Sheffield residents in bitter row with council over tree-felling proposals

Contractors are assessing 36,000 roadside trees to decide which must be felled for a £2bn road improvement scheme

With an estimated two million trees – four for every person – Sheffield holds a strong claim to be Europe’s greenest city. But the South Yorkshire city’s tree-lined streets have become a battleground in an angry row that has pitted residents against council highways officials.

Contractors are assessing 36,000 roadside trees on behalf of Sheffield City Council to decide which need to be felled as part of a £2bn road improvement scheme.

About 2,000 have already been cut down since the Streets Ahead scheme was launched in 2012, although the council says it has replaced them all with younger trees and has planted 50,000 extra trees in 17 new woodlands.

But residents have launched their own grassroots campaigns to defend the roadside trees, some of which are 100 years old, and the dispute is becoming increasingly heated. A protest camp has been set up in a city park and other residents have been rushing out of their homes to disrupt workmen arriving in their streets.

“Residents across the city want to save these trees,” said ecologist and environmental campaigner David Garlovsky, a spokesman for the Sheffield Trees Action Group. “Eight or nine groups have sprung up in different areas. These trees are there for our wellbeing and cutting them down will increase pollution. The council haven’t looked after these trees in the past and they now have a problem on their hands, but there seems to be a blitz on now to cut down as many as possible, as quickly as possible.”

Only last week it was reported that the council was refusing to answer Freedom of Information requests from residents about the trees because the requests were considered “vexatious”.

Sheffield City Council apologised last week after Steve Robinson, the head of highways, was secretly recorded allegedly saying “we’re not interested” in residents’ “nonsense” reasons for saving individual trees.

Residents have spent a month under canvas at a protest camp in the city’s Endcliffe Park to protect 11 lime trees on neighbouring Rustlings Road, which they say are under threat. A petition has attracted 10,000 signatures. 

Louise Wilcockson, who lives close to the park, said: “I walk past those trees around five or six times a day. We have to save them – not just for the people on this street but for the entire city.”

Residents in Western Road, Crookes, have also rallied around a London plane tree – one of several planted in memory of war heroes. They say an independent survey has found that the tree is in “reasonable health”, in contrast with a contractor’s report saying it is a “safety risk”. 

Sheffield City Council says the aim of the Streets Ahead project is to upgrade the city’s roads, pavements and street lighting as part of a Private Finance Initiative project. Officials say Sheffield is the greenest city in the UK and is in a “unique position” to carry out this “vital work”.

It also says an independent survey identified that three-quarters of Sheffield’s street trees were dead, dangerous or dying, and needed replacing. The contractor, Amey, is working to replace trees that fit criteria known as the “six Ds”, which also include those found to be diseased, damaging or discriminating – obstructing safe passage for prams and wheelchairs.

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