Council defends disputed tree plan

Court blocks tree felling as politicians weigh in to debate.

Sheffield: council insists that Streets Ahead programme represents largest ever investment in city’s street trees - image: Chris Page
Sheffield: council insists that Streets Ahead programme represents largest ever investment in city’s street trees - image: Chris Page

Sheffield City Council has defended its tree-management strategy under the Streets Ahead programme that 10 days ago became subject to a High Court injunction temporarily preventing the local authority from felling any more street trees.

Sheffield MP and former deputy prime minister Nick Clegg has called the programme "a national scandal". But council leader Julie Dore said: "This is a programme of protection, not destruction, and represents the largest investment there has ever been in the city's street trees. Without the Streets Ahead programme, dying or dangerous trees would not be replaced."

Since the start of the programme, operated since 2012 in partnership with contractor Amey, 3,388 trees have been removed and 3,618 planted. Dore urged residents to read the council's Streets Ahead Five-Year Tree Management Strategy, which covers 2012-17 and is subject to annual review.

The 11 goals stated in the strategy include objectives to "maximise potential canopy cover through species selection, good establishment and good arboricultural management", to "maintain Sheffield's tree heritage by protecting and conserving where appropriate" and to "improve compatibility with environment through holistic highway design and management".

Dore added that of the 5,136 households surveyed on streets where trees are being removed, only 13 per cent replied. But that this has led to 42 streets being referred to the Independent Tree Panel, with its first recommendations due at the end of this month. The council will also launch a consultation on its strategy on 26 February.

Meanwhile, a campaigner for the city's street trees has won the first round of a legal battle with the council and its contractor when the High Court granted an interim injunction to prevent further felling pending a judicial review. Sheffield Tree Action Groups representative Dave Dillner made an online funding bid to bring the case, raising his initial target of £5,000 within 12 hours. "This is only the first of many hurdles we may face but I am confident in the strength of my claim against Sheffield City Council," he said.

Barrister Charles Streeten of Francis Taylor Building, who has taken the case on a pro bono basis, said: "These proceedings raise important legal issues concerning not only the environment but the accountability of public authorities. The community has pulled together to bring this before the court and the decision to grant interim relief demonstrates the case is being taken seriously."

Sheffield City Council cabinet member for environment and transport Terry Fox said: "We were not notified of the proposed application to court before it was submitted and the court order was passed without our position being heard. Our lawyers are now considering the appropriate action in regard to challenging the court order."

The council has put the value of preserving its existing stock of 36,000 street trees at £26m. So far this month, the controversy has featured on BBC Radio 2's Jeremy Vine Show and and BBC1's Breakfast Show as well as in The Daily Mail.

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