Sheffield council opposition criticises 'weak' inquiry into tree felling scandal

The leader of Sheffield’s Liberal Democrat opposition group has criticised the pledge by the Labour/Green controlling coalition to conduct a ‘local inquiry’ into the felling of street trees which provoked outrage in 2017 and 2018.

Wednesday, 16th June 2021, 8:18 pm

Lib Dem leader Shaffaq Mohammed has said that the inquiry cannot be a ‘whitewash’ and has made a series of demands about the investigation, including that it not be held out of the public eye as is currently planned.

The Green and Labour coalition promised the inquiry among their ‘first year steps’ as they appointed an independent person to conduct it following the election which saw the Labour group lose overall control of Sheffield City Council.

However, Councillor Mohammed slammed the proposal. He said: “The new Green/Labour coalition have agreed to a weak ‘local’ inquiry into why the Council and other public bodies in Sheffield chopped down thousands of street trees.

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Photo of Cllr Shaffaq Mohammed on Rustlings Road during the 'Dawn Raid' to chop down healthy street trees
Photo of Cllr Shaffaq Mohammed on Rustlings Road during the 'Dawn Raid' to chop down healthy street trees

"The street-tree issue put Sheffield in the headlines for all the wrong reasons. Hundreds of thousands of pounds of taxpayer’s money was spent, people were threatened with prison, and thousands of healthy trees were felled.

“A cosy insider inquiry just won’t do. We need to hold those in charge accountable. We cannot let the Labour/Green coalition do this locally and judge themselves. The inquiry needs to be fully public, objectively led by someone of the status of a retired judge, with full access to documents and people.

“What is very disappointing to see is that despite previously calling for an ‘Independent Inquiry’ in February 2018 and continuing to call for this at this year’s City Council elections, Green Party councillors went back on what they told voters in May and failed to support an inquiry held in public.

“This is about moving forward and rebuilding trust. All councillors need to be held to account for this. Let’s do this inquiry properly rather than hiding away behind closed doors.”

The inquiry is expected to begin in the autumn, and will look 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.

Prior to last month's election, Labour had been resisting an inquiry.