Updated report from SORT – Letter to Sheffield City Council on Street Trees

Updated letter Fox_FAO Cllr Fox July 2015

Support the campaign and please circulate this letter widely. Also, the merits of the so-called Tree Forum are being widely questioned in terms of its independence, its authority, and its accountability.

Watch this space for more.

 

Ian

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14 Responses to Updated report from SORT – Letter to Sheffield City Council on Street Trees

  1. Technotronic says:

    CLLR FOX’S RESPONSE TO THE SORT COMMUNICATION DATED 14th JULY, 2015

    None of the content below has been altered in any way, other than to protect the identity of the SORT representative. The SORT representative has given permission for this information to be shared in this way.

    From: Terry.Fox2@sheffield.gov.uk
    To: xxxx
    CC: David.Wain@sheffield.gov.uk; steve.robinson@sheffield.gov.uk; James.Winters@sheffield.gov.uk; Julie.Dore@sheffield.gov.uk

    Subject: Re: Unanswered letter
    Date: Tue, 4 Aug 2015 14:46:06 +0000

    Hi xxxx
    The answers to your e mail below are the following

    The contract appears to allow the Council to monitor the Contractor’s work, attending meetings, carrying out surveys and inspections, calling for trials, etc., and to deal with any breaches of their obligations. May we be assured that the Authority is exercising those powers?

    Yes, we can confirm that SCC holds regular meetings with Amey managing contractual performance, as well as carrying out surveys, inspections and calling for trials. We can also confirm that SCC deal robustly with any breaches in obligations on the part of Amey, and that the Authority are exercising these powers.

    May we be assured that that measures exist to ensure that qualified arboricultural inspectors are competent arboriculturists, as defined within British Standard 3998 (2010)?

    Yes, we can confirm that all arboricultural inspectors are competent arboriculturalists as defined in BS 3998.

    may we similarly be assured that they are being independently inspected by appropriately qualified inspectors, and there are measures in place to ensure that qualified inspectors keep abreast of developments in best practice and have relevant and recognised expertise, by way of education, training and experience, through a programme of continued professional development?

    Yes, we can confirm that both the Council and Amey have a CPD process in place

    Regards Terry

    • Thchnotronic says:

      NOTE: There’s no such word as “arboriculturAList”. The correct word is: arboriculturIST.

      • Technotronic says:

        NATIONAL NEWS:
        THE MISMANAGEMENT OF SHEFFIELD’S URBAN FOREST

        Today (Saturday 15/8/2015), The Guardian produced a two page article (pages 26 & 27) on Sheffield Council’s backward attitude toward tree management, highlighting the importance and value of a range of valuable ecosystem services that trees afford to the built environment and all its inhabitants, year after year:

        http://www.theguardian.com/cities/2015/aug/15/treeconomics-street-trees-cities-sheffield-itree

        Please note that the estimation that 60 saplings = one London Plane tree that has achieved its maximum dimensions is false and misleading. I suspect that estimation only considers a single ecosystem service and I suspect that is carbon storage; i.e. to compensate for the storage lost by the felling of a fully grown London Plane, you would need to plant roughly sixty London Plane saplings (the species used is of significant importance in this calculation).

        To date, this news coverage is the most in depth there has been, but, to my mind, the author should have been presenting Cllr Fox with the criticisms made in the SORT communications, particularly with regard to the impact on the citywide impact on the shape, size and distribution of canopy cover and the implications for continued, sustainable provision of the FULL RANGE of ecosystem services.

  2. Thchnotronic says:

    HIGHWAY TREE ADVISORY FOROM: NO CONSTITUTION!

    Today, a depressing Freedom of Information response document was released. Some of the detail is reproduced here, in its entirety:

    Ref. FOI 606

    Request:
    Please provide a complete copy of the constitution of the new Highway Tree Advisory Forum.

    Response:
    You have been previously sent a copy of the Terms of Reference of the Highway Tree Advisory Forum and these were agreed at the first meeting. This is the relevant documentation in respect to your request.

    • Technotronic says:

      NO FORUM CONSTITUTION

      A communication was received from Cllr Fox (Cabinet Member for Environment and Transport: Labour) yesterday. It states:

      “The forum has been set up to allow a level of engagement with the public that is over and above the statutory meetings and consultations that we are required to do. THERE IS NO CONSTITUTION AS IT IS NOT A FORMAL DECISION MAKING BODY…”

  3. Thchnotronic says:

    HIGHWAY TREE ADVISORY FORUM: Terms of Reference

    “The purpose of the Tree advisory forum is to offer an opportunity for all the experts in their respective fields to debate issues relating to highway trees. These include:
    • The city wide approach and adoption of the 6 ds
    • The sensitive engineering solutions that are considered before any trees are noticed for felling
    • The Streets Ahead approach to communications
    • Replanting species catalogue
    • Sharing industry best practice and innovation

    These meetings will be held bi-monthly in the Town Hall between 5pm and 7pm.
    The meetings will be chaired by the Cabinet Member for Environment and Transport
    Minutes of the meeting will be taken and once agreed by the Chair will be emailed to all those who have attended”

    The above is an extract from Councillor Fox’s invitation to people that he invited to join his panel of “experts”. To the best of my knowledge, I am the only person to have made this content publicly available. Most of the people that attended the Forum will not have been aware of these “terms”.

    Furthermore, I did attend the initial forum meeting. The third item on the agenda for that meeting was “Confirm Terms of Reference”. I listened VERY carefully at the forum SPECIFICALLY for this item to be announced, expecting all independent panellists to oppose it. To my surprise, the item was NOT announced. As such, there was NO OPPORTUNITY WHATSOEVER for panellists or others to accept, negotiate or reject the “Terms of Reference”. There was a point where, I recall Cllr Fox parroting words he had communicated to others previously:

    “Full Council resolved that I the Cabinet Member would have an Highway Tree Advisory Forum. This Forum is voluntary and has such any attendees have the right to attend or not.
    The Highway Advisory Tree Forum, is a body to provide advice to the decision maker.
    For me to collate that advice I need the said ToR to structure the Forum.
    I reiterate if you feel distressed or distraught about the ToR then you have the right to attend or not.”

    So, I guess, by the Council’s reckoning, anybody that didn’t walk out of the forum, accepted the “Terms of Reference”, without actually being told that they were in fact the complete constitution under which the forum would operate, in perpetuity!

    I note that the “Terms of Reference” do not include any of the standard provisions that are usually included within a constitution. In particular, there are no provisions to help ensure that the forum operates in such a way that it is not abused or misused, and there are no provisions for review and revision of the constitution, or for procedures for election of a Chairman.

    In short, Fox is a TOTAL despot! I’m not exaggerating. The Forum really is whatever HE wants it to be. There is no board to consider “expert” evidence; there are almost no independent “experts” with relevant education, training and experience relevant to the matters being approached (there was only one on the initial forum panel – Prof Nigel Dunnett); there has been no consultation on what the forum is or should be for, or how it should operate, or what items should be discussed. Cllr Fox has consciously decided not to invite any real “experts” on to the panel, such as representative/s from the following:

    Trees and Design Action Group.
    Arboricultural Association.
    Institute of Chartered Foresters.
    The National Tree Safety Group.
    The Landscape Institute.
    The UK Roads Liaison Group.
    National Joint Utilities Group.
    Joint Nature Conservation Committee: http://jncc.defra.gov.uk/page-5287
    The Forestry Commission.
    Natural England.

    I think that the people, including the representatives of key stakeholders, should boycott the forum with a noisy protest until such time as stakeholder representatives, at least, get to help draught a proper constitution & elect their own chairman.

    • Thchnotronic says:

      CLLR FOX (Cabinet Member for Environment and Transport – Labour): Self Appointed Chair of The Highway Tree Advisory Forum.

      The quote above which starts “Full Council resolved that I the Cabinet Member…” constitute the entirety of an e-mail sent by Cllr Fox on 20th July, 2015, in response to a communication he received from a concerned citizen. That concerned citizen was not happy with the response received (understandably) and has given permission for the content of the aforementioned communication, to which Cllr Fox was responding, to be posted on this blog. Here it is, in its entirety:

      On 20 Jul 2015, at 12:07, XXXX wrote:

      Dear Cllr fox,

      In your previous e-mail (below), dated 7th July, 2015, you stated:

      “But for the avoidance of doubt, I have never said to anyone to spend any money to get a consultant for any such advice, I have merely asked if any other reasonable solutions be put forward to be considered.
      That is why I want the Highway Tree Forum to be set up and be available for every resident to participate in the discussion with experts and other interested parties, to get a say about their neighbourhood. “

      Please can you clarify for me EXACTLY what you were referring to at the start of the sentence beginning with the word “that”. Were you referring to reasonable solutions, the entire content of the e-mail to which you were responding, or something else? Please clarify with a detailed response that includes answers.

      Also, by chance, I have heard that, since the beginning of last week, you have sent out a number of invitations to various people, inviting them to be members of a panel of “experts” at the tree forum you have named the “Highway Tree Advisory Forum”. Oddly enough, you failed to organise a panel prior to setting and announcing the date of the first meeting of the forum. This appears to be just one of a number of serious errors. I wish to bring to your attention a few others, just to ensure that you are aware of them:

      1) A proposed forum constitution should have been draughted and put out to the representatives of key stakeholders for consultation, feedback and amendment, prior to being confirmed and adopted.
      2) The Chair of the forum should be appointed by majority vote, by the representatives of key stakeholders: either you, or the Labour Council have elected yourself.
      3) The Chair should not be a person with vested interests or bias with regard to the matters being approached: you are known to have strong vested interests and biased, uninformed opinions, as evidenced by your acts and omissions and those of others whom you have supported and defended, in public.
      4) Without an agreed and widely accepted constitution, the forum is extremely vulnerable to abuse and misuse, with significant, strong likelihood of misuse and abuse: there is no indication that an appropriate system with adequate protocols is in place to prevent these serious errors. If you have one, please send me a copy by e-mail.
      5) The forum should serve as an arena for the exchange of opinions and ideas between the representatives of key stakeholders: at present, it is set to be a question and response session between citizens and “experts” on the panel, with a discussion between unannounced “experts”: “experts” chosen by the Labour Council, without consultation with or approval of the representatives of key stakeholders.

      To quote my previous words to you regarding the idea of a forum:
      “This is not a bad idea, provided people have the opportunity to influence decisions and affect change. If it is just a forum for the Council to serve notification and appear to be involving communities, as opposed to using the forum as a platform for education, consultation and participation, then the forum will represent a spectacular waste of public resources, including money.”

      Given your track record to date – your acts and omissions, and those of the political party to which you belong – I believe you, as Chair, will abuse the forum and use it as a platform to peddle your own misinformed, misleading rhetoric.

      I strongly request that you urgently work to correct the errors I’ve brought to your attention, AND that you postpone the initial meeting of the forum until you have addressed the errors in an appropriate and adequate manner. Also, I wish this communication to be treated as a personal communication to you, as the current Cabinet Member for Environment and Transport, and as a list of official complaints.

      Yours sincerely,
      xxxx

      • Thchnotronic says:

        It should be noted that, to this day, Cllr Fox has refused to address any of the points raised in the above communication. He has not answered the initial question in the communication and he has failed to comment on whether a forum constitution exists or not. However, thanks to the FOI 606 Freedom of Information response, WE NOW KNOW THAT THE FORUM DOES NOT HAVE A CONSTITUTION.

  4. Thchnotronic says:

    In an e-mail dated 7th July, 2015, Cllr Fox commented:

    “…I want the Highway Tree Forum to be set up and be available for every resident to participate in the discussion with experts and other interested parties, to get a say about their neighbourhood.“

    • Thchnotronic says:

      Cllr Fox: MASTER OF DECEIT

      BBC RADIO SHEFFIELD

      “Coun Terry Fox, cabinet member for environment, said: ‘All options are open…’ ‘We’re not averse to any kind of solutions or options that are reasonable and practicable…’ ‘But we can’t have a conversation about every tree. We have to take a city-wide, balanced and considered view’.”
      (The Star, 2015)
      http://www.thestar.co.uk/news/all-options-are-open-on-sheffield-trees-chief-insists-1-7327751

      Now, compare and contrast those promises against Cllr Fox’s comments on BBC Radio Sheffield, during the Rony Robinson slot, on 31st July, 2015, following the initial tree forum meeting. It would appear that all criticisms of the Council’s acts and omissions, and those of Cllr Fox were and are valid and justified.

      (from 11:00 am onward: skip forward to the one hour mark),
      Link: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p02w44nm

  5. Technotronic says:

    FORUM

    Highway Tree Advisory Forum: Notes of meeting held on 23rd July, 2015

    The minutes of the inaugural forum meeting are now available: https://www.sheffield.gov.uk/in-your-area/report_request/plants/trees.html

    You should check them. If there is anything you disagree with, it needs to be raised at the next forum meeting. I note that the webpage was “modified” on August 13th, 2015 2:43:44 PM. Presumably just to add the minutes? I note that the minutes document was created by DAVID WAIN, as a Word document, on 13th August 2015 at 2:05 PM.

    I notice that Butt’s 60mm comment on root distribution has been recorded as 600mm! I wonder what other little gems have been altered? BTW, if, like me, you recorded the meeting, you will have an accurate record of EXACTLY what was said. 😉

    Can you spot any lies, spin or omissions?

    The minutes quote Cllr Fox as saying:

    “Dr. Deepa Shetty and her fellow campaigners have raised their concerns with me at previous meetings in the Town Hall and I have taken this very seriously, including going through every point raised with your local elected members. We are now moving on to a City Wide Tree Strategy.”

    For me this highlights the heart of the problem. Cllr Fox has NOT gone through EVERY point raised with elected members. Furthermore, rather than employing competent consultants with relevant knowledge, education training and experience, with a detailed understanding of the matters being approached, he has decided to base his decisions on the misinformed/uneducated opinions of his fellow councillors. As none of them are highway engineers or arboriculturists, that is as much use as if he had decided to base his acts and omissions on the opinion of his grandma!

    The same can be said of the Highway Tree Advisory Forum: the panel of “experts” mostly consists of Council & Amey representatives and a handful of other people who lack the necessary, relevant expertise – there isn’t one arboriculturist amongst them!

  6. Technotronic says:

    FOI Department say GET LOST!

    On 6th July, 2015, the following Freedom of Information request was submitted (Ref: FOI/422):

    “Under the FOI Act, I request the specifications for the range of options that were considered and deemed to be impracticable, for the 11 healthy trees due for felling on Rustlings Road.”

    A response was received on 22nd July, 2015, it did not include any alternative specifications, just a list of ideas:
    a “list of options that are considered before any tree across the city is noticed for removal and replacement.”

    The list is reproduced elsewhere on this blog: https://ianswalkonthewildside.wordpress.com/2015/07/16/update-on-sheffield-street-tree-issues/

    The purpose of the request was for campaigners to see the evidence that alternative highway engineering specifications were commissioned, draughted and considered, for the safe, long-term retention of existing highway trees. SORT Campaigners have been submitting requests to see these since at least 31st May 2015, when the request was first put in writing, in a letter to David Wain the Council’s chief Environmental Technical Officer: David.Wain@sheffield.gov.uk

    Wain is responsible for “overseeing all soft landscaping and arboricultural elements of the Core Investment Phase of the Streets Ahead project.”

    However, please note that he now refuses to respond to any communications personally. Furthermore, at the initial meeting of the tree forum, Steve Robinson (Head of Highway Maintenance) – “responsible for the Streets Ahead Project” commented:

    “…those recommendations are then made to the Council tree experts who then independently verify that recommendation. The Council has the final say on any treatment of a tree. Those decisions are made at a corporate level rather than independent – at the individual. SO, THERE IS A DETAILED PROCESS THROUGH WHICH DECISIONS ARE MADE, ULTIMATELY ENDING WITH ME.” steve.robinson@sheffield.gov.uk

    Because the FOI/422 response failed to address the request in an appropriate manner and supply the information requested, following set protocol, an internal review was requested on 23rd July, 2015 (executed by the same person that issued the response).

    The response of the internal review was received on 20th August, 2015. It commented:

    “The Council’s response appears to provide a full and comprehensive reply to your initial request. Namely we have provided the options which are available and would have been considered in respect to these trees. ”

    Clearly, they didn’t read the request properly! o_0
    Furthermore, the request went on to say:

    “…AT THE TREE FORUM ON 2ND SEPTEMBER, IT SHOULD BE NOTED THAT THE PURPOSE OF THE FORUM IS TO DISCUSS THE PRINCIPLES BEHIND THE ENGINEERING OPTIONS, NOT TO DISCUSS THEIR APPLICATION TO INDIVIDUAL TREES.”

    The initial FOI/422 response from Streets Ahead stated:
    “These engineering solutions will also be discussed by the Highway Tree Advisory Forum on the 2nd September.”

    Really, the agenda should have been made absolutely clear at the previous forum meeting, or in a communication issued as an update. The key problem appears to be that Cllr Fox & Streets Ahead are unwilling to communicate in an honest, open and transparent manner, and are unwilling to involve key stakeholders in the organisation and management of the tree forum. THE FORUM REALLY IS A SHAM!

    ALL EVIDENCE INDICATES THAT Cllr Fox’s INTENTION IS THAT THE FORUM SERVE AS A PLATFORM FOR THE STREETS AHEAD TEAM TO COMMUNICATE THEIR POLICIES (which could be done more effectively online & via newsletters). THE FORUM GENERATES GOOD PR, AS IT GIVES THE OUTWARD APPEARANCE THAT LOCAL COMMUNITIES ARE BEING EDUCATED, CONSULTED AND GIVEN AN OPPORTUNITY TO PARTICIPATE.

    The media are easily fooled, as there are no independent competent arboriculturists on the panel, or people with the combination of relevant education, training and experience – in the field of trees in relation to construction – as is necessary to have sufficient understanding of the requirements of the particular tasks being approached and to EFFECTIVELY CHALLENGE key policy and decision makers. I suspect this is intentional.

    Before the initial forum meeting, Cllr Fox & Cllr Dore were alerted to the fact that it would be both prudent & reasonable to have at least one representative from each of the following groups invited to join the panel:

    Trees and Design Action Group.
    Arboricultural Association.
    Institute of Chartered Foresters.
    The National Tree Safety Group.
    The Landscape Institute.
    The UK Roads Liaison Group.
    National Joint Utilities Group.
    Joint Nature Conservation Committee: http://jncc.defra.gov.uk/page-5287
    The Forestry Commission.
    Natural England.

    Both Cllr Fox & Cllr Dore have refused to comment as to whether any of these groups were invited to join the panel and have refused to give reasons as to why they were not invited, if they were not.

    Also, remember, there are no independent arboriculturists or highway engineers on the panel and no panel exists to consider information exchanged at the forum (Cllr Fox has total control in every respect).

    • Technotronic says:

      GET LOST!
      On 3rd August, FREEDOM OF INFORMATION REQUEST FOI / 582 was submitted.

      “Please provide copies of all detailed highway engineering specification/s documents that detail the highway engineering specification/s considered for the construction and for the resurfacing of pavements (including kerbs) that have existing, long-established trees, to enable the safe, long-term retention of such trees.
      Please also provide the reason/s why each detailed highway engineering specification/s document was rejected and its content deemed to be impracticable for pavements and kerbs on Rustlings Road, Sheffield.”

      On 7th August 2015, Mark Knight – Information Management Officer – sent a response.
      He refused to supply the information, commenting that the “request marries to earlier FOI 422”. He also commented:

      “Now that you have been issued with a formal Section 14 refusal under the Freedom of Information Act 2000, the Council will no longer enter into correspondence with you where you ask for further information related to the removal of trees on Rustlings Road or request linked to this topic until a “reasonable time frame” has elapsed.”

      It should be noted that some SORT enquiries addressed to Mr Wain or Streets Ahead have been converted to FOI requests without SORT’s agreement. As the FOI Officer sends everything to Streets Ahead to answer, it would appear that the only reason for converting enquiries to FOI requests was so as to trigger the FOI option to issue a Section 14 refusal under the Freedom of Information Act 2000, effectively meaning that concerned citizens have no way of getting any answers to the questions they have about tree management.

      Such acts are not those of an honest, open and transparent Local Authority.

    • Technotronic says:

      CORRECTION RE: FOI DEPARTMENT SAY GET LOST!

      Above, it states “Furthermore, the request went on to say”

      This should read “Furthermore, the RESPONSE went on to say”

      “…AT THE TREE FORUM ON 2ND SEPTEMBER…”

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