Council chiefs say ‘all options are open’ ahead of a major debate on the fate of trees facing the axe in Sheffield - prompted by a petition which gathered 8,000 signatures.
Planned work to fell trees along Rustlings Road, close to Endcliffe Park, as well as on streets in Nether Edge, has been paused until Wednesday, when the debate will take place at a full meeting of Sheffield Council.
Campaigners are now pushing for a wide-ranging review of the council’s contract and policies on trees.
The 8,000-signature petition, started as a response to the felling on Rustlings Road, was handed in at the Town Hall this week.
Meanwhile protesters have so far managed to peacefully block work by staging a vigil on Wayland Road and Bowood Road in Nether Edge.
Coun Terry Fox, the council’s cabinet member for environment, said the authority had ‘a lot of options’ available, from engineering solutions to a new ‘tree forum’ which would allow campaigners from across the city to air their views collectively, as well as involving input from experts and groups such as the Wildlife Trust.
But he warned there was also a need for the ‘management of expectation’, given the felling is part of Sheffield’s Streets Ahead project with highways contractor Amey.
“We cannot take away from the fact that we are tied to a contract with Amey and there are various contractual obligations we have with them,” he said.
“We’re not averse to any kind of solutions or options that are reasonable and practicable.”
Coun Fox continued: “We have just planted 50,000 trees across the city, so nobody can so we don’t love trees. But we can’t have a conversation about every tree. We have to take a citywide, balanced and considered view.
“The tree forum I have in mind would be a bi-monthly meeting where we can openly discuss these issues.”
He said he ‘did not accept’ campaigners’ calls for a review by an independent tree consultant.
“Sheffield taxpayers pay for employees of the council who are highly qualified staff, and tree experts. We haven’t got all the answers, but we have got professionals. But there are other experts out there, and we accept that.”
Coun Fox added: “All options are open. We will have a full and frank debate but I cannot predict what full council will say.”
Streets Ahead says the trees need to be removed as they are diseased, dying or damaging the pavement. Trees that are removed are replaced, although not necessarily in the same location.
Dr Deepa Shetty, who started the petition to save 11 lime trees on Rustlings Road a month ago, said: “Over the next two years, we have strong reason to believe well over 50 per cent of street trees with medium and large crowns will be felled by Amey, with council consent.”
She said such trees provided ‘millions of pounds worth of ecosystem services’ each year and the council ‘must stop the asset stripping’ of Sheffield’s trees to avoid serious negative effects such as increased pollution.
The Save Our Rustlings Trees group needed 5,000 names to trigger a debate by councillors.