Fox’s Fabled Flexi-Pave

Flexi™–Pave is a relatively new material that is increasingly used around trees growing in busy urban environments. Resembling smooth gravel, it is made of recycled vehicle tyres, stone and a bonding agent. Because it ‘flexes’ tree roots are given some room to grow without breaking the pavement surface.  

Because it is permeable Flexi™–Pave allows water through to trees, reducing their need to put out moisture-seeking roots.  The material plays a role in Sustainable Urban Drainage Systems (SUDS) as it allows sudden downpours of rain to drain swiftly, unlike the impermeable tarmac, stone and concrete that make up so much of our pavements.

For clarity: we use the trademark version: Flexi™–Pave on this site, unless quoting written sources. Other versions such as Flexi®-Pave, Flexi Paving and other variations – with or without hyphens or capital letters – are also in common use.

None of the examples of Flexi™–Pave  photographed on this page were found in Sheffield. Although this commonly used ‘Engineering Solution’ is visible across other UK towns and cities, it is a rare sight in Sheffield.

28th December 2015 – The ‘Streets Ahead’ programme had felled 3,068 trees across the city, and controversy was reaching new heights over Sheffield City Council’s (SCC) lack of commitment towards using ‘Engineering Solutions’ to retain healthy highway trees.

Cllr. Terry Fox, who was the Council’s Cabinet Member for Environment and Transport at the time, told The Sheffield Star that the much talked about tree-preserving solutions were “already used”  and that flexi paving had been used 143 times to retain trees.

Tree-campaigners were left astonished by Cllr. Fox’s claim.

Flexi™–Pave has a distinctive appearance and would have been spotted by the many tree-campaigners active across the city. Apart from a few small trees in pedestrian areas of the city centre, and around some isolated trees in parks (neither of which come under the ‘Streets Ahead’ contract) campaigners knew of no examples of Flexi™–Pave being used in Sheffield.

A campaigner’s FoI request to SCC 

8th February 2016 – Re: Freedom of Information Request – FOI/1305:

– “Please would you provide locations for the retained “street trees” using this flexi paving solution.”

“We do not hold this information. We can confirm that flexi paving is frequently used as a part of the specific Streets Ahead highway maintenance programme. However, we do not hold a record of the locations of the sites where its use has led to a tree being retained.”

– “Was the flexi paving used as a part of the specific Streets Ahead highway improvement program?”


– “Where did the funding originate for the flexi paving solution?

“Flexi pave is one of the treatments used on the Streets Ahead project and is paid for as part of the monthly unitary payment made by the Authority for the delivery of a complete highway maintenance service.”

This confirms the Council’s position that Flexi pave is being paid for and used.

8th January 2016 – Cllr. Nikki Bond (Labour), sent an email providing information from David Caulfield, Development Officer for Highways and Transport, which stated:

“I can confirm that KBM, the company which campaign groups have had contact and discussions with regarding flexible paving, were Amey’s previous national supplier for Flexi Pave for the first half of the Core Investment Period, and as such they have supplied Amey with both materials and services on multiple occasions for Streets Ahead works around highway trees here in Sheffield.” 

However, tree campaigners had already received contradictory information, which they outlined in a letter ‘To The Cabinet Member For Environment & Transport’ (Cllr. Terry Fox), dated 29th January 2016:

“SORT (Save Our Roadside Trees) had held a meeting with Graham Pell, the Managing Director of KBI (or KBM) UK Ltd (the maker and supplier of Flexi®-Pave.) Mr Pell told SORT that he had offered to meet with SCC on numerous occasions about the possibility of using Flexi®-Pave on highways, and that his suggestions appeared to have been totally ignored. He said that KBI (or KBM) UK Ltd had never been invited by SCC or Amey to provide materials or services for the Streets Ahead project.”

Confused? So, to make things clear:

  • Both Cllr. Fox and David Caulfield separately claimed that Flexi Pave had been used to retain healthy highway trees as part of the ‘Streets Ahead’ contract.
  • Cllr. Fox specified that Flexi paving had retained 143 healthy highway trees. 
  • The Managing Director of KBI (not KBM) approached the Council to discuss supplying Flexi™–Pave  to ‘Streets Ahead’, however a meeting never took place.
The Information Commissioner investigates the Council’s claims

Tree campaigners continued to press for specific examples of Flexi™–Pave in use, but were never provided with actual locations, and they eventually escalated their enquiries to the Information Commissioner.

19th February 2016 – the Information Commissioner completed an investigation instigated by campaigners (Case Reference Number FS50596905)

What the investigation revealed was sobering: neither Flexi™–Pave nor any of the other 14 ‘engineering solutions’ listed in the ‘Streets Ahead: First Five-year Tree-Management Strategy’ had been deployed. This is despite Steve Robinson, Head of Highways, telling the ‘Highway Tree Advisory Forum’ on 2nd September 2015:

“The engineering and tree-based solutions come at no extra cost to the Council. The taxpayer does not pay if an engineering solution or a tree-based solution can be applied” 

It also emerged that no engineering solution specifications relating to pavements, kerbs and drain construction had been drafted.  Why, given that the condition of pavements and kerbs is so often the justification for felling, did Amey and the Streets Ahead team fail to include this vital information?  This error means that many healthy trees have been condemned when standard solutions were available, just never even considered. 

Among tree-campaigners the situation became known as ‘Fox’s Fabled Flexi–Pave’.

1st June 2016 –  SCC’s Information Management Officer tried to explain away Cllr. Fox’s incorrect assertion:

“At the time of Cllr. Fox’s statement, a flexible paving solution had been specified for use around 143 highway trees. However, given that the Council had paused its tree replacement programme pending the outcome of the survey of residents on roads affected by the programme, the flexible paving has still to be used in all of the specified 143 sites.”

Despite dogged persistence from tree-campaigners no further clarification on the subject of Flexi™–Pave and its whereabouts in Sheffield was given. In the summer of 2016 David Caulfield left the Council to work for another Local Authority and Cllr. Fox was replaced by Cllr. Lodge as Cabinet Member for Environment and Transport.

For further information, visit WhatDoTheyKnow.

SCC continue to tell ‘fables’ about Flexi™–Pave.

1st February 2017 – At a full Council meeting the Cabinet Member for Environment (Cllr Bryan Lodge) announced:

“Mr xxxxx asked about Flexi®-Pave and whether I have met with people from Flexi®-Pave yet…We’ve not managed to arrange a meeting yet…with diaries to fit things in, but I know some dates have been put forward and I’m looking forward to meeting them as soon as possible.. once I’ve had the meeting, I’m happy to discuss the outcome of that meeting with anybody who is interested”…Flexi®-Pave as a product has not been used on the Streets Ahead contract.”

20th April 2017 – Re – Freedom of Information Request FOI/36  

Thank you for your recent request for information relating to details of Council meeting with KBI UK Ltd regarding Flexi™-Pave…to discuss its potential use for circumstances pertaining to the retention of mature street trees where roots had caused footways to ramp.

Please find below, Sheffield City Council’s response to your request:

“We can confirm…no such meeting with a supplier of flexible paving materials has taken place…the meeting is still in the process of being arranged.”

4th October 2017 – Information Commissioner’s Office review of FOI/36 request

“Anonymous FoI

Information Commissioner’s Office summary – The complainant requested information from Sheffield City Council (the Council) relating to the location of trees that had been selected by a Council contractor for the implementation of flexible paving. The Council denied holding any relevant information. The Commissioner investigated the complainant’s appeal and found that the information was held on behalf of the Council by one of its contractors. The Council confirmed that its revised response was that the request was manifestly unreasonable as per regulation 12(4)(b) of the EIR, and that the balance of the public interest favoured maintaining the exception. The complainant confirmed he wished to appeal against this refusal of his request. The Commissioner’s decision is that the Council incorrectly refused the request as manifestly unreasonable. The Commissioner requires the public authority to provide the complainant with the requested information.

EIR 12(4)(b):Upheld

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