The future will judge us

Save the trees campaign on Rustlings Road in Sheffield
Save the trees campaign on Rustlings Road in Sheffield
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An open letter to Sheffield City Council’s Cabinet.

The deadline for comments for a large number of street tree consultations has just passed. I note the loaded language in your consultation letter and I reject it. The survey is utterly flawed in its construction. That the expertise in survey methods available in local universities has not been called upon beggars belief. Instead we are presented with this amateurish sham.

The proposals for street trees on Ecclesall Road, as on many other iconic Sheffield streets, will result in a fundamental change to the character and appearance of a flagship thoroughfare. Only surveying the residents of Ecclesall Road on the fate of our trees is a laughable restriction on a consultation for a road that is enjoyed for shopping and leisure by many tens of thousands of people from the city, the region and beyond. The mature healthy trees are intrinsic components of the streetscape. People enjoy and love them.

Survey letters use the term ‘overmature’. This is a misapplication of the terminology into a context for which it was never intended. Moreover, its use implies that the trees surveyed (using a commercial forestry definition that is questionably applied) are in decline, which most are rather obviously not.

It is ridiculous to be considering the removal of fabulous and healthy trees due to such relatively trivial factors, for most cities that is, as surface disruption. There are numerous easy to find examples on the internet of how such surface disruption is overcome, or minimised, without extravagant expense.

One would have thought that industry professionals would know this, so what exactly is going on here in Sheffield?

Far from tree removal being a last resort, it looks as though there is absolutely no regard for the value of street trees. Indeed we can put a price on trees beyond firewood. Widely used tree valuation methods that would allow a cost-benefit analysis to be employed have been ignored. The use of iTree or Capital Asset Value for Amenity Trees (CAVAT) would be highly likely to skew the decision process towards actually investing in the retention of the trees.

We know that such a cost-benefit analysis was never conducted. Instead our Council and its PFI contractor seem hell-bent on destruction at any cost.

There are a multitude of approaches to consider that would retain the threatened trees for the benefit and enjoyment of all. No doubt these methods will have variously been brought to the attention of the Independent Tree Panel (ITP). They include the much discussed flexi-paving solution. Of course, that is not the only game in town for the environmentally enlightened highways engineer (where are they in Sheffield?), but it is most certainly a prominent solution that is proven and cost-effective. Only on a tiny percentage of occasions is any flexibility shown. Why?

The greatest catastrophe facing the street tree stock in Sheffield is the Council/Amey stampede to fell. The future will not judge those involved in a good light. Removal of dead and dangerous trees is always the sensible recourse.

The twisted logic demanding the removal of many thousands of healthy trees in a short period of a few years does little to portray a vision of and for environmental sustainability. These plans are an embarrassment to Sheffielders. They do not speak of a strategy open to influence or evolution. We the people deserve better.

Richard Ward

by email