A new independent panel to look at residents’ views on controversial tree felling in Sheffield is to be set up.
Protests have grown around the city in the last few months due to concerns about the felling and replacement of trees as part of Sheffield Council’s Streets Ahead road resurfacing contract.
Thousands of people have signed petitions, direct action has been taken on many streets, a highway tree forum was set up and last week the first independent election candidate to stand partly because of the fiasco emerged.
Now the council has announced the new panel, which will be chaired by Andy Buck who is also chief executive of Sheffield Citizens Advice, is to be launched.
Residents will be sent surveys before work begins, and where half raise concerns, the ‘hotspots’ will be referred to the five-strong panel.
Members will then consider evidence before providing advice to the council, which will still make a final decision.
Mr Buck said: “What the panel will do is take a completely fresh look at this - it will be a group of people with no previous involvement with this issue. We will be fresh, independent and impartial and we have no pre judgement of the issues that will come before us.
“We will listen to what residents are saying, sift through the evidence, consider the options and say what we think.”
When asked if the panel could potentially stop the felling of some trees, he added: “I hope that if we offer advice that there is an alternative the council will listen to that because if the council doesn’t listen to that advice I would question why we have got a panel.”
The panel will include another lay member, plus tree, housing and legal experts.
It will consider trees on Rustlings Road near Encliffe Park, which have become a symbol of the protest.
Coun Terry Fox, council cabinet member for environment, said the panel was about improving public scrutiny and ‘credibility’.
He added: “We know exactly where the campaigners stand and they know where we stand so this is about giving residents in neighbourhoods, where we are doing what we believe is a transformational project, the chance to have their say if they have got any concerns about the decision making.”
Coun Penny Baker, deputy leader of the council’s opposition Liberal Democrat party, welcomed the panel.
But she added: “We hope the council will listen to the panel’s recommendations and that this is not just another tokenistic gesture.”
Campaigners have called for a pause on felling while a formal tree strategy is developed. Coun Fox said the draft tree strategy would be put to the next highway tree forum later this month.