Memorial trees first step in plans to save treesÂ
It was a glorious day for many Sheffielders when the city council announced they would not be chopping dozens of trees planted in honour of fallen World War One soldiers, that is part of a wider plan to save more trees.Â
In total 32 trees were saved in the U-turn decision, including 20 on Western Road, at no cost to the public.
They were among 41 memorial trees earmarked for felling and replacement, despite being healthy.
It came under the controversial Â£2.2bn Streets Ahead contract between Sheffield City Council and PFI contractor Amey, which involves a programme to improve the city's highways, including a target to fell 17,500 street trees.
Leaders of the council voted to remove the memorial trees last year after estimating it would cost Â£500,000 to save them.
But this week the council announced they would be protected.Â
Green Party councillor Alison Teal, who was nearly jailed for trying to protect street trees, called it a 'victory for common sense.'
She said: 'This is a complete U-turn from last December when the council leader Julie Dore rejected the community's plans to retain the war memorial trees.
'It is a pity that so much time and money had to be spent on the issue by campaigners, by the Independent Tree Panel and by the scrutiny committee and its working group, to get to the point where Amey just has to carry out ordinary street repairs.
"Of course, if the Western Road trees can be retained, there is absolutely no reason why hundreds of other equally healthy trees should not be saved too, once again we see the Labour administration determined to play politics with our environment.'
Chris Rust and Paul Brooke, co-chairs of Sheffield Tree Action Group (STAG), have been in private, mediated talks with council chiefs and Amey representatives and said that the decision is part of a wider plan to save more trees across the city.
Mr Brooke said: 'From talks with the council we fully anticipate that other trees are also going to be saved. They are still finalising plans but we are helping them find ways to save as many as possible.'
He added that of the 305 trees still set for replacement, more than 280 were found to be healthy by the council's own assessment.
He added that they knew about the decision on memorial trees in September and that the council should have announced it much sooner.
Mr Rust said: 'This is great news, these trees should never have been threatened in the first place and it's clear now that trees can be saved without cost to the public.
'Tree campaigners are still wondering what will happen to the other memorial trees across the city, and the hundreds of other memorial trees across the city, and the hundreds of other healthy mature trees that have been condemned for reasons that are still not properly explained.
'Plans are still being developed by the council but we should far see more saved.
"With simple engineering changes the trees don't need to be chopped down to improve the roads."
When making the decision, coun Lewis Dagnall, cabinet member for environment and streetscene, said they plan to plant 300 more war memorial trees in the city's parks.
In a statement, he said: 'In the week of Remembrance Day, I am confirming that we have developed a plan to retain 32 of the 35 war memorial trees that were originally earmarked for replacement. The three that will still be replaced on Western Road are decaying.
'Remembrance Day is a period of quiet reflection on the costs of war, especially in this centenary year of the First World War Armistice. I know that many families across the city who have lost loved ones in conflicts find this time of year particularly difficult.
'Residents have been clear with me that they would like war memorial trees to be treated as a special case. I know that information about Western Road trees is now in the public domain. As I do not want this information to overshadow the Remembrance Day period, I am also writing to residents of the affected streets with this information.'
There was a temporary pause in tree felling in March after dozens of protesters were arrested while trying to stop trees being chopped down.
To date, around 5,500 trees have already been cut down under the programme, and replaced with saplings. Â
The council says Amey only cuts down 'dangerous, dead, dying, damaged or diseased' trees but protesters argue the company is chopping down healthy trees as they are easier to maintain than saplings.
Councillor Lewis Dagnall, cabinet member for environment and streetscene, confirmed they were proposing to fell fewer trees, following the mediated talks with STAG and Amey, which were held by the Bishop of Sheffield, Rt Revd Dr Pete Wilcox.Â
Coun Dagnall said: 'We have made good progress in the three days of mediated talks. We have had constructive discussions regarding outstanding work on street trees.
"Sheffield Council and Amey have tabled a proposal to retain some of the 300 trees that had originally been earmarked for replacement and phase the work on others.
'Amey has proposed to fund additional engineering solutions to make this possible at no additional cost to the council.
'We have also proposed that part of the way forward is for the council to developÂ a new street tree strategy for the city, co-produced with other stakeholders. We will also bring forward our overarching trees and woodlands strategy soon. "There is work still to do in agreeing the detail of how we manage Sheffield's street trees now and on an ongoing basis. Over the next few weeks we will invite further scrutiny of our proposals from stakeholders, before we then open a wider public conversation about our next steps.'
He added: 'We understand that this is a high profile issue, and people are keen to get more details on the proposals for street trees in Sheffield.
'Following the mediated talks we recently held with STAG, we made an agreement that none of the details, including exact numbers of trees, would be released until STAG have had an opportunity to scrutinise these and we have met again to discuss a way forward together. We would like to honour this agreement. 'We expect to meet with representatives of STAG again in the next few weeks, and look forward to sharing more information with the public following this.'
The protection of the memorial trees was a victory for those who believe in the value of street trees, only time will tell if the council and Amey will take it as a step towards saving more.