? It was clearly explained that 25,000 trees needed no work and of those that did, 10,000 almost half, were routine crown-lifting operations, another quarter were dead-wooding operations, and others including the whole gamut of routine works etc. Of the 1,000 I did suggest to them that there were a couple of hundred trees that could be retained, but their condition was such that they may merit replacement; this was the only pre-emptive felling issue that I recall mentioning”.
The Elliott Report2had stated that there were 25,000 Sheffield trees requiring no work at present, 10,000 trees needing remedial treatment, and around 1,000 to be felled and 241 to be crown-reduced. This was from a population of around 35,000.
‘Ownership’ of urban trees
Somewhat prophetically, at a London conference of UNESCO / UK MAB in 20105, the emerging problems for street trees in Britain were discussed. In particular, a schism between some arboricultural professionals with responsibilities for highway tree maintenance and those with wider community-focus and environmental-focus was growing. The debate became both heated and polarised around issues of ‘whose’ trees these were, and who should decide on their management or removal. At one extreme were professionals who felt all aspects of street-tree management to be their sole responsibility. The others were stakeholders suggesting that the trees ‘belonged’ to the community and furthermore, through the local authorities as agents, were paid for by local people too (5).
It was also noted how for an urban community the highways trees were of great importance for local environmental quality, wildlife value, heritage, and a sense of place. The Sheffield-based PFI project with AMEY is perhaps best-known but is in fact just one of many initiatives around the country.
However, there were other unexpected consequences of entering a PFI agreement that run counter to the ethos of localism and the Big Society (6), and the most worrying was that all contractual issues normally subject to scrutiny and public transparency became confidential. Whilst publicly-financed, once a business partnership was entered into projects, they became subject to commercial confidentiality. This means that even the public who pay for the work and whose street-trees are affected, cannot obtain details. Furthermore, even elected local councillors were unable to access the information. A significant change in the way in which the local authority operated had taken place in the early 2000s when SCC switched from a committee-based administrative structure to one focused on a cabinet system with a small inner-circle of decision-makers and only limited opportunity for wider scrutiny. This certainly streamlined the 1980s and 1990s bureaucracy, but at the expense of transparency and local democracy. The change had major implications for the street-trees decision-making process because as stated by the cabinet member responsible for the project, he “…was the democratic process and there was no need for further public consultation. The proposals from AMEY passed over his desk and he approved them as the democratically-elected member…”
What do urban street trees do for us?
In most cases the trees delivering most benefits are the biggest and most long-lived; in urban environments these need the most care and expenditure. They also have the greatest associated risk if failure occurs, and cause gradual damage such as uplift of pavements. If not effectively planned and managed, any urban tree can have adverse impacts.
It is generally accepted that inspection, care, maintenance, and where necessary remediation or removal costs, are relatively high for urban forest trees. Compared with rural-grown trees urban specimens are shorter-lived and under more stress. Some residents worry about damage to pavements, inconvenient autumn leaves, clay movement affecting building foundations (though tree removal may exacerbate damage), and branch-fall in high winds. Other problems include guano and noise from nesting or roosting birds, and if failure occurs, collateral damage to adjacent properties. Public concerns lead to pressure on local politicians to ‘do something’, and this can emphasise the view that somehow the big trees are ‘inappropriate’ for urban residential roads. With maintenance costs and responsibilities for local authorities being onerous, demand grows for removal rather than maintenance.
Policies and visions
There is abundant policy, strategy, and maintenance guidance relating to urban street-tree management. Nationally-accepted strategic documents includeTrees in Towns II. Details of tree maintenance and management are covered by guidance notes from the Arboricultural Association and for example, ‘The Trees and Design Action Group (TDAG)’. The latter recently producedTrees in Hard Landscapes: A Guide for Delivery(2014) (7) as a companion toTrees in the Townscape: A Guide for Decision Makers(2012) (8); together a thorough account of best practice and evidence for the recommendations. There are also British Standards which apply. However, with the demise of many local authority services and their replacement by profit-driven private sector business, the realistic application, training and enforcement of standards become problematic.
The case-study and associated action research suggest that counter to claims of a ‘Big Society’ and moves towards ‘localism’, the reality is very different, with centralised and unaccountable decisions. Furthermore, cuts to local authority budgets have hit big, urban, metropolitan districts disproportionality hard despite these being where community need for good quality green-space is highest. A result has been the collapse of countryside, woodland, tree, and environmental services, and disempowerment of communities most at need. However, the case-study also demonstrates that these cuts with the loss of experienced, and influential senior, specialist officers, have led to catastrophic and expensive policy decisions. Out-sourcing of publicly-funded services has resulted in a dramatic deterioration in public-relations and local community engagement, a long-term debt to be re-paid, and significantly compromised urban street-tree resources. It is now emerging that other local authorities such as Birmingham and Newcastle, have also gone down this route and are experiencing similar problems. As a final note on this issue, it was recently announced that Sheffield City Council is to pay the AMEY contractor £700,000 additional compensation because of delays due to the work of the ‘Independent Tree Panel’. This is from a local authority already in dire financial straits.
1. Rotherham, I.D. (2015)The Rise and Fall of Countryside Management. Routledge, London
2. Elliott Consultancy Ltd (2007) Sheffield City Highways Tree Survey 2006 – 2007. Elliott Consultancy Ltd, York.
3. Bownes, J. S., Riley, T. H., Rotherham, I. D. & Vincent, S. M. (1991)Sheffield Nature Conservation Strategy. Sheffield City Council, Sheffield.
4. Syal, R. (2018) Revealed: the £200bn cost of PFI projects.The Guardian, 18 January 2018, p1.
5. Rotherham, I.D. (2010) Thoughts on the Politics and economics of Urban Street Trees.Arboricultural Journal,33(2), 69-76
6. Anon. (2010)Building the Big Society. Cabinet Office, London.
7. TDAG (2014)Trees in Hard Landscapes: A Guide for Delivery. Trees and Design Action Group TDAG, London.
8. TDAG (2012)Trees in the Townscape: A Guide for Decision Makers. Trees and Design Action Group TDAG, London.
IAN D. ROTHERHAM
Professor of Environmental Geography and Reader in Tourism & Environmental Change in the Department of the Natural & Built Environment, Sheffield Hallam University.
1. Notification of urgent felling by Amey 1.1. It had been working okay, but this week has not been working. There has been no notification about a number of trees in need of genuine felling or pruning. 1.2 Paul Brooke took an action to contact Lewis Dagnall and John Mothersole about this. It was another thing that was not helping to build trust.
2. STEEL and TreeSave 2.1 There is some confusion in SG about these sites run by Steve Andresier. 2.2 One site was originally called STIC, but is now called STEEL. 2.3 There is also a new separate group called TreeSave, which Steve has created with Rob McBride for street trees nationally. 2.4 It was agreed we should encourage the support of TreeSave, particularly as Rob McBride is involved, and monitor how STEEL performs.
3. Feedback from the STAG Facebook Group moderators 3.1 Abuse of the moderators privately and material that breaks the STAG Facebook group rules continues to be a headache for the Moderators. 3.2 It was noted that although rules for moderation were in place, the process for applying those rules and appealing against potential overzealous moderation were not fully formed. 3.3 It was again agreed that these need to be published and then if the rules were again breached by repeat offenders a potential serious long ban from the Facebook Group would be implemented.
4. The recent existing injunction court cases 4.1 There is no timescale for the costs to be awarded against those found guilty. It is normal to have a Cost Hearing which will take place when the Judge decides. 4.2 SG agreed to go back to our local groups and encourage people to start fundraising through whatever means they can. 4.3 A new Crowdfunder will soon be launched.
5. The potential for a new and extended injunction 5.1 Most of the individuals sent the new “threat” letter from the Council have met legal experts on Monday to discuss them. 5.2 It is a private matter for the individuals receiving the letter as to their next steps. 5.3 There may be further decisions that STAG Steering Group will need to make at some point in the near future dependent on the actions of potential injunctees.
6. Update on the Forestry Commission Investigation 6.1 Steering Group noted the story that was in the Yorkshire Post at the weekend. 6.2 There was discussion about any further steps that SG should take in the light of this turn of events and Chris agreed to consider these.
7. Update on the other proactive legal action 7.1 Paul S has been in discussion with the solicitors about these actions and updated SG.
8. STAG funds 8.1 Chris provided an update on the latest funding position.
9. Merchandising and Advertising 9.1 Shelley gave an update on the digital advertising campaign. 9.2 There are still some funds available for further actions in this area if needed. 9.3 Various other STAG Fun Branch initiatives have raised money with the majority of raised funds being donated back into STAG funds. 9.4 Shelley and Cecilie agreed to work together on next steps and Steering Group agreed that STAG funds could and should be used to “pump prime” any worthwhile merchandising or events proposals.
10. Refreshed STAG Press Group 10.1 Chris, Rebecca, Heather and Anne have spent time making an effort to put out press releases which seems to have made some impact.
11. Meetings with Cllr Lewis Dagnall 11.1 Despite Cllr Dagnall informally meeting lots of local groups and residents, he hasn’t arranged an official meeting with STAG reps since he joined the cabinet.
11.2 There hasn’t been any recent contact from John Mothersole either. 11.3 Chris and Paul B will contact Cllr Dagnall again this week to express our dissatisfaction at the lack of progress on talks, the continued erosion of trust the threat letters have caused, and the continuing silence after the earlier positive overtures John Mothersole had made in April.
12. Replacement Saplings 12.1 Heather very briefly updated all that, using Helen Kemp’s data, work was about to begin to check whether the replacement saplings are healthy, in the right place, of the right species etc, as concerns have been expressed.
13. SIA complaints 13.1 There was a brief discussion about the interplay of the strands of work on the SIA complaints and Police complaints.