Worthy of trust?

Save the trees campaign on Rustlings Road in Sheffield
Save the trees campaign on Rustlings Road in Sheffield
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Are our elected representatives worthy of trust and of responsibility? Evidence indicates not.

To date, Amey have felled more than 3,800 mature highway trees. Amey are felling trees associated with damage to footways and kerbs. Coun Leigh Bramall (deputy leader of the council) has said that the £2.2 billion Streets Ahead contract permits the felling of 50 per cent of highway trees. Without compliance with current good practice, we stand to lose around 67.7 per cent of mature highway trees: 73.8 per cent of the highway tree population.

In February, the Information Commissioner revealed that, over three and a half years in to the city-wide highway maintenance project, neither the council or Amey have commissioned or drafted any alternative highway engineering specifications for consideration as a means to retain trees. Felling is certainly not the “last resort” that the council and Amey claim it is.

A recent High Court case revealed that the “Sheffield City Highways Tree Survey 2006-2007”, undertaken by Elliott Consultancy Ltd, recommended that SCC adopt a tree strategy. It also stated that Sheffield has 35,057 highway trees and that there are “25,000 highway trees requiring no work at present”.

It recommended 1,000 trees for felling, plus 241 to be crown-reduced or felled. This is the survey that Coun Fox (as cabinet member for environment and transport) stated: “helps us inform our priorities for the formation of the contract”.

In June, 2015, the Save Our Roadside Trees (SORT) Sheffield Tree Action Group gathered 10,000 signatures, calling for the council to take reasonable steps to ensure that Amey retain healthy mature highway trees and safeguard against unnecessary avoidable damage during works in close proximity to them.

SORT highlighted the need for the council to honour its policy commitment (now six years old) to have a tree strategy, noting that a report from 2008 (Trees in Towns 2), commissioned by the Government, advised that local authorities “need to make this an immediate priority”.

September 2 marked a year since the most recent meeting of the “bi-monthly” Highway Tree Advisory Forum (HTAF) when Coun Fox promised that a tree strategy would be ready for November 2015, after previously saying March 2016.

On February 26, 2016, one of the two men draughting the strategy – Jerry Gunton (SCC’s parks and countryside tree manager) – revealed work on a draught had not begun.

On April 22, the other man – David Aspinall (SCC’s woodlands manager) – informed that a draught would be ready for public comment in June.

In July, he then informed it would not be ready until “early autumn” 2016.

To date, the council has neglected to honour the commitment it made on February 3: “To being open and transparent with the Sheffield public ensuring all relevant information is available in the public domain.”

What chance is there for positive change?

D Long (BSc Hons Arb)

Sheffield