Sheffield Council challenged to prove 'last resort' claims on tree-felling after contract revelation

Sheffield City Council has been challenged to prove its repeated claims that tree-felling in the city is only done as a 'last resort' after it was revealed the previously-secret policy for replacing them contains no such guarantee.

Wednesday, 16th May 2018, 10:10 pm
Updated Wednesday, 16th May 2018, 10:11 pm
Councillor Bryan Lodge was among the Sheffield Council officials to insist felling is only done as a last resort.

Paul Selby, from the Save Nether Edge Trees group, said the council has been unable to prove that felling is indeed a last resort in the way that has been suggested in the past.

“They should show us the part of the contract that proves felling is a last resort. All the stuff in the public domain at the moment doesn’t,” he said.

Sheffield Council's secret policy for tree-felling revealedSenior officials at Sheffield Council and Amey have repeatedly claimed tree-felling is only carried out as a ‘last resort’ following growing public criticism of the policy.

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Tree felling takes place on Kenwood Road in Sheffield earlier this year.

However, in March this year, Sheffield Council was forced to reveal the contract signed in 2012 contained a previously-undisclosed clause which set a target of removing 17,500 of the city’s 36,000 street trees. It said this work would be in line with the contract’s Highway Tree Replacement Policy, which at that stage was being kept secret.

In April, Sheffield Council rejected an Freedom of Information request by The Yorkshire Post to publish the policy on the grounds it intended to do so at an unspecified future date. Following a request for an internal review of that decision, the council has now published the policy, saying while it believed its original refusal was correct, it had now completed a review of what information could be made public.

The council has previously said it assesses trees against the ‘6 Ds’ criteria - if they are dead, dying, diseased, dangerous, damaging or ‘discriminatory’ in preventing wheelchairs and prams for using the pavement - cited in a tree management strategy published in 2016. But the strategy has subsequently been described as ‘worthless’ by campaigners after an FoI this year confirmed it is superseded by the contract.

The contract policy, which is less than two pages long, makes no mention of felling being a last resort or of there being engineering solutions available to save threatened trees in the way the strategy suggests. It also makes no mention of the criteria used for selecting trees for felling and instead focuses on how new saplings planted as replacements should have minimal future maintenance requirements, with a “preference for small leaves, light foliage/canopy [and] restricting the use of large/fruiting species to appropriate locations”.

Read the contract policy in fullIn January 2016, Sheffield Council leader Julie Dore said ‘removing trees is a last resort’ in response to concerns about residents not being informed before felling begun in some areas of the city.

A council ‘myth-buster’ press release published in April 2017 to address accusations from campaigners that healthy trees were being removed unnecessarily said this was not the case and ‘tree replacement is always a last resort’.

In December 2017, Councillor Bryan Lodge, the-then cabinet member for environment responsible for overseeing the Streets Ahead contract under which the work is being carried out, wrote an article for the Sheffield Telegraph in which he said: “Trees are only replaced as a last resort. If one of the funded engineering solutions within the contract can be used to retain a tree, it is retained.”

In April 2018, Darren Butt, account director with Amey, told The Independent: “We assess every single tree and only replace them as a last resort.”

Industry guidance backs saving trees

Industry guidance on tree work cited in the contract policy sets out measures to save trees from felling where possible.

The contract states “all tree replacement work shall be carried out in accordance with good arboricultural practice” and the requirements of British Standards Institution for tree work.

The BSI guidance seen by The Yorkshire Post states trees should only be felled if “their removal is assessed as providing the best solution in the circumstances”. Reasons given include the potential for damage to things like to underground services.

But the guidance also lists a range of steps that should be taken to try and prevent felling even in cases where physically weakened trees pose “an unacceptable risk to people, property or its own integrity”.

It says management options should include pruning work or providing artificial support to hold trees in place and felling should only happen “in the event of all other options being impracticable or otherwise inappropriate”.

The guidance makes clear that it is based on an assumption that a need for intervention has already been determined. The guidance covers the impact on individual trees rather than wider management of tree populations.