Telegraph Column by Ian Rotherham: Why Sheffield trees debate affects all of us

Tree lined streets in Nether Edge
Tree lined streets in Nether Edge

I recognise the need for careful and considered managements of Sheffield’s remarkable urban forest, and I understand street trees may cause some issues of ‘inconvenience and cost’ for city managers, be they city council or private companies.

However, merely offering the ‘one-trick pony’ solution of felling is not acceptable. Furthermore, some other issues need to be thrown into the ring. The street tree resource ranges through smaller ornamented trees that are so important to so many local people, through larger Victorian planted ‘forest’ trees, to ancient veterans.

All are important, but I want to draw attention to the planted Victorian bigger trees in particular. It seems to me that some issues have not yet been made clear.

Firstly, this is a climate change issue – imagine Nether Edge or Sharrow, for example Psalter Lane, denuded of their magnificent limes. This will cause local peak summer temperatures to rocket by maybe six degrees or seven degrees centigrade – exceeding worst-case climate change impacts.

Let’s be clear, in a long hot summer that could mean vulnerable people becoming very poorly, or even dying.

During recent summer heatwaves across Europe, thousands of older or vulnerable people died. Why do we think it cannot happen here? Do decision-makers and policy-makers not read the news and the predictions on climate and the impacts on city living? Are their environmental promises and policies merely ‘eco-twaddle’? I invite you to decide. Think of this across Fulwood, Ecclesall, Handsworth, Norton, Gleadless, Endcliffe, Millhouses, Carterknowle and elsewhere.

Moreover, removal of these trees will leave lower-lying areas hugely vulnerable to extreme water events such as flooding. So where is the vision about climate-proofing our city? A few re-planted saplings have zero effect.

The Rustlings Road situation, where there may soon be much less rustling, is not a NIMBY situation but a citywide and even national issue. It affects us all.

Street trees enhance the value of local properties and make people fitter, happier and healthier. If you lose your local street trees, your home has just lost desirability, saleability and value.

Sheffield is a famously ‘green city’, its suburbs praised by the poet John Betjeman. Businesses can now locate wherever they wish and free from the old constraints of being close to resources like water, transport, coal, iron etc. Today, business invests in places it likes, and it certainly does like ‘green’ Sheffield. Removing the street trees, big and small, but especially big, devalues Sheffield plc.

* Ian Rotherham, Sheffield Hallam University’s environmental expert.