Sheffield Council pledges 'new start' on trees after year of protests
Sheffield Council says it is turning over a new leaf on tree felling after a year of controversy and protests.
The authority has today promised to be more open with residents over its intentions as the long-term Streets Ahead contract continues into 2017.
Acknowledging that mistakes were made last year, cabinet member for environment Bryan Lodge said the council was determined to 'regain the trust of people in Sheffield'.
“We are announcing a series of new commitments to the people of Sheffield for 2017 today," he added.
"It’s important to be clear that this is not necessarily about replacing fewer trees, although we will continue to listen to the views of residents regarding the trees.
"This is about working in a clear, transparent and collaborative way."
A common complaint from tree campaigners has been the short notice at which the council has published its decisions on trees that go before the Independent Tree Panel.
Coun Lodge promised the council would make the information public 'in a clear format and at least a week before any work begins on trees that need to be replaced'. He urged any group with queries to get in touch, and said wherever possible a councillor would attend a meeting and answer questions.
He repeated the pledge that work would not begin before 7am, first made in November after Rustlings Road residents were woken by the sound of chainsaws at 5am.
And Coun Lodge promised to 'review and refresh' all Streets Ahead's communication with residents.
"We want to make sure we’re working in a collaborative and friendly way with people living on affected streets. This review will begin immediately and be assessed continually throughout the remainder of the contract."
Under Streets Ahead, about 10,000 of the city's 36,000 roadside trees will be replaced. Coun Lodge reiterated the council's view that the 25-year contract with Amey was the best chance to replace trees 'so that they don’t just last for the next ten years, but for the next hundred years'.
He said: “Sheffield’s beautiful and distinctive street scene was created by the Victorians. We all have great pride in our green and leafy streets. However, these trees won’t last forever.
“Streets Ahead is the biggest investment ever seen in roads, street trees and infrastructure in the city we all love. This represents our opportunity to replace trees where necessary so that they don’t just last for the next ten years, but for the next hundred years. For our children and our grandchildren.
"We simply won’t get this chance again with public sector funding going the way it is.
“The truth is that Sheffield City Council has lost Â£350 million from its budget in the last seven years. Services across the board, including those for vulnerable people, are being squeezed.
"We know that most people in Sheffield do not want us to divert funds away from caring for those in need and into expensive alternative solutions for retaining street trees.
“We know that the majority of people in the city are supportive of the Streets Ahead aims. But we also know that we have not always got it right in the way the street trees element of the work has been carried out."
Coun Lodge also confirmed plans to set up a cross-party group to look at trees in Western Road, Crookes, which were planted as war memorials almost 100 years ago.
"This group will work with War Memorials Trust and the local community to make fitting and long-lasting tributes to those who gave their lives for this country," he said.
Memorial sites in Frecheville, Crookesmoor, Meersbrook and Springvale Road will also get extra attention.
Coun Lodge said: "By replanting and rededicating these memorials over the coming months, we hope to be able to unveil new fitting memorial sites in time for Armistice Day this November."
The council says it has 'enabled the planting' of 65,000 trees across the city’s parks and woodlands in the last three years, and Sheffield has the highest proportion of trees to people of any major UK city, with four trees for every resident.
Of the city’s two million trees, 1.8 per cent are street trees.
Coun Lodge added: “So while our commitment to the street trees programme remains as strong as ever, and the job has got to be done, we know we have to do better when it comes to working with people across the city. I hope our commitments today show how important this is to us.”