A new strategy has been promised on how Sheffield Council deals with maintaining its trees on highways after weeks of controversy.
The change was promised at a forum held last night and attended by council staff and elected councillors, members of the public and campaigners from Save Our Rustlings Trees (SORT).
Dave Aspinall, woodland manager at the council, said: “We will liaise with Amey and incorporate highway trees.
“We are doing a scoping of the document in the next few months and will be consulting with the public and aiming for the end of March for completion.
“We are the greenest city in the country and we should be planting trees.”
Professor Nigel Dunnett from the University of Sheffield said the strategy needed to be ‘extremely ambitious’ while campaigners said it needed to be carried out ‘urgently.’
The forum was established following a council debate, where councillors voted to take no action on a petition sparked by a protest against the proposed felling of 11 trees on Rustlings Road, near Endcliffe Park.
Work is being carried out by council contracter Amey as part of the Streets Ahead project to resurface roads.
Campaigners have long called for a tree strategy to be put in place, and for a morotorium on felling.
Louise Wilcockson, from SORT, said after the forum: “I’m extremely pleased about the strategy but policy should come before practice.
“The tail is wagging before the dog here.”
The meeting at the town hall debated Sheffield’s approach to managing highway trees and its ‘six Ds’ policy: which is about removing trees which are dangerous, dead, dying, diseased, damaging the road or pavement, or causing an obstruction to those with sight impairment or in a wheelchair - classed as ‘discrimination’.
Dozens of residents attended and asked probing questions about the council and Amey’s approach to tree management.
One man said: “It does appear to me that the decisions have been made and we are supposed to just lie back and accept that our leaders are looking after our city and what we think does not matter. Amey are probably more interested in growing profits than growing trees.”
The council has said that one reason trees on Rustlings Road, and elsewhere, can need to be felled is because of access for the disabled.
However residents have given anecdotal evidence of people in wheelchairs, and those who are blind, using the road without any problems.
Alan Thorpe, who is visually impaired and a volunteer in the council’s access liason group, told the forum he would be happy to walk the route with representatives from Amey and SORT to give an independent opinion on whether the route was obstructed or not.
He said: “I will give my honest opinion on whether there are hazards or I can’t find anything wrong with it.”
Nicki Rivers, from the Wildlife Trust, also said: “There has been poor communication between Sheffield City Council and local residents. Trees have been assessed but there is doesn’t seem to be a checklist or a form for anyone to see. It needs to be more transparent.”
The council has said that they will postpone the felling of the Rustling Road trees until after the next public forum on September 2, which will look at engineering solutions for the trees.