Academic laments tree removal across Sheffield

The "debacle" surrounding Sheffield's street trees "should be a salutary warning to other towns, cities and authorities", according to Sheffield Hallam University professor of environmental geography Ian Rotherham.

Sheffield: disputes over street tree removals in the city - image: Alan Stanton
Sheffield: disputes over street tree removals in the city - image: Alan Stanton

Speaking at a conference on 25 November, Rotherham said the city council's 25-year public-private partnership for highway maintenance with contractor Amey "has been hugely contentious and everything that has followed could have been avoided".

Disputes have been ongoing between residents and contractors over the number of tree removals in the city, often described as the greenest in Britain, he said. "There has been a huge campaign locally, which has been vocal and professional."

Lack of public engagement has been at the heart of these, said Rotherham. "People wanted consultation, not notification, but that doesn't fit the timescales. It's not just Sheffield, it's everywhere."

Blaming such clashes on council "incompetence", he explained: "When you negotiate long-term contracts, you need to get all this in. Amey wasn't made aware of the city's tree strategy when the contracts were signed. When I met them, they had no idea. If you mention heritage trees, politicians and contractors glaze over."

Meanwhile, under such a partnership "some information is classed as commercially sensitive so you can't see it any more", he added. "Essential information on what is being done, by whom and where, or even why, and how much public money is being spent, suddenly is hidden in a fog of misinformation."

Rotherham has claimed that the contractor aimed to pursue an "aggressive programme" of mature street tree removal in the first five years of the 25-year programme - a claim that Amey denies. But the issues go back before Amey, he said. "Things we used to do well, we don't do any more."

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