The great Sheffield chainsaw massacre

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On September 2, as the second meeting of the Highway Trees Advisory Forum took place, with reference to the felling of Sheffield’s highway trees, the BBC announced: “…there are another 2,000 to be cut down this year, so far.”

No wonder residents are upset! As SORT point out in their 13,000-signature petition, our highway trees are a key component of Sheffield’s green infrastructure; a valuable asset that make a significant contribution to our health and well-being, not least of all through their beauty and our pleasure of its enjoyment (amenity value), reducing health problems and associated NHS costs.

In response to MP Louise Haigh’s question about the basis for opposition to the current five years of city-wide felling programme, the basis is set out in the Save our Roadside Trees (SORT) letter addressed to Coun Fox, dated July 14, 2015. The basis was and is also detailed in the SORT hand-out that was distributed to every councillor on June 26, 2015, by the council’s democratic services legal and governance resources department. Ms Haigh received a copy of the latter on June 25, and again on July 1, 2015. Both documents are accessible online, via Stocksbridge Community Forum (News section).

Any city-wide felling programme that lacks a strategic, planned, systematic and integrated approach and that fails to involve communities is likely to attract criticism from every quarter.

The city-wide felling programme will drastically reduce the number of large-crowned trees along our streets, having significant negative impact on the shape, size and distribution of canopy cover along highways, and on the range, magnitude and value of associated ecosystem goods and services afforded by these trees.

Sheffield’s urban forest IS defined by its canopy cover, according to the Government’s own policy: The UK Forestry Standard: The Government’s approach to sustainable forest management. The standard exists to implement forestry policy and forestry principles and criteria set by the international community. it requires “stewardship and use… in a way and at a rate that maintains… their potential to fulfil, now and in the future, relevant ecological, economic and social functions, at local… levels….” These “functions” are the ecosystem goods and services and include those that the SORT petition mentioned. Other cities have had these valued and found them to be worth millions of pounds each year. SORT Submitted the following Freedom of information (FOI) request (Ref: FOI / 423) on 06/07/2015: “Under the FOI act, I request a copy of the risk assessment for the trees that are proposed to be felled on Rustlings Road please.” A response was received on 22/7/2015: “We do not carry out a risk assessment as part of our review of trees.”

SORT also submitted another FOI request (Ref: FOI / 493) on 18/07/2015: “Under the FOI act, I request to see the assessment criteria and completed assessments that led to the decision to fell trees causing pavement ridging on Rustlings Road.” A response was received on 7/8/2015: “The assessment criteria are as set out on the council’s website.”

At that time all that we could find was the now infamous 6Ds policy that Coun Fox claimed, at the meeting of full council on 1/7/2015, was the city’s tree strategy, presented in its entirety.

The Acts of Parliament that the council quote only place a duty on the council to that which is reasonable in all circumstances of the case.

SORT believe that, in fulfilment of this duty, it would be prudent and reasonable for the council to adopt appropriate, adequate, balanced assessments to inform decisions and help ensure that they are defendable.

We believe this would help ensure a sustainable approach and help temper a destructive, risk-averse approach, provided assessments are undertaken by competent people using current, widely recognised and accepted, appropriate methods. It would also help ensure that decisions are based on sound evidence and not unduly influenced by transitory or exaggerated opinions.

SORT are grateful to all supporters, especially The Star, for helping to highlight the urgent need for a strategic approach to the management of our urban forest, for the benefit of all and future generations.

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