Following further talks between Sheffield City Council, Amey and representatives from Sheffield Trees Action Group (STAG), a joint position has now been reached on aspects of a new proposal for managing the city’s street trees.
During the talks, the Council and Amey put forward a proposal that will result in fewer trees being removed and replanted, and for those trees that do still need to be removed, phasing this process over a much longer time period.
It is thought that around a third of the 305 trees earmarked for replacement during the first five years of the Streets Ahead programme can now be retained using a combination of engineering solutions, regular monitoring and ongoing maintenance, and that a further third will be phased over the next decade, meaning that fewer trees than previously anticipated will be replaced.
In addition, the two sides have acknowledged the need for a new street tree strategy, to be developed during the first part of 2019 with a wide range of stakeholders, and with the support of an independent chair, which will be used to inform the remaining period of the Streets Ahead programme.
They have also jointly acknowledged that healthy street trees should only be replaced if no other practical solution can be found, and, ultimately, that work to improve the city’s highways is welcome and, moreover, needed. Furthermore, the Council and Amey have confirmed to the STAG steering group that there is no target in the Streets Ahead contract for the removal of street trees.
In coming weeks, detailed inspections will start on the dozens of street trees previously identified for replacement, with a view to retaining as many as possible.
The findings of these inspections will be shared with residents of affected streets, stakeholders and tree campaigners to ensure that anyone who is interested can have their say and is kept informed of progress.
The greatest benefit of this new approach will be seen on roads where a high percentage of trees were set to be replaced and the impact of replacing mature trees with new, young trees will be minimised.
The extra costs associated with retaining or phasing trees will be met in full by the council’s contractor, Amey, and there will be no additional cost to the Sheffield taxpayer. This also means that delayed resurfacing work on affected roads and footpaths will now go ahead in 2019.
Additionally, the full specification of the Streets Ahead programme will still be delivered, meaning that the whole of Sheffield will benefit from upgraded roads and footpaths.
Sheffield City council’s Cabinet Member for Environment and Street Scene, Councillor Lewis Dagnall said:
“I’ve been in my position for just over six months, in which time I have been listening carefully to the range of views on how we can move forward.
“Having met with local groups of residents, key stakeholders and interested parties, I have been overwhelmed by the desire, on all sides, to see this issue resolved. There is a real appetite to come together to achieve the compromise we have been looking for, and I would like to thank everyone who has been involved in this process.
“What I have heard is that whilst many people value investment in our highways, its implications for street trees were too much, too soon, in some parts of the city. There was a feeling that proposals to replace mature trees with smaller trees in one process would have immediately changed the face of some streets.
“Our new proposal for compromise will see a large proportion of trees, including the Vernon Oak and the majority of memorial trees, retained. Future tree replacement work will also be done in a way which only removes a small number of trees at any one time, as far as possible, which will mean the character of streets won’t be altered in the way that was previously feared.
“Amey will now lead on a piece of work which involves speaking to local residents, on the streets affected, about the proposals. Their specialist tree team will soon start to carry out inspection and possible retention work on the trees, with a hope of retaining and phasing as many as possible. All resurfacing work on the affected streets will be completed during 2019.
“This issue has been ongoing for a number of years and we are under no illusions that it can be resolved overnight. However, I am hopeful that this plan is the first step towards working together with the overwhelming number of people and organisations across the city that have a passion and wealth of expertise to protect and enhance the proud green landscape that Sheffield is famous for.
“Our publication of these plans and our joint position statement with the STAG Steering Group is a step in the right direction and should be welcomed by all those who want to see this issue resolved and our city move forward together.”
The new programme will roll out during the early part of next year and local residents will be given the opportunity to have their say.
Account Director at Amey Streets Ahead, Darren Butt said:
“Our inspections team will be made up of trained and experienced tree and highways professionals equipped with specialist kit, and with independent input from STAG as requested.
“The team itself will not remove any trees, but will carry out on-site inspections and may carry out immediate highway remedial work there and then if it will retain a tree while maintaining agreed highway standards.
“Crucially, we’ll be working with residents and stakeholders whilst still delivering the long-term benefits of the Streets Ahead contract at no extra cost to Sheffield’s taxpayers.”
Trees which are irretrievably diseased, decaying or obstructing the road or pavements will be discussed with STAG for replacement in the first phase.
Meanwhile, dialogue between all parties is ongoing and the current pause in tree removal works will continue until early next year, except where trees are found to be an imminent safety risk.
The Bishop of Sheffield, Rt Revd Dr Pete Wilcox added:
“Trees matter. It’s no coincidence that they get a mention in the very first chapter of the Bible, and in the very last, and in almost every book of the Bible in between. Trees matter to the planet and they matter to communities.
“Trees certainly matter to Sheffield, the greenest of cities. They are part of what makes us proud of our place. That’s why we were all so distressed by the dispute which has raged over our street trees, and why it is such good news to receive this joint statement today. It is a real achievement and marks quite astonishing progress in just a few months.
“This joint position statement has not come about without a massive investment of time and hard work — from SCC, members of STAG and Amey. On behalf of the citizens of Sheffield I would like to record our thanks for the perseverance of all concerned and for their commitment to finding a way forward. They can be proud of the process as well as of the outcome”.
A joint position statement, agreed between all parties, alongside individual street-by-street proposals, to be discussed with residents, can be found on the council’s website at: www.sheffield.gov.uk/content/sheffield/home/roads-pavements/managing-street-trees.html