Tree campaigner says apology from Sheffield Council is “insincere”

A Sheffield tree campaigner says an apology she received from Sheffield Council is “inadequate and insincere.”

Wednesday, 27th February 2019, 13:25 pm
Updated Wednesday, 27th February 2019, 13:27 pm
Tree campaigner Sally Goldsmith

Council bosses were forced to apologise to Sally Goldsmith after the Local Government Ombudsman held a year-long investigation.

The ombudsman received complaints about an alder tree on Aldam Way, Totley, which the council planned to fell as part of its Streets Ahead contract with Amey.

The tree was earmarked for removal after an inspection found some decay, But an independent panel, set up by the council, later advised that it could be saved as the damage had nearly healed.

The council rejected the advice, saying the tree was damaging the pavement. Two attempts to fell it were thwarted by protesters.

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Ms Goldsmith questioned the decision to remove the tree and was told it was recommended because of “decay within the stem”.

But inspectors ruled that the contractor had “deliberately set out not to reveal the true advice it had received” after a report by a council-commissioned independent surveyor said the tree should be saved.

Ms Goldsmith has received a letter from Laraine Manley, executive director of place at Sheffield Council, which offers “my sincere apology for our handling of your enquiry”.

The letter says: “I would like to take this opportunity to apologise to you for our handling of your case. As we expressed in our response to the ombudsman, the responses were given to you during a period of exception pressure resulting from the public reaction to the street tree replacement programme.

“You will be aware that since your complaint we have adopted a new approach to the city’s street trees which we hope will allow all concerned parties to move forward and enable stakeholders to have a more active involvement in the tree inspection process. The tree on Aldam Way will be re-inspected as part of this new approach.”

But Ms Goldsmith said she feels “unheard”.

She said: “The ombudsman’s decision that they should apologise to me and another resident is disrespected.

“The apology is inadequate and insincere. The council imply that their reply was a mistake because at the time they were under pressure.

“The reply to me was definitely not a mistake. The ombudsman is very clear that it ‘misrepresented the expert advice it received’ so that it said the opposite. Also, that it “deliberately set out not to reveal the true advice it had received.”  “Not only did the council deceive me, but the ombudsman found that it did not brief its own Independent Tree Panel properly, did not put any reports it commissioned in the public domain and that it sowed confusion over the reasons for felling the tree.

“The ombudsman says that in this case ‘the evidence justifying removal as the ‘last resort’ open to the council is far from convincing’.”

Ms Goldsmith said there was “immense distrust” over the council’s reasons for felling up to half of the city’s street trees.

“This is only one tree for which I have had to forensically put together a lot of evidence. The ombudsman has done a really thorough and professional job investigating this. I believe however that this is only the tip of the iceberg.”