'Peace deal' agreed as Sheffield tree-felling war ends after eight year battle

A ‘peace deal’ has been drawn up between protesters and Sheffield City Council – potentially bringing the city’s eight year tree-felling war to an end.

Wednesday, 15th July 2020, 12:01 am

Both sides have agreed to work together on a new ‘shared vision’ for the city’s trees after a long-running saga which saw dozens of arrests, thousands of trees chopped down and a war of words in the courts.

A document outlining the strategy will be published this week alongside an online survey which asks for views from individuals and organisations to help shape a final plan by spring 2021.

The working strategy, which outlines a positive and exemplary approach to the future management of the city’s street trees, comes following months of partnership working between representatives from Sheffield City Council, Amey, Sheffield & Rotherham Wildlife Trust, Sheffield Tree Action Groups, The Woodland Trust and tree valuation experts.

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The controversial tree felling programme has rumbled on for eight years.

The working strategy recognises the essential contribution that street trees provide for health and wellbeing, air quality and other ecological and environmental benefits, as well as outlining new ways of working to ensure the city’s network of street trees is well maintained and sustained for the future.

Six outcomes, which will collectively help shape and develop the future approach to street trees, are outlined in the working strategy; putting into practice long-term and tangible plans to allow for smarter and more considered decisions.

These are:

- Sustainably and carefully managing street trees in accordance with best practice.- Increasing the value and benefits that flow from our street trees.- Contributing to a more equal distribution of urban forest across the city to promote health and wellbeing.- Increasing street tree canopy cover.- Ensuring street trees are more resilient through the type and age of trees planted and also the current street tree stock is managed.- Involving the wider community in caring for and valuing street trees.

As a supplement to Sheffield City Council’s existing Trees and Woodlands Strategy (2018-2033) the working strategy outlines a clear proposal to promote and enhance Sheffield’s street tree stock whilst identifying the unique challenges of caring for trees growing in a highway environment.

As part of their work, the development group commissioned baseline data for Sheffield’s street trees which included the production of a report by Treeconomics, based on an inventory of Sheffield’s street trees and drawing on over 35,000 records from the ‘Streets Ahead’ database.

The report values the ecosystem benefits of street trees using i-Tree Eco, a state-of-the-art open source software system used worldwide to assess and manage urban tree populations and is thought to be the first of its kind for street trees.

The information will result in the council and its partners being able to better manage the city’s street trees by using more accurate, timely and complete sets of data.

The ‘Sheffield Street Tree Inventory Report’ can be viewed HERE

Liz Ballard, Chair of the Sheffield Street Tree Strategy Development Group said: “We set out to develop an exemplary Partnership Street Tree Strategy for Sheffield that values street trees for the benefits they bring to people, the city and the wider environment. And we believe this working strategy is just that.

“As a group we wanted to produce something positive and visionary - for the city to collectively view street trees as an asset, helping us to improve air quality, reduce flood risk, support wildlife and store carbon, and to promote the wellbeing of our cities citizens.

“This strategy aims to learn from the past in order to deliver our vision for the future of Sheffield’s street trees.”

Councillor Mark Jones, Cabinet member for Environment, Street Scene and Climate Change at Sheffield City Council said: “We live in a city famous for its greenery, something many of us are rightly proud of.

"We have almost five million trees covering our streets, parks and woodlands. That’s approximately eight trees for each person who lives here. It is really important that we have a tree strategy that supports a sustainable and future-proof approach to managing our growing street tree stock.

“Trees matter. Not only do they help improve air quality and support wildlife but they have also been proven to benefit our mental health. We need better and more robust measures in place to make sure trees across Sheffield continue providing value to our natural and urban environment.

“To make this strategy work for the city, we need feedback and collaboration from a range of stakeholders, partners and residents and this will be gained through our 12 week consultation process. Engagement is key for creating a way forward that works for us all, not just for now, but for many years to come.

“We’ve not always got the approach to street trees right. However, through the hard work and dedication of the development group and many others we have created this new strategy, one which ensures we listen carefully to all viewpoints and will shape how we do things better.

“Through this new way of working, we are committed to retaining trees wherever possible, planting additional trees, increasing canopy cover and building a more diverse and resilient street tree stock with varying species and age profiles.

“It’s not just about the number of trees we have; it’s about caring for them in the right way and maximising their many benefits whilst ensuring that our city can still develop and thrive in these times of continuous and challenging change.”

Paul Selby from STAG said: “This working strategy is the culmination of seven months collaboration between a whole range of partners, and I am personally extremely grateful to all those who have contributed their time and expertise.

“The working strategy was approved by the Council in March this year and, assuming it is implemented, Sheffield’s residents can be confident that their street trees will be protected, sustained, and increased in number. The benefits of this new and enlightened approach will be felt not just by current generations, but future generations too.”

Over recent years, there has been public interest in the approach to managing street trees in Sheffield, as part of the council’s Streets Ahead Highways Maintenance programme being delivered by Amey.

In a bid to find a way forward, in 2018 the council and Amey embarked on a series of mediated talks with members of the main campaign group, STAG. This resulted in a joint position statement being agreed and the start of a new programme of joint tree inspections.

A review of lessons learned from these inspections was published in 2019.

Darren Butt, Account Director at Streets Ahead said: “We have welcomed the opportunity to sit down with all partners to discuss and agree a shared vision for street trees in Sheffield. By engaging with local communities and members of STAG we have a solid foundation from which to build, continuing to work collaboratively, achieving the outcomes that benefit everyone in the city.

“We are confident that our working relationships, as well as our street trees, are stronger and more resilient as a result.”

The city’s street trees are managed as part of the Streets Ahead highway maintenance contract between the Council and Amey.

Street tree management and maintenance forms part of the routine Streets Ahead programme alongside gritting, street cleaning and litter collection, gully emptying and grass cutting.

The proposed approach and actions in the working strategy support the council’s wider commitment to help combat climate change by becoming a carbon neutral city by 2030.

The strategy will be developed further in its first year, with input from stakeholders and engagement with residents in communities across the city. The aim is to review the working strategy to take account of the views from different groups of people and update the action plan in response to the outcomes of this engagement work.

A copy of the new working strategy can be found HERE.

To take part in the online survey and give your views on the working strategy click HERE

The consultation will close on Thursday 8th October 2020.

A webinar on the new Street Tree Working Strategy will take place as part of Sheffield Tree Week on Friday 17th July at 2pm. Details of this webinar and other events, including how to register, can be found here: https://www.sheffieldtreeweek.co.uk

The Woodland Trust has also welcomed the announcement by Sheffield City Council on the halting of healthy tree felling.

It cost the city more than 5,000 of its trees, but the Trust said there is ‘finally the prospect of meaningful reconciliation after eight years of tension over the mass felling of healthy street trees, that led to public outcry, a government investigation and dozens of arrests.

Half of Sheffield’s street trees were marked for felling under Streets Ahead, a controversial £2.2 billion road maintenance programme between Sheffield Council and its contractor AMEY.

Thousands of mature trees will now be saved as a result, including 20 healthy First World War memorial trees on Western Road and 120 year old Chelsea Road Elm.

The dawn fellings and opposition of city residents attracted criticism of the council and its contractor Amey from conservationists, celebrities and politicians including then Environment Secretary Michael Gove who accused Sheffield City Council of "environmental vandalism" and promised to do "anything required" to end its controversial tree-felling programme.

A spokesman said: “It is therefore quite remarkable to see that from today the city now has one of the most robust and transparent approaches for street tree management, and one the Woodland Trust is hoping other councils will look to follow.

“The progress was reached by all sides negotiating over seven months. Led by Sheffield and Rotherham Wildlife Trust; representatives of STAG (Sheffield Tree Action Groups) the Woodland Trust and various subject experts took part in a programme of workshops to reach an agreement with Sheffield City Council and its contractor Amey.

Joseph Coles , urban lead of the Woodland Trust who sat on the panel drawing up the new plan for Sheffield, said: “This is a well-earned victory for democracy, and the residents of Sheffield who fought so hard and at personal cost to protect their city’s trees. With the help of local and national charities, there is now a robust way of working that will involve consultation to avoid indiscriminate felling of healthy trees. We are waking up to a climate crisis. We need more trees, now, and we need to retain the ones we have wherever it’s safe to do so.

“This is not the end of the story, we know that tensions still exist. The real measure of success will be achieving the vision for a greener, more collaborative Sheffield.

"The outcome of the Sheffield saga has far reaching consequences and that was always one of the driving forces for residents taking action - changing the system alongside their own battle. I would also like to recognise Liz Ballard CEO of the Sheffield and Rotherham Wildlife Trust in particular, for establishing and leading such an innovative approach to collaboration to get us here

“Sheffield was the start of a debate that has led to serious reform: the England Tree Strategy, manifesto pledges to consult on tree felling, commitments to increase canopy cover, a £10million fund for urban trees – with more to come.

“This week is also going to be important for street trees as conservative backbencher Chris Clarkson MP is bringing a ‘street tree bill’ for its second reading, aligned to the manifesto pledge for trees on all new streets.

“If the Government has a tree strategy, and will require councils to have a tree strategy, this one is the exemplar for how they should be developed – in partnership with all stakeholders, including protesters and campaigners who can be a force for good. That will be Sheffield’s positive legacy.”

Clive Anderson, barrister , broadcaster and president of the Woodland Trust, said: “How good to hear that the long running saga of Sheffield and its street trees may yet have a happy ending after all.

“We need all the trees we can get, and all the mature street trees we can hang on to. Well done to the people of Sheffield and the campaign groups who have taken to the street trees and spoken out and campaigned on their behalf. Your voices have been heard. And well done to Sheffield Council for listening, at last. I hope the people - and the local authorities in other cities and towns up and down the country have listened and learned as well.”