Council embroiled in a bitter row with tree campaigners refuses to disclose its official policy behind its tree felling program

A city council embroiled in a bitter row with campaigners over a controversial tree felling programme has refused to disclose its official policy behind the measure.

The authority has ruled it is in the “greater good” to keep its official policy for the felling of thousands of the city’s street trees secret.

Its refusal comes after a local newspaper submitted a Freedom of Information request to see its currently-redacted ‘Highway Tree Replacement Policy’.

FILE PHOTO; Police protect Amey staff from pro tree protesters as they cut down a tree on Abbeydale Park Rise, Sheffield. 

The policy is contained within a £2.2bn PFI contract between Sheffield City Council in South Yorkshire and a highway maintenance company.

The contract, which began in 2012, contains a target to remove 17,500 of the 36,000 street trees in Sheffield and replace them with saplings during the course of 25 years.

Trees – many of which campaigners say are healthy and are hundreds of years old – will be replaced with saplings.

Sheffield Council has previously insisted that felling is carried out as a “last resort” and that trees would only be removed if they were dead, dying, diseased, dangerous, damaging or ‘discriminatory’ – affecting the ability of people to use the pavement.

Police protect Amey staff from pro tree protesters as they cut down a tree on Abbeydale Park Rise, Sheffield. 

However, a separate FoI council response to tree campaigner Paul Selby has confirmed that the strategy is superseded by what is contained within the contract.

It states: “In the event of any inconsistencies between the documents the obligations contained in the Streets Ahead contract take precedence over any document produced under it.”

Mr Selby said this admission appeared to show the published strategy was “worthless”.

In its response to the latest FOI by the Yorkshire Post Sheffield City Council stated: “We believe the public interest in maintaining the exemption outweighs the public interest in disclosure.

“Please note, public interest is what is of greater good to the community and not what interests the public.”

The council further stated that the ongoing review of which parts of its Streets Ahead contract could be made public was “an arduous task and required appropriate levels of scrutiny”.

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2 Responses

  1. HELP!

    Will you help Save Our Roadside Trees (SORT) prevent the felling of Sheffield’s THOUSANDS of healthy, structurally sound, mature street trees?

    17,500 street trees in Sheffield are scheduled for felling.

    That is 67.6% of all MATURE street trees.

    73.8% of the street tree population (25,877 trees) were fully grown, mature trees when the Amey PFI felling programme began in August 2012.

    To date, over 5,000 healthy, structurally sound, mature street trees have been felled over a five year period.

    Around 6,000 street trees have been felled so far.

    Most of the trees are felled because they are associated with minor damage to paths (footways) and carriageway edging (kerb stones).

    Please sign Deepa’s petition, to help encourage the local authority (Sheffield City Council) to adopt a STRATEGIC, SUSTAINABLE approach to the stewardship of Sheffield’s URBAN FOREST* and all its tree populations.



    To date, the SAVE OUR ROADSIDE TREES (SORT) petition has OVER 16,000 SUPPORTERS. However, growing numbers indicate growing, continued support and indicate the reach of media attention and wider support. One thing that Councillors really can’t stand is negative publicity. So, the more they get, the greater the likelihood of positive change and a strategic approach that will help initiate, encourage and support responsible, sustainable management that accords with current, nationally recognised and widely accepted good practice.

    The online SORT petition went live on 25th May, 2015. At 12:30am, on 1st July, 2015, the online petition had 4,693 signatures and was supplemented by >5,307 on paper. At the end of 2015, it had 6,047 signatures (supplemented by ~8,800 on paper). Currently, the petition has over 16,000 signatures.

    For further information, please see the following:





    Forestry Commission England, 2010. The case for trees – in development and the urban environment:$FILE/eng-casefortrees.pdf

    GUIDANCE FROM THE UNITED NATIONS (FAO Forestry Paper 178: Guidelines on urban and peri-urban forestry):





    A letter to The Star, Sheffield Telegraph, The Yorkshire Post & The Guardian, dated 6th December 2017

    Notation and references have been added to support the content.



    On 20th September 2017, The Star – a Sheffield newspaper – reported on the potential cost of retaining street trees [1]. An extortionate estimate of cost to retain trees was provided. Steve Robinson (then SCC Head of Highway Maintenance) was quoted:

    “That’s not a result of a detailed design. We would have to spend some money to do a detailed design.”

    Commenting on the possibility of tree retention, in a report dated 27th November 2017, Philip Beecroft – recently appointed SCC Head of Highway Maintenance – asserted:

    “Undertaking this work…would require prioritisation of the potential tree works against other pressing council priorities such as social care.” [2]

    Of course, instead, Sheffield City Council (SCC) could use some of the £2 million plus that they have fined Amey for sub-standard works [3]. After all, SCC never whinge when it comes to dipping in to that multi-million pound pot to needlessly squander funds on household felling surveys, a sham “Independent” Tree Panel, surveillance of citizen tree groups, PR, smear, campaigns of misrepresentation, or court cases. All of which have been unnecessary, avoidable and represent malpractice [4] – a reckless use of public resources. Even so, only a relatively small fraction of the fine money has been used on such things, leaving plenty to enable the retention of mature street trees and ensure the SCC Highways PFI Client Team – responsible for monitoring and enforcing standards for the £2.2bn “Streets Ahead” highway maintenance project – is adequately resourced [5].

    Amey is the service provider for the £2.2bn “Streets Ahead” highway maintenance project. In 2015, commenting on Amey’s contractual commitments, as SCC Cabinet Member For Environment, Recycling And Streetscene, Cllr Jayne Dunn informed:

    “Under the contract they have to fulfil any promise” [6].

    As I understand it, a contract is legally binding. In response to a 140 page letter from the Save Our Roadside Trees Group, dated 29th January 2016 (distributed to every Councillor in the city) [4], on 2nd February 2016, Amey released a “commercially sensitive” contract document [7]. Quote:

    “The removal of street trees will only be considered as a last resort where there are no other reasonably practicable management options available. […] As part of our commitment to only removing a street tree as a last resort, whenever a tree is found to be either damaging or discriminatory, we consider a list of engineering solutions to establish whether any of these can be employed to retain the tree in situ.”

    On 2nd September, 2015, at the second (most recent) meeting of the “bi-monthly” Highway Tree Advisory Forum, Steve Robinson – Beecroft’s predecessor – publicly presented a list of 25 ideas – “engineering solutions” – that could be used to retain mature street trees when resurfacing. The list included: EXCAVATION; “FLEXIBLE PAVING/SURFACING SOLUTION”; RAMPING/RE-PROFILING; USE OF THINNER KERBS; REMOVAL OF DISPLACED KERBS; PRUNING (including pollarding); “creation of LARGER TREE PITS” [7]. He informed:

    “THE ENGINEERING AND TREE-BASED SOLUTIONS COME AT NO EXTRA COST TO THE COUNCIL. SO, THE TAX-PAYER DOES NOT PAY if an engineering solution or a tree-based solution can be applied, and the reason for that is that the Streets Ahead project is a highway maintenance project and engineering and tree-based solutions are highway maintenance solutions.” [8]

    Should works be unaffordable, Mr Robinson informed: “The Council has a defence under the Highways Act – Section 58 defence under the Highways Act – of not having sufficient funding to deal with all those defects.”[9]

    There are a number of “strategic goals” listed within the contract document, such as:

    “MAXIMISE potential CANOPY COVER through… good arboricultural management”

    “Establish a SUSTAINABLE tree stock through… appropriate management.”

    “Improve compatibility with environment through HOLISTIC HIGHWAY DESIGN AND MANAGEMENT.”

    “Improve function of highway trees through INNOVATIVE DESIGN strategy.”

    On numerous occasions, the Council and Amey have asserted that they work to British Standard 5837. The standard states [10]:

    “ROOT SYSTEMS, stems and canopies, with allowance for future movement and growth, NEED to be taken into account in all projects…

    Where tree retention or planting is proposed…

    THE OBJECTIVE SHOULD BE to achieve a harmonious relationship between trees and structures that can be sustained…
    (from page 1 of BS5837)


    […] Details of DESIGN PROPOSALS should be developed in conjunction with the project ARBORICULTURIST and, where required, input from a SUITABLY QUALIFIED engineer.”
    (from page 23 of BS5837)

    Time for SCC to enforce contractual commitments [6 & 7] and for SCC & Amey to start implementing current good practice [5].

    D.Long (BSc Hons Arb), Sheffield.”


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