Mediators could be called in to try to resolve the bitter dispute between campaigners and the council over Sheffield’s trees.
Rebecca Hammond and Chris Rust, co-chairs of Sheffield Tree Action Groups, sat down for ‘serious’ talks with with council leader Julie Dore and chief executive John Mothersole yesterday.
The aim was to try to begin a process of restoring trust and creating more of a positive atmosphere.
The campaign group, known as Stag, has been calling for talks for some time as the dispute over the felling and replacement of thousands of street trees has led to national publicity, arrests and court action.
The council says it has always been open to discussion. But following yesterday’s ‘robust but cordial’ meeting, Mr Rust said he was hopeful progress could be made.
“The important thing is they didn’t dismiss our proposal and have agreed to come back as soon as they can with a response,” he said. “We are hoping they will agree to a process of mediation.”
On Friday last week campaigner Calvin Payne was spared jail by a high court judge. Justice Mr Stephen Males ruled that he had three times breached an injunction brought by the council that stops people protesting inside safety barriers around trees and encouraging people to do the same.
Mr Payne was ordered to pay the council £16,000 in costs.
By the end of the year 6,000 of the city’s 36,000 street trees could have been felled and replaced. The authority says only trees that are dead, dying, diseased, dangerous or discriminatory – damaging the highway so people have trouble getting by – are being cut down.
But campaigners say healthy trees are being cut down for profit, and could be saved through a variety of engineering solutions.
Echoing Mr Rust, a council spokesman said: “The council had a cordial and robust discussion with Stag members to try to clear up any remaining misunderstandings about the street tree replacement programme. During the meeting Stag presented a proposal, which the council will now take time to consider fully.
“While we hope the ongoing discussions will enable us to establish some common ground, it’s important to be clear this is not about changing policy.
"Streets Ahead is the biggest investment ever seen in our roads, street trees and infrastructure in the city we all love and importantly, our focus will remain on the work the majority of Sheffielders want to see completed.
“The programme is our opportunity to replace trees where necessary so that they don’t last for just the next 10 years, but for the next hundred; for our children and our grandchildren. What’s more, our approach will see less than one per cent of the city’s tree stock being replaced with 600 additional street trees being planted over the contract period.”