Not the last resort

Save the trees campaign on Rustlings Road in Sheffield
Save the trees campaign on Rustlings Road in Sheffield
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So, Councillor Lodge has confirmed that the trees are coming down because of cost and not ‘as a last resort’. But his figure of £50,000 to save five trees on Rustlings Road – as he announced on Radio Sheffield the morning after the ‘dawn raid’ – is questionable.

For four of those trees, the Independent Tree Panel advised using a mix of solutions , mainly adjusting kerbs, levels and tree pits) from the SCC/Amey so-called ‘List of 25 Engineering Solutions’, as explained by Steve Robinson at the second Highway Advisory Tree Forum.

Importantly, he also then confirmed that solutions 1-14 from that list (i.e. including all of the above) would “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 – and the reason for that is that the Streets Ahead project is a highway maintenance Project; and engineering and tree-based solutions are highway maintenance solutions.” Therefore they should be free.

So (unless the council really don’t understand the contract to which they are a party), the £50,000 must have been for just the fifth tree – for which the Independent Tree Panel suggested a different engineering solution (marginal realignment of the kerb) and also looked to see if the pavement could be ‘levelled’.

However, such pursuit of ‘perfection’ is neither appropriate nor necessary here. Firstly, the tree has not broken the actual line of the road edge – so instead of a slight narrowing of the road and all the expensive ‘legal procedures’ that entails – the kerb itself could be narrower, or a section omitted altogether (as ‘no-cost’ solutions nos. 1 and 5 respectively), while – as clearly demonstrated by a series of sectional slides at the same Highway Advisory Tree Forum – it is also not necessary to ‘level’ the pavement as gradients well within the national guidelines are easily achievable locally here (as ‘no-cost’ solution no.3) leaving the roots where they are.

Thus they could all have been saved at no cost to the council or to its voting tax payers – so why has the council not held Amey to these contractual obligations? The council appears to have some track record in accepting questionable financial arguments from Amey.

Remember the £26 million estimate for saving the healthy trees? And the £70,000 to save the now rare and magnificent elm on Chelsea Road, for which an independent engineer provided a range of solutions from just £1,500 to £3,500?

But there is also something of deeper concern. The ITP appears to have refused to receive any evidence about the issues with this list or about any alternative solutions from residents who have applied to do so – but has instead solely referred to the ‘solutions’ provided by the council. However, through Mr Robinson, the council effectively dismissed much of this list as not practical, not suitable and /or not affordable – indeed Simon Green, director of place, has stated that they only still refer to the list in order ‘to avoid accusations of not considering options fully” (despite it also including the retention of dead, dangerous and diseased trees and the introduction of further potentially dangerous and discriminatory circumstances).

Thus, recommendations to save trees using some of these are pretty much automatically doomed (as being seen in the council’s rejection of their advice as it unfolds across the city), while the ITP are refusing to recommend a solution that renders a number of these as unnecessary and which has been publicly endorsed by Amey itself in its advertising literature.

“Our latest project has seen us use KBI Flexi™-Pave to replace full pavements that had been damaged by root intrusion from established trees. We are pleased with the performance of the material and see it as a great option for new and replacement tree surrounds.”

Indeed Amey have gone on to achieve strategic partner status for its use in Birmingham, and it has even been successfully used by other SCC departments and dozens of councils across the country. And you can’t get much better ‘value for money’ for the people of Sheffield than it costing nothing as it too falls under no-cost solution no.4.

So, as well as leading to the seeming debacle Wednesday morning – letting the whole nation know how the council appears to go about its business in Sheffield – by further suppressing the ITP’s report for four months, the council has also prevented the democratic ability to debate or question the result. And have ‘robbed’ Sheffield people of an equivalent asset. Must this really now continue across the city without review?

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