Councils could be banned from felling trees without consulting locals after three years of Sheffield protests

'Michael Gove would have to be planted on Mars if he hadn’t seen the destruction the council is carrying out in Sheffield'

Jane Dalton
Sunday 30 December 2018 01:11
Protesters have staged campaigns to save 17,500 of Sheffield's street trees
Protesters have staged campaigns to save 17,500 of Sheffield's street trees

Householders are to be given more say over whether the trees on their streets can be cut down, the government has announced.

Environment secretary Michael Gove has drawn up the plans in the wake of a three-year battle in Sheffield over mass felling of trees.

Campaigners celebrated the announcement but warned the consultations must be genuine and thorough.

Protests have been staged in Sheffield since 2015, when a scheme emerged to fell up to 17,500 street trees that were said to be diseased or a danger to walkers due to roots damaging roads and pavements.

Demonstrators chained themselves to trees in an effort to prevent the work being carried out. The local authority went to the High Court to get an injunction to prevent them climbing inside safety barriers.

Since then, 5,500 trees have been felled, around half of which were on residential streets and were “healthy”. The city prides itself on its environmental standards, calling itself “Europe’s greenest city”.

The city council signed a £2.2bn private finance deal with contractor Amey in 2012 to manage the city’s street trees.

Amey and the council say every tree removed is being replaced with a sapling.

The latest proposals include:

  • Making sure communities have their say on whether street trees should be felled with requirements for councils to consult local residents;
  • Mandatory reports by councils on tree felling and replanting;
  • Giving the Forestry Commission more powers to tackle illegal tree felling and strengthen protection of wooded landscapes.

Chris Rust, co-chair of the Sheffield Tree Action Group, welcomed the news but said it was a shame it had come too late to save thousands of trees in the city.

“We believe the campaign in Sheffield played a big part in getting the government to pay attention to this issue,” he said.

“It’s great that the scheme calls for consultation of residents but we are concerned because councils sometimes treat consultations as a very cursory activity and do it to get the answers they want, so we hope there will be a serious approach to consultation.”

Lord Scriven, a former Sheffield council leader who has been a vocal critic of the city’s mass felling plan, welcomed the announcement, saying: “As the case of the council ignoring local people’s wishes when felling thousands of healthy trees shows, existing laws are not strong enough.”

He said the “devil will be in the detail”, and the “key issue is what statutory powers will be enacted to ensure councils have to take note of what the communities say”.

He added: “Michael Gove and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs would have to be planted on Mars if they hadn’t seen the destruction the council is carrying out to street trees in Sheffield – so I’m absolutely certain that the axe-wielding approach taken by Sheffield will have influenced the approach being suggested.”

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Launching a consultation on the measures, Mr Gove said: “It’s right that the views of local people are at the heart of any decision that affects their community – and the futures of the trees that line their streets are no different.”

The government has previously pledged to plant a million trees in towns and cities as well as 11 million trees nationwide over the course of this parliament.

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