Sheffield City Council is being urged to tread more carefully before roadside trees are chopped down as part of the highways repairs programme.
Residents have expressed frustration that their views are going unheard – and dismay at the loss of some trees.
But the council, which is working with contractor Amey to replace trees that are dead, diseased, causing damage or blocking roads and pavements, says it can be a difficult balancing act.
Cabinet member Coun Jack Scott said: “We do a lot to engage already and I know that replacing street trees arouses strong views. The issue for us is that some people love them and some people hate them.”
A meeting was hosted by Sheffield Green Party at St Mary’s Community Centre, Bramall Lane.
Members of the audience described a lack of consultation and failed attempts to make their views known, complaining that promised leaflets and letters had not arrived, notices were placed so high up trees they could not be read and call centres were hard to reach.
When information was given, the process was invariably one of “notification” and not “consultation”, it was claimed. Stress caused by the removal of trees was also highlighted.
Green councillor Jillian Creasy, who chaired the meeting, said she would urge the council and Amey to improve communication and consultation. “It is important that local people have a say in how the work is done in their areas and that the process is transparent and accountable.”
Local tree expert Prof Ian Rotherham said: “I recognise the importance of urban street trees and the benefits brought to people living on those streets. I acknowledge the difficulties involved in street tree management under punitive austerity measures. But the adverse impacts are felt at the most local level. The city council has numerous environmental strategies, polices and promises for trees, established over several decades, and which still apply, which are being ignored.”
Coun Scott said the council was listening to feedback “and always look to see how we can better share information.
“Trees are clearly hugely important to Sheffield and we’re working hard to make sure that we have a healthy street tree stock that is enjoyed by people for years to come while still maintaining our reputation as the greenest city.
“However, we have a duty of care to residents to keep the highway clear and safe. In some cases we have to remove a tree, but this is only ever as a last resort, not least because it costs more to replace a tree than to just maintain it.
“The really important point is that even if we do remove a tree, a new one is planted for every one removed and we are not reducing the number of street trees.”
Since the Streets Ahead launch in August 2012, Amey says it has held 40 explanatory tree walks, 40 roadshows, sent 3,000 letters about tree replacements and briefed all political parties about tree management.