Street tree inquiry: Sheffield LibDems call for leading Labour councillors to step down over “absolutely damning” report

The leader of Sheffield Council’s LibDem group has called for two leading Labour councillors to step down following a highly critical independent inquiry into the city street trees dispute.
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Sheffield LibDems said that the publication of the street tree inquiry by independent panel chair Sir Mark Lowcock today (March 6) “has laid bare the complete and utter failure of senior Labour councillors throughout the implementation of the Streets Ahead contract” to tackle the state of the city’s roads.

The LibDems said that worries over the future of street trees during the Streets Ahead contract came to a head on Rustlings Road, Ecclesall in 2015 when local residents, supported by LibDem ward councillors, mounted a “large and well organised campaign against the felling of eight healthy street trees”.

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They added: “This led to a 16,00-name petition and a debate at full council. Further campaigns started to emerge all over the city including Nether Edge, Millhouses, Meersbrook, Abbeydale Park Rise in Dore, and the Western Road War memorial Trees in Crookes. These local campaigns organised themselves under the banner of the Sheffield Tree Action Group (STAG).

Sheffield City Council LibDem group leader Coun Shaffaq Mohammed, right, with street tree protesters in Endcliffe Park. He has now called for two leading Labour councillors to go over a highly critical report on the street trees issueSheffield City Council LibDem group leader Coun Shaffaq Mohammed, right, with street tree protesters in Endcliffe Park. He has now called for two leading Labour councillors to go over a highly critical report on the street trees issue
Sheffield City Council LibDem group leader Coun Shaffaq Mohammed, right, with street tree protesters in Endcliffe Park. He has now called for two leading Labour councillors to go over a highly critical report on the street trees issue

“The protests got more and more heated as the council pushed harder and harder to continue with the felling. As the report states, the council’s behaviour “was the fuel that drove the protests”.

“The then cabinet member, now council leader, Coun Terry Fox, did set up the Independent Tree Panel (ITP) to facilitate dialogue between campaigners and the council. However, as Sir Mark Lowcock discovered during the inquiry, the ITP was misled over what could be done at Amey’s cost under the contract – as were the public and later the courts – and misleading the courts is a serious matter.

‘Destructive’

“From 2016, the council rejected many of the recommendations the Independent Tree Panel made in good faith to save trees. Setting up an independent panel, misleading it and then ignoring substantial numbers of its recommendations was destructive of public trust and confidence.”

The independent inquiry into the Sheffield tree-felling dispute published its report today - as a result city LibDems have called for two leading Labour councillors to goThe independent inquiry into the Sheffield tree-felling dispute published its report today - as a result city LibDems have called for two leading Labour councillors to go
The independent inquiry into the Sheffield tree-felling dispute published its report today - as a result city LibDems have called for two leading Labour councillors to go

The statement said: “Coun Bryan Lodge oversaw the infamous ‘dawn raid’ on Rustlings Road – the first time police were used against peaceful protesters.

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Street tree inquiry: Sheffield council leaders repeat apologies following public...
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“The inquiry states that the council’s behaviour amounted to a serious and sustained failure of strategic leadership. Responsibility for that ultimately rests with the political leadership, in particular the relevant cabinet member and the council leader: they were responsible for setting the direction and tone.

Councillor Shaffaq Mohammed, Sheffield LibDem leader and and Ecclesall ward councillor, said: “This report is absolutely damning of the behaviour and conduct of senior Labour Party politicians that have governed this city. In particular, the current leadership of the council.

“Misleading the public and the courts by putting out false information and bullying protesters became the norm at Sheffield City Council. This is ultimately a failure of culture and should not be accepted by the residents of Sheffield. Those responsible need to go.

‘Damning’

“Questions now hang over the future of council leader Terry Fox and senior Labour Coun Bryan Lodge after Sir Mark’s damning report into Sheffield’s street tree debacle. Do they command the public confidence to change direction and bring the city together?

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“In my view, the findings of the report are so serious that I feel not only do they need to step down from their leadership roles in the council, but also need to consider whether they are suitable to continue in their roles as city councillors.”

To read the report on the Sheffield City Council website, go to https://www.sheffield.gov.uk/your-city-council/independent-inquiry-into-street-trees-dispute