STAG Steering Group meeting: 11th September 2018

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.

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Talks Update – joint press statement

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.

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Posted in Council tree talks, Uncategorized

Update on Tree Talks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– Paul Brooke, STAG Co-Chair.

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Posted in Council tree talks

STAG Steering Group meeting: 28th August 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Posted in Minutes from official meetings

STAG Steering Group meeting: 31st July 2018

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

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

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

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Posted in Minutes from official meetings

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

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

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

When is a target not a target?

Over the course of the last three years Sheffield has succumbed to the forces of post-truth politics. When the STAG campaign originally got off the ground most people, including myself, were under the impression that the Council planned to fell and replace only 6000 trees.  Although this figure is high it pales into insignificance next to the 17,500 ‘felling target’ first alluded to back in 2015 by the then Deputy Leader of the Council, Leigh Bramall (he actually said 18,000).   Campaigners have gone back and forth trying to establish the validity of this figure, which represents half the city’s street trees, only to be told that 17,500 represents a ‘insurance policy’, not a target.

As recently as March 2018, Cllr. Bryan Lodge stated that:

“For further clarity, we explained that, while the figure of 17,500 trees is included in the contract wording, this is most certainly not a target or a fixed number that Amey must replace; it simply gives the council the option to replace this number within the agreed contract price.”

“The contract wisely gives the ratepayer ‘insurance cover’ to ensure we aren’t vulnerable to long-term risks as the health and impact of our street trees continue to change over time. If for any reason, such as major disease outbreak, the council has to replace a number of trees it can do so without any extra cost to the Sheffield ratepayer.”

This sounds reasonable enough, however his statement does not stand up to scrutiny.  The part of the contract relating to tree replacement that has been published includes the following wording:

“The service provider [Amey] shall replace highway trees in accordance with the annual tree management programme at a rate of not less than 200 per year so that 17,500 highway trees are replaced by the end of the term.”

When the contract language was highlighted during unofficial communications with the Council campaigners were assured that, in spite of the turn of phrase, there is no target and that our suspicions were unfounded.  Some campaigners had even begun to move to a position of granting the Council the benefit of the doubt, especially in light of positive noises coming from them with regard to upcoming ‘tree talks‘.

Then confirmation that the target is indeed nothing other than a target came from a most unlikely source, the Council themselves.

“Dear Ms Hammond, 
  
Thank you for your recent request for information relating to Streets 
Ahead Contract which we received on 30/07/2018. 
  
Please find below, Sheffield City Council’s response to your request: 
  
The Streets Ahead contract includes a Performance Requirement relating to 
the replacement of Highway Trees. 
  
6.38 The Service Provider shall replace Highway Trees in accordance with 
the Annual Tree Management Programme at a rate of not less than 200 per 
year so that 17,500 Highway Trees are replaced by the end of the Term, 
such replacement to be in accordance with the highway Tree Replacement 
Policy, unless Authority Approval has been obtained or deviation from this 
policy. 
  
My questions are: 
  
1 – Please can you state whether this Performance Requirements is 
mandatory or optional. 
  
The Performance Requirements are a contractual obligation. 
  
2 – If it is mandatory, will there be any penalties or financial 
adjustments for failure to meet this Performance Requirement? 
  
Service Point deductions could apply if the Performance Requirements are 
not met. This would depend on a number of circumstances, all of which are 
outlined in the Streets Ahead contract which can be found by the following 
link: 
[1]http://www.sheffield.gov.uk/content/shef… 

[The whole FoI request exchange can be read here.]

So who is telling the truth?  It is hard to see how Cllr. Lodge’s statement from March can be understood as anything other than spin.  Unfortunately this is typical of how communications around the tree replacement programme have unfolded between concerned citizens and their elected representatives.  Even at the dawn of a potentially more constructive era, when it would seem that the Council are taking campaigners more seriously, facts are still being distorted and fed to an increasingly sceptical public.   

Why all the layers of secrecy?  The Council’s PR-machine is continuing with their attempt to deflect attention away from the issues that lie at the heart of the problem: who is responsible for the decision to fell half of Sheffield’s street trees?  And how did this policy go unchallenged?  Although I am not confident that these facts will ever come to light, I am as determined as ever to protect healthy street trees from bureaucratic incompetence.

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

Thoughts on the Council talks process

by Paul Selby (of Save Nether Edge Trees)

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

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

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

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

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

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

A message from STAG Co-Chair Paul Brooke:

Dear Tree Campaigners

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

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

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

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

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

Paul

 

STAG letter extract

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

1. There should be no further reduction of the mature tree canopy in Sheffield by the unnecessary removal of healthy street trees.

2. Any proposals made should be based on current urban forestry good practice with independent expertise provided to the Council from outside of the contractor Amey.

3. The future work by Amey on the management and maintenance of street trees should have proper, independent oversight.

4. Sheffield City Council should adopt and implement a proper tree strategy for the sustainable stewardship of our street tree assets and the wider urban forest. 

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

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Posted in Letters to and from Sheffield City Council

ECOS 39 (3): ‘The city that hates trees’ – Standing up to the Sheffield Street-Tree Slaughter – British Association of Nature Conservationists

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 5O to 8OC above previously expected norms. At these temperatures of from 35o to 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 5o to 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 Report2 by 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 to The 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 Limited2 advised 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 Report2 had 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 include Trees 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 produced Trees in Hard Landscapes: A Guide for Delivery (2014) (7) as a companion to Trees 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.

Wider lessons

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.

References

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.

Contact the author

http://www.banc.org.uk/ecos-39-3-the-city-that-hates-trees-standing-up-to-the-sheffield-street-tree-slaughter/

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Posted in Blog, Healthy Felling, News

STAG Steering Group meeting: 26th June 2018

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.

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Detailed plans to remove 17,500 trees in Sheffield drawn up six years ago, ‘lost’ document reveals

Detailed proposals to replace exactly 17,500 of Sheffield’s 36,000 street trees were drawn up six years ago, a newly-published document the city’s council had previously said was lost has revealed. Sheffield Council said it had “stumbled upon” a series of strategy documents for the controversial policy of felling street trees after previously telling the Information Commissioner’s Office the information was “not held” in any form
Newly-discovered versions of a five-year tree management strategy have now been published online and the first version from 2012 – the year in which the contract with Amey under which the work is being carried out started – includes a chart detailing proposals to remove precisely 17,500 trees and replace them with saplings in seven areas of the city.

The ‘Highway Tree Replacement Plan’ table set out proposals suggesting that in south-east Sheffield 1,370 trees would be replaced, with 2,795 in the south of the city, 3,979 in the south-west, 2,103 in central Sheffield, 2,420 in the north, 2,939 in the north-east and 1,894 in the east. The figures add together to exactly 17,500.

The other newly-published published versions of the strategy for between 2013 and 2017 do not specify planned replacement numbers and the council has described the figures in the table as a “pre-contract estimate” that have since been revised.

The authority has faced national criticism for its controversial tree-felling policy and earlier this year it was revealed the £2.2bn 25-year highways maintenance contract work is being done under contains a clause stating trees should be replaced “at a rate of not less than 200 per year so that 17,500 are replaced by the end of the term”.

The council says the figure is not a contractual target but says it is unable to explain what the financial consequences will be should fewer than 17,500 trees be removed by the end of the contract with Amey in 2037 – and will not be in a position to do until that year.

A spokeswoman said in relation to the potential financial implications: “We are unable to predict what will happen between now and 2037 when the contract expires. Therefore, the council will not be in a position to answer this question until this time.”
The council previously confirmed to The Yorkshire Post in March this year that there would be a “financial adjustment” to the contract should fewer than 17,500 trees could be felled but said they could not explain whether the authority or Amey would be the beneficiaries as the contractor is not paid to replace individual trees.

The council said today that despite the wording of the contract and the emergence of the 2012 document that there is no target for tree replacement numbers.

A spokeswoman said: “While there has never been a target for street tree replacements, a pre-contract estimate was given by Amey in 2012 based on their initial surveys across the city to ensure that each and every tree replacement is absolutely essential and appropriate.

“The intention was always for Amey to revise their estimates after carrying out further assessments of the street tree stock and this is proved by the actual numbers replaced to date

“As stated in the High Court [by council officer Paul Billington] ‘it is impossible for Amey or the council to accurately predict how many trees will need replacing during the contract term because the number of trees to be replaced depends on a wide variety of factors’.

“Any suggestion that 17,500 trees is a target or a requirement is an incorrect interpretation of the contract, and indeed the High Court was clear that the objective of the council has been to retain trees where possible.”

A version of the tree management strategy was published by the council in early 2016 shortly before tree campaigner Dave Dillner went to the High Court to seek a judicial review of council decisions.

That document said there were six previous versions of the strategy in existence. But when campaigners fighting against the felling plans asked to see them under the Freedom of Information Act, the council initially rejected the request on the grounds they were “commercially sensitive” before later revising its position to say the information was “not held” in any form when the matter was taken to the Information Commissioner’s Office.

However, the council has now said the documentshave been found by chance.

A Freedom of Information officer said: “The council has now made any further concerted efforts to locate or identify whether this documentation was held as we did consider that copies were not retained or stored as they had not been identified in previous robust searches.

“However, unusually in this case the council has subsequently stumbled upon the previous versions of the strategy which were not previously identified. They have only come to light when these documents were individually opened and found to contain the earlier versions of the strategy.”

The newly-released documents also contain a different 2016 strategy to the one that was made public in the same year.

The previously-published version made detailed mention of engineering solutions to save trees that would be considered before they were removed while the newly-uncovered document does not.

A spokesman for Sheffield Council said “a simpler, more accessible version” of the strategy had been produced and published in 2016 “to aid public understanding”.

She said: “The engineering solutions in the public version of the document were included to try and give a better understanding of the type of work contained within the scope of the contract which could be used, where appropriate, to retain trees. For that reason, the approach to retaining trees is presented differently in the contractual document and then detailed, for public consumption, in the operation strategy.”

One of the newly-published documents is a revised strategy setting out the operational approach for 2018 to 2023 which also contains no mention of the engineering solutions.

The council said: “All of the engineering solutions detailed in the 2012 document are still considered to retain street trees.”

Councillor Lewis Dagnall, cabinet member for environment and street scene at Sheffield Council, said: “Transparency and openness around the Streets Ahead contract, and its associated documents, is incredibly important to ensure that the people of Sheffield stay well-informed about our programme of works.

“We recognise that there are some sections of the Highway Tree Management strategy that have changed over the years, which is to be expected on a contract of this scale. Nobody wants to see a working strategy document which fails to reflect the fluidity of a situation.

“It’s always a work in progress but what is certain is that we will always make sure the contract and the documents that inform it, are achieving the very best for the people of Sheffield.”

Tree-felling operations have been on hold in the city since March as the council and Amey review how work is carried out following growing protests and political pressure earlier this year after dozens of police officers and security guards were sent out to support operations.

Original article here:

https://www.yorkshirepost.co.uk/our-region/south-yorkshire/sheffield/detailed-plans-to-remove-17-500-trees-in-sheffield-drawn-up-six-years-ago-lost-document-reveals-1-9271813

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Mary Marshall (Sarjeant) 1950 – 2018

by Sarah Deakin

Dear Friends

It is with a heavy heart that I share the sad news that Mary Marshall (Sarjeant) passed away peacefully in St Luke’s Hospice on Thursday 19th July following a short illness. She was 67.

Many of you will know Mary from her involvement in the campaigns to save Sheffield’s street trees (STAG and Save Crookes/Western Road/Walkley Trees), to restore local democracy (It’s Our City), and from STARTS (Street Tree Art Sheffield) sessions, which she loved to attend.

“Mary SarjeantMary was a staunch supporter of these and many other causes, and she worked tirelessly, often quietly behind the scenes. Her contributions cannot be underestimated and she will be sorely missed by many.

On a personal note, I met Mary under a threatened tree in Burngreave in early 2017 and we became firm friends. I’ll always remember her as the ‘no nonsense’ voice of reason, who absolutely lived life to the full, and was a huge force for good. I will miss her terribly, but have no doubt that she’s already on to her next adventure…

Rest in Peace, dear Mary
1950 – 2018.

Posted in Uncategorized

What does the new Injunction mean?

by Paul Brooke, STAG co-chair.

From the outset the legal advice to us was that the Council would be able to make an area around a tree to be felled subject to the Injunction and that the Persons Unknown definition was going to be extended to cover all aspects of the injunction terms.

“Geckoing”
Justice Males had indicated previously that ‘geckoing’ was not a ‘loophole’ but a correct interpretation of the wording originally used. He stated that in most ordinary circumstances one would assume that a 3 sided barrier using a garden wall as the fourth side adjacent to the pavement would be reasonable, but that the wording resulted in the need for a fourth barrier. We were advised that the Judge would accept this needed to change.

The new wording means that the Council can consider a private wall demarcates (shows you where the edge of the area is) the safety zone area and that you are prohibited from standing on any bit of the pavement up the private wall. Even if they use something to demarcate the private wall (barrier tape, cones, barrier or garden peas), getting behind that and being on the pavement may result in you being in contempt.

Persons Unknown
The new definition essentially means that a Person Unknown is someone who does any of the actions prohibited by the Injunction and is not a named defendant.

Delaying contractors
The proposed injunction prohibited any delay anywhere at anytime. This has now been limited to applying ONLY inside a legal road closure for more than 20 minutes. Delaying contractors anywhere else for any length of time is not a breach of the Injunction.

The wording is complex and and quite possibly open to much interpretation.

Private Land
“For the avoidance of doubt, actions taking place on private land only are not within the scope of this injunction.”
This means EXACTLY what it says.
Whatever anyone says, if its private land or something on private land- including the wall/fence/hedge demarcating part or all of the safety zone- the Injunction does not apply. We can still stand on and take any action on private walls etc.

Summary
We have certainly lost the ability to openly ‘gecko’ and Persons Unknown is now not limited but defined by the terms of the injunction.

I am writing this (doing this action in its entirety) whilst sitting in my house on private land and “For the avoidance of doubt, actions taking place on private land only are not within the scope of this injunction”

We can only deal with and prepare for the existing reality. Currently that is contained within the Court papers that specifies the 306 trees that ‘remain’ from the Core Investment Period cull are due for felling. Until we have something in writing that sets out a new reality from the Council, we prepare to continue to resist and defend our healthy trees.

Until we have a proper strategy and management plan for our urban forest for the next 20 years, none of them are safe in the hands of our Council.

P.S. Please avoid discussions on tactical ideas – use private messages and link with people you trust.

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Posted in Blog, Court cases, Legal notices

A welcome dose of transparency from Sheffield City Council

Analysis by Paul Selby

Since I became active in the tree campaign over 31 months ago, I have fought for transparency around the PFI contract, for all that can be legally released unredacted to be released. I work in the Civil Service, and I know the benefits of transparency in terms of holding authority to account. That famous phrase: “Sunlight is the best disinfectant” is absolutely true, and I have seen the genuine benefits many times over.

I have always held the strong view that, with maximum transparency of the PFI contract, some of the deep suspicions and conspiracy theories about why the so many street trees were being felled would be proved false. Also that the true root causes of the issue would become known; so that options for solving the argument could be discussed openly, without distrust and doubt, with the aim of saving as many trees as possible, at little or no cost to Sheffield Council.

I made these representations many times to Cllr. Lodge and Council officials throughout 2017 and early 2018, to no avail. However, as the Information Commissioner slowly but surely forced sections of the contract to be released, with those uncontrolled revelations being delivered out of context, the street tree issue looked more and more like a genuine conspiracy, culminating in the mid-March 2018 revelation about the 17,500 tree felling figure contained in Schedule 2 of the contract. Coinciding with the arrival of Cllr. Lewis Dagnall, who also believes in more openness and transparency, the Council decided to hasten work already started to release as much of the PFI contract as possible. On Tuesday this week, the big release of documentation occurred, which can be found on the Council website.

This is to be hugely welcomed, and I genuinely thank and congratulate the Council for doing this, even if it is four years later than it should have been.

What is even more welcome is that, since late April, I have held three conversations with Council Officers, led by Paul Billington, two of these conversations lasting more than 90 minutes. In these conversations, they explained in detail what some parts of the wording of the documentation mean, how contract processes work, the governance arrangements. They allowed me to ask detailed questions, and they gave me open answers.

You can all peruse the documentation at your leisure. It is complex, some of it in legalese, vast chunks of it irrelevant to the street tree issue. (I would suggest focusing on Schedules 12 and 21, plus all the previous versions of the Five Year Tree Management Strategy, if you are most interested in street trees).

Some key points you may be interested in:


1) Whilst still not 100% clear, the 17,500 tree number does genuinely appear to be an “insurance policy” rather than a target. It’s highly complex to explain, but prior to signing the PFI contract, it appears that the Council genuinely feared being charged additional costs for felling and replacing additional trees, if unexpectedly large numbers of street trees died, for example from a new invasive pest or disease. I always worried that by inserting this figure, it provided the incentive for Amey to fell precisely that number over the course of the contract. The newly released information seems to go a long way to demonstrating that governance procedures prevent this. There are two processes in which Amey submit felling recommendations, through which the Council can scrutinise the recommendation, and choose to reject the felling, for valid reasons.

2) As I always suspected, the Council inserted contract requirement for a straight kerb line is what has driven most of the felling recommendations of healthy trees. Yes the governance procedure outlined in point 1 above could allow the Council to reject the Amey felling recommendation. But a Council rejection in this situation would in effect be an invalid rejection, as they would be ignoring their own kerb standards. The proposals that Amey and the Council are currently working on focus on the potential to relax this strict kerb standard, particularly as the Highways Act doesn’t require such strict standards.

3) The previously missing versions of the Five Year Tree Management Strategy have now been found. Previously, in answers to FoI questions, the Council had said the documents had been lost. But determined searching has found them. What is fascinating is that all the missing versions were drafted by Amey, as they were required to in the contract, and are much more technical. The only version previously released is out of line with the other documents, because it was written by the Council. This was very confusing to me at first, but after a lot of questions I understood. Strategy documents are statements of intent, but aren’t always delivered, as operational realities and difficulties mean strategy intent can’t always be realised. The newly released Tree Strategy documents are Amey’s strategy documents. The previously released Strategy document is the Council’s own strategy. They are similar, as you would imagine for a contractor/supplier relationship. But they are different. In particular, the Council strategy includes an intent for 14 free engineering solutions to save trees, many of which are actually in reality ruled out in parts of the PFI contract. Like I say, strategic intent doesn’t always align with operational reality! Obviously, the Council could and should have been clearer about this in the past, as it led to much misunderstanding for campaigners.

4) The first Amey version of the Five Year Tree Management Strategy, the 2012 version, includes a 25 year plan to fell 17,500 trees. The later versions don’t. I was told by Council Officers that this was because the first version was in effect “Version 0,” submitted by Amey in February 2012 prior to the contract being signed. The later versions, after the contract was signed didn’t contain the plan because that wasn’t the agreed plan. This sounded very suspicious to me, so following questions, I was told that the Version 0 plan was in effect a “theoretical best estimate” to demonstrate “what if.” Whilst I still remain suspicious about this, what the Council told me does ring at least some truth for me. In my day job I have been asked to submit demonstration plans which have no real evidence base, and are in effect also “theoretical best estimates” that have limited basis in reality

5) There are sections of the contract still redacted and not released. Having asked questions about all these documents, I’m as confident as it is possible to be without actually seeing the documents myself, that only commercially confidential information and personal information remains redacted. That’s not to say that some of the commercially confidential information would still be interesting and relevant to understanding the tree issue. But I do understand the legal reasons why these sections should remain redacted.

Finally, I want to make this clear that I went to the meetings with the Council as a private citizen concerned about transparency, not as a member of STAG Steering Group or Save Nether Edge Trees.

I am still critical about the way the Council have handled the recent injunction extension, sending out unnecessarily threatening letters, destroying much of the trust that had begun to build since the felling pause began. As a street tree campaigner, I have and will continue to criticise the Council where relevant, and fight as hard as I have done this last 31 months to save as many street trees as possible. As you will understand from having read points 1) to 5) above, some questions still remain.

But credit where it is due, the new broom of Cllr. Dagnall has started to make a difference. Much of the PFI contract has been released, sunshine can begin to disinfect the stench of secrecy, and we can start to work on root cause solutions. Everything I have seen and heard recently from Cllr. Dagnall and Council Officers makes me genuinely believe that good progress is being made to save a significant proportion of the remaining trees, and that a firm proposal will be made over the summer.
Will it be enough? Will it be evidence based and explain in clear detail why some of the trees still need to be felled? Time will tell. But I’m more confident than I’ve ever been.

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Injunction renewal hearing – 12th July 2018

SHEFFIELD HIGH COURT, 12 July 2018

report by Sheldon Hall

New readers start here:

On 21 June, thirteen tree campaigners were sent letters by Sheffield City Council, asking them to sign an undertaking based on a reworked version of the injunction issued last summer and due to expire on 25 July, which SCC hoped to renew and extend for three years. They were invited to sign with a promise that if they did so they would face no legal costs. They had a week to decide how to respond. All refused to sign.

There were nine named defendants in the revised injunction application, four of whom actively opposed it in court while the other five merely declined to sign. The remaining four had been sent the injunction papers but were not officially named as defendants. SCC repeatedly failed to respond to requests from the campaigners’ legal teams to clarify the status of these others, deemed ‘persons unknown’.

Got that? Good.

The second day of hearings began with a private meeting of the two legal teams in offices at the Town Hall. If the entire negotiations had taken place there, the taxpayer could have been saved a bill estimated at £75,000.

Instead, a lengthy process of what co-defendant Paul Brooke described as ‘obscene horse-trading’ took place on court premises – but mostly not in the courtroom. By my count, proceedings before the judge occupied barely an hour across the two days. Only Sheffield City Council can say why it refused campaigners’ repeated requests to settle the matter beforehand and instead employed two London barristers at huge public expense which it will not get back.

The Ealing-comedy air of the situation was beautifully illustrated at the pre-hearings rally, when two of the defence lawyers pulled up on a pushbike. No taxis or limousines for Paul Powlesland and Ben Manovitch – a bicycle built for one, but ridden by two, was good enough.

Inside the courtroom, the waiting began again. The minutes and hours ticked by even more slowly than yesterday, when at least observers had been excited to know what was going on and indulged in much speculation. Now we knew, and it wasn’t exciting at all.

Some incidental highlights of the day:

– Conscientious and fair-minded council officer Paul Billington spilled water over his desk and had to mop it up with tissues. The spillage left an unsightly stain on the desk covering.

– Mr Powlesland set hearts fluttering by flashing the waistband of his knickers at the public gallery. I don’t remember this happening in RUMPOLE OF THE BAILEY.

– Conscientious and fair-minded council officer Paul Billington ate a green apple (as indeed he also had yesterday), disposing of the sticky label out of sight below his desk.

– The unexpected sound of a knock – usually the signal to rise for the judge – caused everyone in the courtroom to snap into position in anticipation of His Honour’s appearance. It was a false alarm, and we all relaxed.

– Conscientious and fair-minded council officer Paul Billington was given a talking-to by a security guard about his use of a mobile phone inside the courtroom. Muted applause from the public gallery.

His Honour Judge Graham Robinson was first called at 11.02am. Katharine Holland QC, representing SCC, opened by pointing out a formatting error in the layout of the draft injunction, which could have caused a misunderstanding. There followed a discussion about the three categories of defendants: the four who had actively defended, the other named five, and ‘persons unknown’.

The business of the court largely having been settled off-stage and no further challenges to the application having been made, His Honour Robinson asked the barristers for the four defendants who had challenged the application, Owen Greenhall and Mr Powlesland, whether they wished to remain for the rest of the proceedings, as there was essentially nothing left for them to do; they elected to stay. The judge also identified those defendants present who had not agreed to sign it; Simon Crump reminded him that he should be referred to as Dr, not Mr, Crump, and the judge – a cheery, jovial sort of fellow – apologised for his error.

Ms Holland proposed to guide His Honour through her skeleton argument as it applied to the non-signatories, and referred to the reading that had been provided for the judge. ‘I’ve had plenty of time to do that, thank you!’ he noted. There was no need to refer in detail to any part of the evidence that had been submitted, including the statements made by Darren Butt and Paul Billington, but Ms Holland said that it showed the ‘continuing need for injunctive relief’.

His Honour then stated that he was not going to ‘draw any adverse inferences’ about anyone who had refused to sign the new injunction, as it was ‘substantially different’ from the one originally awarded by Justice Males last year. This is a point he would return to more emphatically in his closing statements later in the day.

Ms Holland said that the application for a revised injunction had come about because changing circumstances had shown that they were necessary to preserve the intentions of the original injunction. She itemised some of the changes that had been agreed to the first draft of the new injunction. These included the stipulation that slow-walking and other methods of delaying contractors could be used for up to 20 minutes at a time in any given area on any given day. The definition of a safety zone excluded action taking place on private property. Ms Holland also noted that the prohibition on ‘encouraging’ forbidden activities did not extend to general words of encouragement and support for the campaign posted on social media.

His Honour stated that there was no need for him to intervene in the form of the injunction that had been agreed, and that he granted the injunctive relief sought. It was desirable to provide the injunction document as a single file – a combined order – rather than separate ones for the different categories of defendant. The court (which had been booked only for the morning session) was then adjourned for more than two hours while the revised injunction was typed up and printed out.

Proceedings resumed at 2.16pm, when His Honour brought out four copies of ‘the draft’ for the lawyers to proofread. Instructions given, he left again at 2.18pm. The two teams of lawyers then busied themselves checking the text, pens poised for corrections. The draft duly annotated and resubmitted, the Clerk of the Court returned at precisely 3.18pm with newly printed copies of the agreed ‘final’ version. But it proved not to be: defendant Rebecca Hammond noticed that her name had been omitted from the front page, while that of another, Graham Turnbull (not present in court), had been misspelled. The copies were collected in again.

His Honour Judge Robinson took his seat for the last time at 3.25pm. He thanked everyone for the courteous way in which they had conducted themselves over the two days. He reiterated the point made previously by Justice Males: that the court expressed no view one way or the other as to the merits of the tree-felling programme or the tree campaign. He was there only to adjudicate, but in this case his role had been more like that of a mediator. He commended both parties for demonstrating what could be achieved through negotiation.

Most important was this closing observation: ‘If I may say so, the defendants who did not take an active part were **eminently justified** in not signing the original undertaking.’ (My emphasis.)

Council representatives had asked the defendants and their team if they could release a joint press statement. Campaigners agreed on condition that the statement stipulated that the pause in felling would continue until formal mediated talks had been arranged. SCC could not guarantee that, so there was no joint statement. Once again, the council had snatched defeat from the jaws of victory.

Outside the court, co-defendant and STAG co-chair Paul Brooke instead made his own statement on behalf of the other defendants. Courtesy of Mr Brooke, I reproduce it below in full:

“Thirteen people were threatened with huge court costs to force them to sign an injunction.

Thirteen people refused to be bullied. Collectively we opposed the application and faced £75K in costs.

They applied for three years, with a ban on legitimate slow-walking and delaying felling crews.

They wanted to curtail ordinary people’s freedom of speech by preventing people posting encouraging comments on social media.

They wanted to stop people standing on their own property to defend their trees.

The outcome is that they spent £75K on horse-trading a wording with us. We had asked them to do that for free before starting a court process.

The new injunction makes it clear that anything that happens on private property is not restricted by the injunction.

The Council agreed that we can slow-walk and delay felling every day.

The term is not three years but eighteen months.

The judge said the terms are a fair and proportionate balance between the competing interests of the parties.

NONE of us have signed the undertaking but the four of us [who defended] will obey the injunction.”

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Posted in Court case reports, Court cases

Sheffield tree protectors have changed the nation’s view of street trees

Sheffield Town Hall has provided the impetus for a new, inspiring activist campaign. It echoes past successes including the Kinder Trespass movement and even the Suffrage Society. But with the groundswell to stop the cutting down of city trees, the Labour council has found itself on the wrong side of history, writes NATALIE BENNETT

Michael Gove, seeing a groundswell when it rolled towards him, has evenappointed a “tsar” with responsibility to protect street trees.

Town Hall, there’s a plaque commemorating the Kinder Trespass – a local action that led to a major national change in the people’s access to land.

The city was also the location of the nation’s first suffrage society – beginning the campaign that would take the first crucial steps towards women being recognised as equal citizens with men.

But I’m sure that the Save Sheffield Trees campaigners weren’t thinking so big when they started, years ago now, to protest, and then stop – sometimes with their bodies and at risk to their liberty – the felling of thousands of healthy street trees.

Farcical attempts

They were thinking about the health impacts on the people of their city, about the loss of personal and community history (particularly but not only with the war memorial trees), about the loss of refuges for nature – and about the unique, wonderful character of many of the threatened trees.

They started with the local and now news of their actions has spread around, fuelled by the dictatorial ineptitude of Sheffield Council and its multinational contractor Amey(notably the now infamous 5am Rustlings Road raid).

And they have become the focus, the impetus, and sometimes the inspiration, for campaigners around the nation and beyond to identify the problem of the felling of healthy street trees in their communities, often for narrow financial savings for councils and contractors, to the great cost of the rest of us.

A Sheffield street tree, the Chelsea Road elm, finished second in a national Tree of the Year competition on the BBC.

As I’ve charted the increasingly farcical attempts of Amey and Sheffield Council to destroy the public good in the city in the interest of private profit, I’ve had people from around the country getting in contact to say “the same is happening to street and park trees in my community – what can I do?”

Stepped up

They’ve been excited to see the publicity the issue has got in Sheffield and wondered how they can get the same.

That’s not easy – the passion with which the Labour council has lined up behind its multinational contractor and sought to victimise the tree protectors, including a Green councillor elected on a manifesto of supporting residents protecting the trees, is unlikely to be replicated anywhere.

And the cost to the protectors in stress (the threat of prison and swingeing fines), time and energy, is not something you’d wish on anyone. But the impacts of the conflict in South Yorkshire have been felt far beyond the city.

It has clearly been a driving force for national non-government organisations – notably Trees for Cities and the Woodland Trust – to really step up their efforts to chart the beneficial impacts of street trees and campaign for their retention.

And even charities that haven’t necessarily been known for their campaigning sides, from the Sheffield and Rotherham Wildlife Trust to Butterfly Conservation, have stepped up to the plate to defend the city’s trees.

Tree tsar

And its has inspired new campaign groups around the nation – one that I’ve noticed being particularly active is South Tyneside Tree Action Group, but there are many more.

In Bristol, a similar campaign started in 2006 has taken a different path, with the council being far more cooperative and prepared to learn from civil society.

In the way of the media, the innovative, world-leading tree strategy that has emerged has got less media attention than the conflict in Sheffield, but it forms an important balance to it, showing what is possible.

The Sheffield case has galvanised the national media to look beyond South Yorkshire. The Sunday Times ran a huge piece including a league table of councils around the country and their record on street trees.

Michael Gove, seeing a groundswell when it rolled towards him, has even appointed a “tsar” with responsibility to protect street trees.

Legal expenses

The personal cost to campaigners in Sheffield has been high, but one of the rewards is to see a new national awareness of the value of street trees to human wellbeing, and new structures, institutions and practices, growing up to protect them.

In Sheffield we’ve lost thousands of healthy street trees, which cannot be replaced – and the council, despite slightly softer rhetoric, is showing no sign of getting the value of street trees. But the rest of the nation is.

We’re better off as a result. And Sheffield will have to catch up eventually – and there could even be a plaque in the town hall, beside the Kinder Trespass one, commemorating their efforts.

But in the meantime, again this week peaceful protectors are being taken to court by the council, which is trying to extend the injunction against them for a further three years.

If you’re grateful to what they’ve done please extend them a helping hand if you can. Legal expenses just keep adding up.

This Author

Natalie Bennett is a member of Sheffield Green Party and former Green Party leader.

https://theecologist.org/2018/jul/10/sheffield-tree-protectors-have-changed-nations-view-street-trees

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Posted in Blog, Healthy Felling, News

Injunction renewal hearing – 11th July 2018

SHEFFIELD HIGH COURT, 11 July 2018.

report by Sheldon Hall.

Undramatic scenes punctuated the inaction at today’s tedious non-hearing at Sheffield High Court. Boredom ran high as anti-climax followed breathlessly on anti-climax and non-event piled on non-event before culminating in irresolution.

No arguments and no evidence were submitted in court by Sheffield City Council, as it sought to extend and vary the current injunction against direct action at tree-felling sites. Instead, legal teams representing both the council and tree campaigners spent most of the day huddled in meeting rooms as they tried to thrash out a deal behind closed doors.

The hearing was due to start at 10.00am sharp. The four defendants challenging the new injunction application, along with three other non-signatories, plus SCC’s Paul Billington and Amey’s Darren Butt, were accordingly assembled with their respective legal representatives in court at that time. But nothing happened. Of the judge there was no sign.

Animated conversations broke out among the lawyers as they pointed to laptop screens and scribbled on notepads. Others present gathered in groups or pairs to chat idly while issues were discussed on their behalf. (All this was of course inaudible to public onlookers up in the gallery.) Then the various participants began disappearing to off-stage consultation rooms, until by 11.30am the courtroom was empty apart from its staff.

It was not until 1.00pm that everyone reconvened and Mr Justice Robinson took the bench, only to call a lunch break after ten minutes of procedure. Further waiting around followed the intermission, and it was exactly 4.23pm when the judge was called again. He dropped a strong hint that both parties should agree a ‘consensual compromise’ before the court reconvenes in the morning. And that was it.

Campaign supporters gathered in the public gallery were forced to speculate on what might lie behind SCC’s failure to make its case in open court.

Were the council’s legal advisers unsure of the legitimacy of their bid (available for scrutiny in publicly available documents) to restrict civil liberties to the point where residents would be forced to produce ID to gain admittance to their own homes, and so to stifle peaceful protest that the only valid opposition would take the form of private fantasy?

Or were they seeking to press home their proposed prohibitions on such freedoms as slow walking and to enforce their mania to include ‘natural boundaries’ like walls and railings within the definition of safety zones?

Perhaps we will find out tomorrow. Meanwhile, observers salvaged what stimulation they could from today’s non-event:

**Suspense** as Dave Dillner tried to complete his newspaper crossword.

**Spectacle** as Paul Brooke performed a spontaneous dance for the gallery.

**Colour** from defence counsel Paul Powlesland’s snazzily-patterned socks.

**Intrigue** as Paul Billington and Darren Butt read, apparently for the first time, the ‘We Want You to Complain [about Amey]’ leaflet.

**Shock** at the revelation that SCC’s counsel Katharine Holland QC is being paid £35,000 for a day and a half’s work.

The case continues. It might even get started.

 

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Posted in Court case reports, Court cases

Papers, please: Sheffield council to demand residents carry ID

After arresting middle-aged women for blowing plastic instruments and a vicar for assault with tambourine, Sheffield’s draconian policies are reaching a new low: next time private contractor Amey comes to fell a healthy tree, residents wishing to access their own property will be expected to show identification. Why is this happening in the erstwhile People’s Republic of South Yorkshire? Some background is in order.

Sheffield City Council, led by “Strong Leader” Julie Dore, has suffered some major blows in recent months over its contract with a private corporation to fell half the street trees in the city, regardless of need. It was forced to reveal that — despite denying it both to journalists and in court — it had inexplicably signed a contract which contained a contractual commitment to felling 17,500 trees (half the street trees in the city). Outrage has continued, and indeed grown, over its plan to fell the memorial trees of Western Road. The heavy-handed tactics used on peaceful protestors have shocked the city and indeed the world — especially as this grew to include dozens of private security and up to 30 police officers at time, while murders were committed elsewhere in Sheffield. It was no shock, then, that the Labour council lost seats in the May elections, and that the councillor with the most votes in the entire city was Alison Teal, whom they had tried to jail and who had previously won by only handful of votes.

After all this, the council appointed a new Cabinet Member for the Environment, Lewis Dagnall, to oversee the tree contract. Dagnall declared a desire for compromise with campaigners, and a determination to find a resolution that would remove the need for heavy-handed tactics. Briefly, it looked like things might be taking a turn for the reasonable.

But then we learned that the council had no plans whatsoever to scale back its heavy-handed legal approach. It sought jail terms for four tree protectors related to a civil injunction it was granted against certain forms of protest. The judge did not grant the council’s wish, but he convicted three of them, saddling them with heavy legal fees to pay.

And now this week the council — which supposedly seeks a compromise with campaigners — is attempting to extend the injunction for three years.If we take seriously the plan to fell half the street trees in Sheffield over twenty years, this really shouldn’t be shocking. In fact, we should confidently expect that the injunction will need to be extended over and over: it takes a long time to fell 17,500 trees that residents are willing to fight for.

The council is also seeking to broaden the injunction.Among other things, they want to be able to declare any pre-existing object to be a part of a barrier. They want to be able to erect barriers on park land, and keep people out so that they can more easily fell trees on the highway. And they want to be able to send people to jail for so much as suggesting on social media ways that one might seek to delay felling while a solution is sought.

Perhaps most shocking of all, the council has announced that they expect residents to show identification in order to access their own properties. By long tradition, people in the United Kingdom are not required to carry identification with them — what will happen when someone returns home from the shops to find barriers around their house? And what of children, carers, friends, cat sitters? The council does not seem to care.

Sheffield City Council is willing to impose a bizarre police state simply in order to fell trees that don’t need felling, against the wishes of residents and all expert advice — all in service to a 25-year contract with a private company. This is not what democracy is meant to look like.

Original article here :

https://medium.com/@jennifersaul/papers-please-sheffield-council-to-demand-residents-carry-id-5eb9a558dc38

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Posted in Blog, Healthy Felling, Legal notices, News

Feedback from the University of Leicester street tree tour

Sheffield Street Trees and Heritage

“In May 2018 STAG members supported a visit to some of the key campaign sites – and iconic street trees – for a group of undergraduate students from Leicester University. These BA Human Geography students were taking part in a field course, ‘Heritage and Place’ in Sheffield. As one of the field course leaders, I was very keen that students had chance to engage with important aspects of environmental heritage and activism, which the STAG campaign epitomises. Through spending some time reading around the issues and walking around the streets with local campaigners the students were able to reflect critically on all sides of the argument, to better understand the value and importance of the trees to campaigners, and to appreciate incentives for and strategies of activism. They found these encounters challenging, inspirational and thought provoking. As well as informing them about the complexities of this specific case, the visit offered a really important lesson for them in thinking about place, heritage, emotion and environmental values – something they will carry forward into their future studies. Many thanks to the STAG members involved.”

– Dr. Caroline Upton, Senior Lecturer in Human Geography at the University of Leicester.

 

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Crowdfunder: street trees legal fund

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

Heartwood TiCL trail

Walk the Heartwood Trail and find Robert Macfarlane’s beautiful charms against harm hung from some of Sheffield’s threatened Street Trees. Designed by Jackie Morris.