Sheffield Council has apologised after a highway chief’s views on controversial tree felling across the city were revealed in secret recordings.
A whistleblower taped Steve Robinson, head of highway maintenance, speaking to colleagues the day after the city’s last highway tree forum, set up after thousands of people signed a petition against felling as part of the council’s Streets Ahead contract with Amey.
Mr Robinson is heard saying ‘we’re not interested’ in the ‘nonsense’ reasons people come up with on why individual trees should be saved from being removed and replaced.
A council director said his comments had been ‘escalated to senior people in the authority’ and they will ‘take action if necessary’.
Mr Robinson’s presentation about alternatives to felling, made to the forum on Wednesday, September 2, had been criticised with one independent expert saying that she was ‘ashamed’ of the presentation as an architect herself and ‘would be sacked’ if she had given it.
The recordings of Mr Robinson then speaking in busy council offices on Thursday, September 3 were passed to The Star by the whistleblower.
Also on September 3, The Star made an enquiry to Streets Ahead about a tree due to be felled on Western Road, Crookes, where trees were planted in memory of soldiers who died in World War One.
Bosses said in an official statement the tree was decayed and had to be replaced because it was a health and safety risk but they ‘understood residents’ concerns’ and had done all they could to retain it.
But in the recording, made on the same day the query was sent in, Mr Robinson is heard saying: “It makes no difference – we’re not giving any special treatment to any nonsense like this.
“If someone has bought the tree, if someone has planted it because of a family bereavement, all that, we’re not interested.
“What we’re interested in is doing our job.”
The whistleblower, who wished to remain anonymous, said they had started recording secretly as they were concerned about the tone of the conversation.
In the same clip colleagues also discuss how one tree or several trees is a ‘test’ and Mr Robinson asks whether it would be possible to take ‘extensive records for this removal’.
Sheffield Council said it was looking into the recordings after The Star played them to senior staff.
Simon Green, executive director of place, said: “We are sorry for any offence caused by the content of recordings provided to us by The Star.
“This is being taken very seriously, and has been escalated to senior people in the authority.
“We are looking into the recordings, and will take action if necessary.
“Additionally, it is important to be clear that work on any tree affected by the Streets Ahead programme takes account of all circumstances for individual trees.
“I can reassure people that we remain completely committed to taking the views of residents into account as we work with them on trees in their area.”