Date set for independent Sheffield trees inquiry after controversial felling in city

An independent inquiry into the Sheffield tree-felling debacle will be launched in spring next year, it has been announced.

Police at one of Sheffield's tree felling sites
Police at one of Sheffield's tree felling sites

A new webpage for the inquiry has been set up by Sheffield City Council, setting out the expected timetable for the process. It comes as the council begins the process of hiring an independent chair to lead the investigation.

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The chair is due to be appointed in January, with the inquiry scheduled to be formally launched by the “end of March 2022” where the terms of reference, process and timetable for the hearing will be set out.

Amey\'s Streets Ahead contract has included the hugely controversial tree felling

The inquiry was ordered in May this year as part of a power-sharing deal between Labour and the Green Party after the former group, which was in charge during the saga, lost overall control of the council in the local elections.

Prior to the election, Labour had been resisting an inquiry into the saga, which saw thousands of street trees felled and replaced with saplings as part of a £2bn highways management contract with Amey. Campaigners argued many of the tree fellings had involved healthy trees and had been unnecessary.

In October last year, the council was ordered to apologise to the people of the city after a damning Ombudsman report found it had misled the public, misrepresented expert advice and acted with a “lack of honesty” over the course of the saga.

Police supported a pre-dawn tree-felling operation on Rustlings Road last year

Adverts have now been placed locally and nationally to find an inquiry chair, with the council saying it wished to attract “an independent and impartial candidate who brings strong leadership and drive to carry out this important work”.

Labour Councillor Julie Grocutt, Deputy Leader for Sheffield City Council, said: “I’m delighted that we’re progressing with the independent inquiry; starting the recruitment process for the independent chair is a big step.

"It’s really important that people can see we are working openly on this and are committed to appointing a suitable, independent person to achieve the most meaningful outcome, for us as a council, but also for our residents.”

Executive Member for Climate Change, Environment and Transport Green Party Councillor Douglas Johnson, added: “It’s really important that this inquiry helps Sheffield get to a shared understanding of what happened and why, and helps us all to move forward together.

"Getting the most capable person to chair this inquiry is essential to its success, so I’m really pleased that the net is being cast far and wide to attract the best person for the task.”

Tree felling was stopped in 2018 due to conflict between protesters and the council but since then, there has been mediated talks and work has continued.

People who are interested in the role can find out more or ask for an application pack by emailing [email protected], with the closing date for applications being 4pm on December 10.