State of Sheffield report: 'Lessons to be learned over controversial tree felling programme'

An arborist at work.
An arborist at work.
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Lessons could be learned by both council bosses and protesters as to how the controversial tree felling works across the city have been handled, a review of how Sheffield is performing has found.

The annual State of Sheffield report, produced by the Sheffield City Partnership board, said the council's replacement of trees as part of the £2.2 billion Streets Ahead contract with Amey had generated more debate 'than any issue in the city in recent years'.

Assessing whether people were involved and engaged with politics, the report also said the tree programme had led to 'unwelcome media attention from outside the city'.

It said: "One of the more prominent recent issues in Sheffield has been the council’s replacement of roadside trees as part of its broader commitment to highways maintenance and improvement.

"This has arguably generated more debate and media coverage than any issue in the city in recent years, and unwelcome media attention from outside the city. While the debate
continues as the council seeks to complete its Streets Ahead programme, when the dust settles, there may well be learning to be found on both sides of this contentious issue.

"This could include an appraisal of how information and expert advice is made available to the public as, while social media has made information more direct and more accessible,
there is always a risk too that social media can become an echo chamber where facts become distorted and prejudices reinforced.

"A better understanding of how independent and respected advice can be obtained, where there is dispute on factual issues or alternative approaches would be useful learning. Equally, there are surely lessons to be learned in terms of how to handle strongly held views and challenges to policy, which also draws down on and respects the views of those not engaged in organised protest or interest groups.

"Such reflections will also include how to handle circumstances where implementation is in the hands of outside contractors rather than direct provision by public authorities, and the complications that arise from this."

The report also said austerity had led to an increasing need for people in Sheffield to get involved in politics and democracy.

It said councillors were having to make 'increasingly difficult decisions and changes to important services in order to balance the rising demand for services for vulnerable Sheffielders (e.g. social care) with the need to invest in the wider social, economic and cultural needs of a growing city.'

The report added: "With a growing population, longer lives and increasingly complex long-term health conditions, Sheffield’s most important services are experiencing some of their toughest difficulties ever and this growing need is not being matched by growing staffing, facilities and funding.

"The city’s Voluntary and Community Sector (VCS), which has an important role in representing and engaging people across the city and helping some of our most vulnerable people and communities, is also facing growing needs for its services.

"Yet, the VCS finds it increasingly difficult to find the resources required to respond to these needs.

"These challenges are very rarely, if ever, susceptible to simple or pain-free solutions. Indeed, the city’s leaders and institutions often have to make very difficult and potentially controversial decisions.