Tree felling scandal: "We are deeply sorry" says senior Sheffield councillor after Ombudsman demands apology

A senior councillor says Sheffield Council is "deeply sorry" for the street tree controversy and claims it was not caused by one single individual.

Thursday, 15th October 2020, 3:36 pm

The council has issued an apology on its website after the Local Government Ombudsman instructed it to say sorry.

The Ombudsman found the council did not, at times, act with openness and transparency when removing trees across Sheffield, and when dealing with people’s complaints about that work.

It investigated after receiving a complaint from Alan Robshaw, who has since passed away, regarding a dawn felling of trees on Rustlings Road.

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Coun Mark Jones

The council was told to make a "public unreserved apology" to the city and a private apology to Mr Robshaw's family.

Coun Mark Jones, Cabinet member for streetscene, said: "It absolutely should not have got to this stage.

"It was a difficult time, we are working really hard to make sure it never happens again and have done a lot of good work but we got it wrong. Who cuts down trees at 5am? That was a massive error and shows a series of failings.

"We should have dealt with the complaint better and been better with our responses. We are deeply sorry it came to this and we are trying to move forward."

8 March 2018....... Tree protests on Kenwood Road in the Nether Edge area of Sheffield. A protester is forcefully removed from under a contractor's truck after stopping felling from taking place. Picture Scott Merrylees

Coun Jones had only just become a councillor when the felling happened but said as Cabinet member, he would now take responsibility.

When asked why Council Leader Julie Dore was not leading the apology, he said: "This is not an excuse but we are in the middle of a pandemic and the Leader is constantly in negotiations with the government.

"As Cabinet member I'm taking money to represent people. I'm not going to dodge my responsibilities.

"We all have our role and we all have to stand up and if I want to represent the citizens of Sheffield as a Cabinet member, I have to stand up and take my share.

The felling of trees on Meersbrook Park Road gets underway. Picture: Marie Caley

"This was not the responsibility of one individual, it was a culmination. There was no one single smoking gun.

"It's not fair to ask the Leader to deal with this because it's got tough. That's why I'm doing this role and part of that is facing up to the mistakes we made on trees.

"How we got to the position of Rustlings Road is confusing and makes no sense to me but we are under no illusion that this journey is far from over.

"We will have to reflect on this for a long time. The Leader has admitted things we went wrong and has said sorry and in discussions we have had with her she is as sorry as anybody that we did a 5am cutting down of trees.

Tree felling in Sheffield

"It should never have happened and she has apologised for that. The Leader accepts mistakes were made and I'm making sure we don't get in that position ever again."

The council released a statement on Wednesday but questions were raised about it not being an apology. The council later said a formal apology was still in progress and this was released on Thursday.

Coun Jones admitted the apology is not immediately visible on the website: "We issued a statement and people were saying we had not used the word sorry but we did apologise for the incident.

"That statement was to say yes, we have received the report and we apologise. We did an apology to reiterate that.

"It possibly does take some finding on the website but we are not hiding away or trying to bury this."

Police at one of Sheffield's tree felling sites.