William Eichler 15 October 2020

Sheffield council apologises for ‘numerous problems’ with tree felling scheme

Sheffield City Council has issued an apology after a report from the local government Ombudsman found ‘numerous problems’ with the way it removed trees in 2016.

A man complained to the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman that the council had removed eight trees in his street during November 2016, despite specialists and the council’s own independent tree panel recommending only one of the trees needed removing.

This occurred as part of the council’s controversial tree felling and replacement drive which aimed to upgrade the city’s roads, pavements, street lights, and bridges. This has since been dropped in the wake of numerous protests by residents.

The council’s contractors, Amey, conducted a survey of trees to identify those which needed to be removed. The council published its response to the recommendations at 4.30am in an attempt to avoid protests and went ahead with the work 30 minutes later.

Neither the complainant nor other residents were given notice that the work was scheduled. The council said this had been done ‘on police advice’, but South Yorkshire Police told the Ombudsman that they had no input into the plans.

The Ombudsman’s investigation found the council at fault for the way it corresponded with the man about his complaints, the delay and the sometimes misleading responses he received.

The investigation also found fault with the way the council placed information in the public domain surrounding the tree removal, and the selective detail of that information. It also found the council misrepresented advice received from specialists about the viability of one tree they assessed.

In March of this year, the city council agreed a new strategy to manage its street trees in consultation with Amey, The Wildlife Trust, Sheffield Tree Action Groups, The Woodland Trust and tree valuation experts.

‘This case highlights the imperative for councils to act with honesty, openness and transparency – without this people can lose faith in their integrity and not trust they are doing the right thing,’ said Ombudsman Michael King.

‘I welcome the hard work the council has since done to restore people’s faith, and publish more information to increase transparency. Apologising to the people of Sheffield for its past actions and acknowledging what went wrong will help build that trust further.’

Sheffield City Council published an apology yesterday on their website.

‘We fully accept the findings of this report and recognise that our approach to managing the city’s street trees needed to change,’ said Cllr Mark Jones, the cabinet member for environment, street scene and climate change.

‘We got some things wrong and whilst this report is reflective of a very different and difficult time, we are continuing to make real and significant progress towards a more transparent and collaborative future when it comes to managing our valuable street tree stock.’ 

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