'˜Only problem Sheffield trees are replaced' - council chief

I was the cabinet member in 2005 when the council was awarded the money from the previous Labour Government to carry out a programme to transform the city's highway network, writes Coun Bryan Lodge, cabinet member for environment and streetscene at Sheffield Council. '¨I think most people would say they are now much better than they were a few years ago. '¨In fact a recent survey showed that satisfaction with the condition of Sheffield's roads has doubled since 2010.

Wednesday, 13th December 2017, 3:17 pm
Updated Wednesday, 13th December 2017, 3:20 pm
Protestor by a tree in Meersbrook

For the first three years of this programme the council was getting on with this work of upgrading roads and pavements, with minimal controversy.

We have 4 million trees in the city and around 6000 of the 36,000 street trees are being replaced on a better than 1-1 basis.

Protestor by a tree in Meersbrook

I invite anyone to join me on a hill top and point out the visual impact of the replacement programme, when around 95 per cent of the trees planned to be replaced already have been, Sheffield is no less green as a result of this programme.

It is easy to exaggerate the loss of trees – for example on Rivelin Valley Road where some people have claimed a ‘tree massacre’ only four per cent of the trees on that road are being replaced.

In the past, trees have been removed across the city for a number of reasons, without any plans to replace. Indeed, as recently as 2008, eight trees were removed on Rustlings Road in one week without a single objection.

The difference now is that under this current programme trees are being replaced with new trees, preserving our environmental heritage.

Protestor by a tree in Meersbrook

The legality of the programme has been fully tested in the courts and this found that the council is required to fulfil its duty to the people of this city under the Highways Act to maintain roads and pavements to a good state of repair.

We have a commitment to retaining trees wherever possible.

Trees are only replaced as a last resort. If one of the funded engineering solutions within the contract can be used to retain a tree, it is retained.

This is demonstrated by the fact that the vast majority of the trees are not being replaced.

However, we cannot afford to be spending the millions extra that would be involved in some of the expensive engineering solutions outside the contract.

A recent report has found that to retain just 41 trees would cost around £500,000 and even spending this money would only provide a temporary solution.

This is at a time when government cuts mean we are facing challenges to maintain essential services such as social care.

What we’ve seen in recent months and weeks is something different to the usual vociferous debates we have in this city.

We’re told the activists are peacefully protesting. We would strongly defend anyone’s right to peacefully protest.

However, when you engage in intimidation, abuse and disruption of people going about their legitimate and lawful work, or even intimidation of local residents who have a different view, this is not peaceful protest.People wearing masks and balaclavas outside people’s houses and residents complaining of intimidation – this couldn’t be further away from peaceful protest.

It cannot be right that a Sheffield grandfather no longer has his grandchildren to visit because of masked people outside his house. This is vigilante-style activity whereby a small group are taking the law into their own hands.

The protestors’ mantra behind this is ‘healthy trees’ when in fact the small number of trees to be replaced are damaging roads, paths, garden walls and private properties and making our paths impassable for people with reduced mobility.

So the only trees being replaced are those causing real problems for people on our streets.

They are not simply being removed, but are being replaced so there will be 600 more trees on our streets than there were at the start of this programme.

We know that due to the passion for Sheffield’s green character there is strong feeling about this issue and unfortunately there has been a lot of misinformation.

If we want Sheffield to continue to be a city proud of its green credentials, we have to take action to ensure we are preserving it.

The alternative is to leave things as they are, let them deteriorate, and store up the problem for the future, which would see trees removed at a time when we were not able to replace them.

The major investment phase of the work is now nearly finished and round 95 per cent has been completed. After the remainder of the work is done we will be moving back into routine maintenance

I am proud of Sheffield as the greenest city in the country, our Streets Ahead programme is creating a highway network that preserves our city’s green credentials in a way that is sustainable for the future and with roads and pavements that are fit for purpose.

This column was written in response to last week’s column by Sally Goldsmith, entitled ‘felling crews, campaigners and their supporters are all victims in tree war.’

nYour tree letters, page 17.

n Residents complain about pre dawn tree felling , page 15