A highways chief who was secretly recorded saying the council is ‘not interested’ in tree campaigners’ views on controversial felling has stepped back from his tree responsibilities pending an investigation.
Steve Robinson, head of highway maintenance, was recorded by a whistleblower saying the reasons people are trying to use to save individual trees are ‘nonsense’.
Mr Robinson was speaking the day after his presentation to a highways tree forum – set up after thousands of people signed a petition against felling as part of the council’s Streets Ahead project with Amey – was criticised.
Sheffield Council has apologised and said another member of staff will be taking over Mr Robinson’s tree responsibilities while the matter is investigated.
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Simon Green, the council’s director of place, said: “I can confirm that another member of staff will be running the highway trees strand of the Streets Ahead project while we are looking into this matter.”
Protesters say Mr Robinson’s position should be considered while an investigation takes place.
Louise Wilcockson, from the Save Our Roadside Trees campaign, said his comments came as ‘no surprise’ given the ‘dismissive’ way campaigners had been dealt with by some staff at the council, contractor Amey and Streets Ahead.
She said: “This wouldn’t have even come up in their conversation if we had a tree strategy because staff would have been following what was agreed rather than fire fighting campaigns around the city.
“The council is right to apologise and he should consider his position.” In the recordings, Mr Robinson said: “If someone has bought the tree, if someone has planted the tree because of a family bereavement, all that, we’re not interested. What we are interested in is doing our job.”
Louise said: “Doing his job involves seriously listening to the people of Sheffield and doing what is right for them.”
Tree campaigns have sprung up around the city and last night leaders were meeting to consider their ‘legal options.’
Protesters want a morotorium on felling until a tree strategy is adopted.
In Nether Edge a sketch crawl, where people drew trees set to be axed, was held on Sunday.
Local campaigner Carly Mountain said Mr Robinson’s comments were ‘another example of how people who are dealing with this are not interested in it.’
She said an independent chief needed to be brought in to review the project.
She added: “The council absolutely needs to take action. I think he should be off the project and an independent person brought in.”
Mr Robinson’s comments were made on the same day The Star enquired about a tree on Western Road, Crookes, which was planted in memory of a World War One soldier and is to be felled. Western Road resident Robin Ridley said the comments were ‘hugely disrespectful.’
He added: “They should be looking at more sensitive solutions rather than just saying they are looking at them.”
Opposition councillors said the comments show the council was ‘not interested in listening’ to people’s views.
Coun Colin Ross, leader of the council’s Liberal Democrat group, said: “This calls into question the validity of the tree forum and the genuine desire of Sheffield Council to take into account residents’ views.
“After these views stated by Mr Robinson we must question his role in the forum.”
Ecclesall Labour Party spokesman Andy Belfield said: “As government cuts continue to bite, we all know that council officers face some tough decisions. This is one of them.
“However, people in Ecclesall and across our city have a right to challenge the council’s decisions, whether it be about trees or school places.”