Telegraph Voices: Should outsiders get involved in decisions about Sheffield?

Campaigners form a human chain around Sheffield Town Hall as a protest against Sheffield Council chopping down trees in the city
Campaigners form a human chain around Sheffield Town Hall as a protest against Sheffield Council chopping down trees in the city

Gove should walk blindfold with a stick along pavements, Bev Houghton

I want to represent the views of those who have strong feelings about our Sheffield trees but who do not protest loudly enough.

I am lucky to live close to Ecclesall Woods in a road lined by huge trees, mainly London plane, lime, ash and sycamore.

When I moved into the road 35 years ago the trees were lopped annually by a tree gang working out of Ecclesall Woods (now the Saw Mill). Two trees near our house were removed due to disease and replaced by a sycamore and a lime – these are now twice the height of the houses but still dwarfed by the older trees.

Due to lack of money the care of our trees in Sheffield was neglected and many have grown out of their environment. Sheffielders moaned constantly – and with justification – about the state of our roads and pavements but now that we have grants to rectify this a small but loud minority are preventing work from being done.

The pavements at the bottom of our road are virtually unusable due to the tree roots, my husband has tripped and fallen twice in the dark, mothers often push their children’s buggies along the road and several elderly people have resorted to walking in the road rather risk tripping and falling.

Last week the council workers arrived to remove an extremely large London Plane tree (more suited to London parks) from outside a neighbour’s house. This tree has caused the pavement to rise and break up badly and the roots have been growing into my neighbours cellar for several years. Sadly a group of protestors stood under the tree and prevented it from being felled. They did not live on our road and had no thought, time or courtesy to listen to the views of those of us who do and are desperate to have the trees that are causing damage removed – and replaced by smaller and more suitable species.

The council is removing and replacing trees, I am sure that no one wishes us to lose our title of Greenest City, we love our trees but sadly many have outgrown the position that they are in.

Many obstruct the view of on-coming vehicles when turning onto major roads (Rivelin Valley and Hagg Hill, top of Dobcroft Road and Ecclesall Road to name two that I regularly use) and have been planted too close together.

So much publicity has been given to those who shout loudest and now Michael Gove has joined in, has he ever been to Sheffield?

I challenge him and the protesters to walk blindfold with a stick or to use a wheelchair along our pavements.

We hear a lot about preserving our environment for future generations and as a retired Primary Headteacher

I fully agree with this but many of our trees were planted at the same time, have been neglected and will eventually die at around the same the time, if we do not have a rolling programme of replacement and management we will, one day, become a city with far fewer trees.

I feel the time has come for those of us who keep silent – or just chunter among ourselves – to raise our voices.

Many of us support the council (apart from the way they went about things in Rustlings Road) and welcome the removal of trees that are causing damage.

Council seems to have had enough of experts - Sally Goldsmith

Michael Gove, who has poked his nose into the street tree fiasco and got short shrift from Sheffield City Council, famously said Britain has had enough of experts.

Unfortunately the council seem to have had enough of experts too.

They’ve ignored every tree, environment and landscape architecture expert the country round.

The Woodland Trust, the Wildlife Trusts, Trees for Cities have all condemned the actions of our city over its street trees as well as local experts like Professor Ian Rotherham, renowned internationally for his work.

All fail to understand why large mature trees with many years of life left have to go when a narrow kerb here, a bit of root work there and some sensible and pragmatic pavement management would save so many.

Only this week, a Labour councillor, Jon Burke, from the London Borough of Hackney with the exact same remit as Coun Bryan Lodge here in Sheffield – Cabinet Member for Environment – told me that “green infrastructure should be defended and enhanced” and that “trees are as close as it gets to a silver bullet for an array of urban issues including public health benefits and one of the fastest and cheapest means of softening and regenerating the public realm”.

He also found it odd that even conservation area status, as in Nether Edge, did not provide protection for tree- lined avenues.

We find it odd too and wish we had experts like him in our council.

Perhaps we should invite him here?

He’d be an improvement.

Reflection of growing concern nationally - Richard Ward

Democracy is important to us all, as is the quality of the air that we breathe and our sense of well being.

Our democracy is not just about elections, it is about people feeling and experiencing that they have a voice when needed.

There must be accountable governance, transparent decision-making and an ethos of working for the whole community.

There is more to democracy than those who wield power simply saying ‘If you don’t like what we do, try to vote us out at the next opportunity’.

In Sheffield we have seen the council embark on a ruinous street tree management approach within its Streets Ahead highways contract.

Many thousands of citizens, backed by reputable expert inputs, have found their hopes of dialogue dashed on a dogmatic will to proceed with an ill-conceived tree replacement programme that will downgrade street canopy benefits for many decades to come.

Perfectly healthy street trees are being culled where common sense would dictate the retention of these valuable assets, in total are worth millions of pounds.

Both ‘experts’ and national guidance have been ‘by-passed’ by our council. MPs vacillate lamely.

Many citizens feel voiceless.

There seems nowhere to go but to look beyond Sheffield for an intervention.

The involvement of the Secretary of State at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DeFRA) reflects the growing concern felt at national level.

There will be other regulatory enquiries and interventions along with greater scrutiny.

It is long past time to talk.

Leaders would do well to heed outside voices - Rebecca Hammond

Should outsiders get involved in decisions in Sheffield? Yes, I think they should.

It isn’t healthy to operate in a bubble that only looks inwards and ignores the experience, expertise and perspectives of others.

That doesn’t just go for ourselves as individuals, but for our city’s leaders and decision makers.

We can, and should, learn from other people, other cities, and other countries.

It’s very easy to get caught up in the minutiae of local decisions, politics and priorities.

But an “outsider” can come along with a fresh pair of eyes and a more objective view of things.

When locals think something is wrong, it’s absolutely a good thing to obtain an external opinion.

Sometimes that external opinion may agree, and sometimes it may not.

The campaign for Sheffield’s healthy street trees has been criticised for bringing in external experts for their opinions and advice.

But those external advisors have no axe to grind – there is no direct benefit or harm to them – so they are in a better position to give objective, rational, advice.

External input isn’t necessary or appropriate for everything.

But when the decision has the potential for wider consequences, or set precedents that could be followed elsewhere, then it’s especially important that a wider view is sought.

Sometimes it isn’t until an outsider comes along that the implications are fully recognised.

Our city’s leaders would do well to seek and pay heed to outside voices.