Ignorance, pig-headedness, and bullying remain the order of the day for the Sheffield Street Trees strategy

Ignorance, pig-headedness, and bullying remain the order of the day for the Sheffield Street Trees strategy

Phrases like ‘talk to the hand ‘cos the head ain’t listening’ spring to mind as this sorry saga goes on – and is being followed now by a global audience.

Impervious to science, logic, public opinion, and even democracy, SCC and AMEY blunder on with this environmental and PR nightmare. Surreal, unbelievable, and unnecessary! Oh yes, and we are paying for this…….

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13 Responses to Ignorance, pig-headedness, and bullying remain the order of the day for the Sheffield Street Trees strategy

  1. Technotronic says:


    People NEED to lobby their MPs for some Welsh style SUSTAINABILITY legislation. To be honest, I can’t believe the English have been so thick as not to have any legislation to force Local Authorities to ensure that their acts and omissions represent a precautionary, SUSTAINABLE approach.

    For inspiration, see the following:

    Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015:

    Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015: The Essentials:

    Click to access 150623-guide-to-the-fg-act-en.pdf


    Environment (Wales) Act 2016:




    ‘The UK government has signed up to the UNECE Convention on Access to Information, Public Participation in Decision-Making and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters (the Ảrhus Convention). Article 7 states:

    ‘Each Party shall make appropriate practical and/or other provisions for the public to participate during the preparation of plans and programmes relating to the environment, within a transparent and fair framework, having provided the necessary information to the public.’’

    (Department for Communities and Local Government, 2008, p. 11)

    The Government has agreed to adopt and apply the precautionary principle in its agreement to Agenda 21 at the Earth Summit meeting at Rio, in 1992, which states:

    “Where there are threats of serious or irreversible damage, lack of full scientific certainty shall not be used as a reason for postponing cost-effective measures to prevent environmental degradation.’ (Principle 15)”.

    (Forestry Commission, 2011)

    European Directive 2001/42/EC (legislation):

    “Having regard to the Treaty establishing the European Community…
    …(1) Article 174 of the Treaty provides that Community policy on the environment is to contribute to, inter alia, the preservation, protection and improvement of the quality of the environment, the protection of human health and the prudent and rational utilisation of natural resources and that it is to be based on the Precautionary principle.

    Article 6 of the Treaty provides that environmental protection requirements are to be integrated into the definition of Community policies and activities, in particular with a view to promoting sustainable development.”

    (European Parliament, Council of the European Union, 2001)

    Guidance provided by the Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC) – “the public body that advises the UK Government and devolved administrations on UK-wide and international nature conservation”:

    “The Precautionary Principle is one of the key elements for policy decisions concerning environmental protection and management. It is applied in the circumstances where there are reasonable grounds for concern that an activity is, or could, cause harm but where there is uncertainty about the probability of the risk and the degree of harm.”

    (Joint Nature Conservation Committee, 2007)


    Department for Communities and Local Government, 2008. Planning Policy Statement 12: Creating Strong, Safe and Prosperous Communities Through Local Spatial Planning. London: TSO (The Stationery Office).

    European Parliament, Council of the European Union, 2001. Directive 2001/42/EC of The European Parliament and of the Council of 27 June 2001 on The Assessment of the Effects of Certain Plans and Programmes on The Environment, Luxembourg: European Union.

    Forestry Commission, 2011. The UK Forestry Standard: The governments’ approach to sustainable forest management. 3rd ed. Edinburgh: Forestry Commission. http://www.forestry.gov.uk/ukfs

    Joint Nature Conservation Committee, 2007. The Precautionary Principle and Approach. [Online] Available at: http://jncc.defra.gov.uk/default.aspx?page=2519 [Accessed 16 June 2015].

  2. Technotronic says:



    The letter below – “Misinformation & Misrepresentation” arrived in my inbox on 6th September 2017. The author sent it to Sheffield Telegraph (newspaper) the same day. It was published in Sheffield Telegraph on 14th September 2017, on page 16, with the title “Hell-bent on deceiving & misleading citizens”. The Editor made some substitutions prior to publication. The author has given permission for me to share the original letter, below. […] Notation and references have been added to support the content.



    “Dear Editor,

    With regard to Cllr Lodge’s recent letter (31st Aug), it was sickening to see that he, as Sheffield City Council (SCC) Cabinet Member for Environment and Streetscene, remains hell-bent on deceiving and misleading citizens, via misinformation and misrepresentation. As my recent letters highlighted (10th & 16th August) [1], communications from the Information Commissioner (Feb 2016) [2] and SCC Chief Executive (Oct 2016) – John Mothersole – [3] have exposed the fact that the SCC/Amey assertion that felling is a last resort is wrong. The communications confirm that NO alternative highway engineering specifications have been commissioned or drafted for consideration for use as an alternative to felling thousands [4] of healthy, structurally sound trees associated with minor damage to the built environment. This is contrary to the range of current good practice guidance that SCC & Amey – the service provider for the £2.2bn highway maintenance project (“Streets Ahead”) – claim to comply with [5] and which Amey are contractually committed to comply with [6].

    SCC has spent hundreds of thousands of pounds opposing the Sheffield Tree Action Groups (STAG) campaign [7] – a campaign which can trace its roots back to the Save Our Rustlings Trees campaign (SORT). The SORT campaign formed in May 2015, when enquiries and requests from residents were ignored by SCC & Amey [8]. As evidence that felling is a last resort, SORT had requested to see the range of alternative highway engineering specifications that had been considered and dismissed for use as an alternative to felling trees associated with damage to footways and kerbs [9]. Since then, SORT has been requesting that SCC/Amey commission or draft such specifications [5; 8; 9].

    At the second (most recent) meeting of the “bi-monthly” Highway Tree Advisory Forum (2/9/2015), SCC’s Head of Highway Maintenance (Steve Robinson) informed:

    ‘The engineering and tree-based solutions come at no extra cost to the council. So, the tax-payer does not pay if an engineering solution or a tree-based solution can be applied […] [10] The Council has a defence under the Highways Act – Section 58 defence under the Highways Act – of not having sufficient funding to deal with all those defects.’ [11]

    Comment from the Department For Transport:

    ‘The [Highways] Act does not set out specific standards of maintenance, as it is for each individual local highway authority to assess […] what standards should be applied, based upon their local knowledge and circumstances.’ [12]

    D.Long (Arboriculturist: former highways), Sheffield.”


  3. Technotronic says:


    The letter below – “Cost of Sustainability” arrived in my inbox on 29th September 2017. The author sent it to The Star (newspaper) the same day. The author has granted permission for me to share the letter, below. Upper case has been used by me, with permission from the author, to emphasise key points. Notation and references have been added to support the content.



    “Dear Editor,

    On 20th September, The Star reported on the potential cost of retaining street trees [1]. An extortionate estimate of cost to retain trees was provided. Steve Robinson (SCC Head of Highway Maintenance) was quoted:

    “That’s not a result of a detailed design. We would have to spend some money to do a detailed design.”

    Amey is the service provider for the £2.2bn “Streets Ahead” highway maintenance project. In 2015, commenting on Amey’s contractual commitments, as SCC Cabinet Member For Environment, Recycling And Streetscene, Cllr Jayne Dunn informed:


    As I understand it, a contract is legally binding. In response to a 140 page letter from the Save Our Roadside Trees Group, dated 29th January 2016 (distributed to every Councillor in the city) [3], on 2nd February 2016, Amey released a “commercially sensitive” contract document [4]. Quote:

    “The removal of street trees will only be considered as a LAST RESORT where there are no other reasonably practicable management options available. […] As part of our commitment to only removing a street tree as a LAST RESORT, whenever a tree is found to be either damaging or disciminatory, we consider a list of engineering SOLUTIONS to establish whether any of these can be employed to retain the tree in situ.”

    There are a number of “strategic goals” listed within the contract document, such as:

    “MAXIMISE potential CANOPY COVER through… good arboricultural management”
    “Establish a SUSTAINABLE tree stock through… appropriate management.”
    “Improve compatibility with environment through HOLISTIC HIGHWAY DESIGN AND MANAGEMENT.”
    “Improve function of highway trees through INNOVATIVE DESIGN strategy.”

    At the second (most recent) meeting of the “bi-monthly” Highway Tree Advisory Forum (2/9/2015), Steve Robinson presented a list of 25 ideas – that could be used to retain trees. He informed:

    “The engineering and tree-based solutions come at no extra cost to the council. So, THE TAX-PAYER DOES NOT PAY IF AN ENGINEERING SOLUTION OR A TREE-BASED SOLUTION CAN BE APPLIED and the reason for that is that the Streets Ahead project is a highway maintenance project and engineering and tree-based solutions are highway maintenance solutions [5]. …THE COUNCIL HAS A DEFENCE UNDER THE HIGHWAYS ACT – Section 58 defence under the Highways Act – OF NOT HAVING SUFFICIENT FUNDING TO DEAL WITH ALL THOSE DEFECTS.”[6]

    On numerous occasions, the Council and Amey have asserted that they work to British Standard 5837 [7]. The standard states:

    “ROOT SYSTEMS, stems and canopies, with allowance for future movement and growth, NEED to be taken into account in all projects…

    Where tree retention or planting is proposed…

    THE OBJECTIVE SHOULD BE to achieve a harmonious relationship between trees and structures that can be sustained…
    (from page 1 of BS5837)


    Where alternative design solutions are not available… the potential impact of the proposals on the tree should be assessed, and a Tree Protection Plan and Arboricultural Method Statement produced.

    […] Details of DESIGN PROPOSALS should be developed in conjunction with the project ARBORICULTURIST and, where required, input from a SUITABLY QUALIFIED engineer.”
    (from page 23 of BS5837)

    When I met Cllr Lodge (SCC’s Cabinet member for Environment & Streetscene), on 1st August 2016, he said that SCC HAD FINED AMEY OVER £2 MILLION DURING 2015, for neglect to meet agreed standards. He added that SCC were “just in the process of taking some action against Amey”, for the same reason. I was led to understand that the fine money was available and could be used specifically to retain trees.[8]

    In short, provided Amey honour their existing contractual commitments, and the Council’s Highways PFI Client Team provide adequate ON-SITE SUPERVISION, MONITORING, AND ENFORCEMENT of compliance with the range of current good practice guidance and recommendations that the Streets Ahead team claim to comply with [4 & 9], there is no reason why the majority of mature street trees currently scheduled for felling can’t be safely retained, long term. In law, and in practice, Sheffield City Council has sufficient discretion to insist on A SUSTAINABLE APPROACH to stewardship of the highway tree population and prevent further UNNECESSARY, AVOIDABLE LOSS AND IRREVERSIBLE ENVIRONMENTAL DEGRADATION.

    Time for SCC & Amey to start honouring existing policy commitments. [10]

    D.Long (BSc Hons Arb – former Highways), Sheffield.”


  4. Technotronic says:




    9 October 2017

    Thousands of mature healthy trees are being felled in Sheffield as part of a 25-year PFI programme to improve road surfacing

    A war of attrition between Sheffield City Council and protesters created from the highly controversial Streets Ahead programme has, at the time of writing, included the felling of 4,800 street trees to achieve road improvements. Headlines like ‘Sheffield’s Street Tree Massacre’ have brought the stories of dawn felling, pensioner and councillor arrests, and high-level celebrity, political and expert public support for the tree campaigners to national attention.

    This telling will be from a landscape professional’s perspective, sticking to the broad themes and possible lessons of most relevance to our profession.


    Streets Ahead is a public-private initiative, valued at £2 billion, between Sheffield City Council and Amey, tasked with improving and maintaining the quality of Sheffield’s roads from 2012 for 25 years. It sets out to upgrade and maintain all adopted roads and has been actively promoted by the council for the functional and environmental benefits that it will bring. If you have visited Sheffield, I am sure that you would agree that these are laudable aims, given the city’s reputation for pot holes.


    However, Sheffield is also known for much more than potholes, including the QUALITY OF ITS ENVIRONMENT, to which the street trees make an important contribution. THE CHARACTER OF MANY A STREET IS DEFINED BY A STATUESQUE CORRIDOR OF MATURE TREES. The city is hailed as the greenest in Europe and as a consequence most citizens enjoy and celebrate a distinct and high-quality urban environment. Indeed, these attributes are recognised and promoted by the council through its marketing of Sheffield as ‘The Outdoor City’.

    After moving to Sheffield in 2012, I was keen to know how the objectives of Streets Ahead would be reconciled with the existing assets of the city. Also, I wanted to know if opportunities were to be taken within the upgrade works, to improve the MULTIFUNCTIONALITY AND EFFICIENCY of Sheffield streets, in line with aspirations for GREEN INFRASTRUCTURE. For example, through traffic management initiatives, improving and introducing cycle paths, the creation of home zones, stormwater management techniques, improved ecology, enhanced character, productive planting etc.

    There are endless possibilities for what a street can accommodate and this appeared to be an excellent and once in a lifetime opportunity to address their viability in Sheffield, to ensure the city was working towards its best.



    Save Our Rustlings Trees (SORT) is a resident group with concerns about the future of trees upon their road and the perceived insensitivity of the highway proposals. Rustlings Road composed a long stretch of large healthy mature trees, many of which were considered by the council and Amey incompatible with the intended standards of highway improvement and maintenance.

    The reasons given related to perceived DAMAGE AND DISCRIMINATION, two terms the council often used to describe problem trees, in addition to the conventional arboricultural terms ‘dead’, ‘dying’, ‘diseased’ and ‘dangerous’. ‘DAMAGING’ trees were trees claimed to harm footpaths (e.g. causing misalignment of kerb lines) and ‘DISCRIMINATORY’ trees were those perceived to create difficulty for elderly, disabled and partially sighted people (e.g. creating bumps in tarmac). THE RESIDENTS WERE CONCERNED THAT THE DAMAGING AND DISCRIMINATORY CLAIMS WERE BEING MADE AT BEST, SPURIOUSLY, AND EVEN IF CREDIBLE WOULD CERTAINLY NOT FORM AN INSURMOUNTABLE CHALLENGE TO THE RETENTION OF THE TREES.

    UPON INSPECTION, I AGREED WITH THE RESIDENTS THAT THE COUNCIL WERE NOT ENDORSING A BALANCED AND COMMON SENSE VIEW AND HAD SEEMINGLY NOT CONSIDERED EXISTING ASSETS ALONGSIDE POTENTIAL. For example, a number of LARGE HEALTHY TREES, IMPORTANT TO STREET CHARACTER, PERSONAL WELLBEING AND ECOLOGY, were being proposed for removal due to small or shallow bumps in the pavement that defined them as discriminatory. I worried that Rustlings Road was an example reflecting policy across the city; thousands of streets and trees. I therefore joined other petition signatories in requesting a meeting with the local authority to discuss alternatives.

    SORT and subsequently the Sheffield Tree Action Group (STAG), a city wide collaboration of concerned individuals, became very effective at promoting their apprehensions and criticisms, through social and conventional media, and successfully lobbied the council to stage a public meeting. The meeting would be a platform for each side of the issue, but the council were very clear it was not a consultation event and that they would not accommodate any change to the programme following the meeting.

    ON THE COUNCIL WEBSITE there was, until recently, a justification that the scale and likely contention surrounding the programme rendered a full consultation unfeasible. To me, this is A PERVERSE CONCLUSION from a statement that appears to encapsulate the precise reasons for a city-wide deliberation.

    Nevertheless, the event held at the town hall was very well attended by the interested general public and industry and academic experts, in addition to several council witnesses. The positions of the main parties can be represented as follows:


    Sheffield City Council stridently defend the ambitions of the contract: to improve Sheffield’s streets, and maintain that trees are only to be removed if they are categorised as either dead, diseased, dying, dangerous, damaging or discriminatory. Furthermore, the council are clear that the contract will not result in the deterioration of a city asset, since it intends to replace felled trees at a one-to-one ratio with appropriate species. They also maintain that the programme is supported by the majority of Sheffield residents.


    The protestors passionately portray the benefits of mature trees for the raw ENJOYMENT and sense of WELLBEING they contribute to their lives, as beautiful and street character defining specimens, softening urban form, reflecting seasonal change and HOST TO WILDLIFE. In addition, they reflect the very practical function of mature trees, for their ability to MITIGATE THE EFFECTS OF THE URBAN HEAT ISLAND AND CLIMATE CHANGE.

    They castigate the council for not considering these wider concerns and consequently not identifying TREES AS AN ASSET FOR CONSIDERATION at the project outset. In addition, they claim that the TREES HAVE NOT BEEN FINANCIALLY VALUED FOR THE BENEFITS OFFERED THROUGH ECOSYSTEM SERVICES (e.g. prevention of flooding, alleviation of air pollution), so THE LOSS OF ASSET IS UNKNOWN AND DID NOT FORM PART OF THE CALCULATION FOR REMOVAL. Nor, they say, HAS THE PROJECT BEEN DEVELOPED WITHIN THE CONTEXT OF A CITY WIDE TREE STRATEGY. Rather irrationally, a new tree and woodland strategy for Sheffield is planned to follow the felling programme. Rather like a surgeon testing for reactions after amputating a limb, some say.


    MANY INDUSTRY AND TECHNICAL EXPERTS, including representatives from the Woodlands Trust, Trees For Cities, Sheffield Wildlife Trust, academics – including professors from Sheffield Hallam and the University of Sheffield’s own landscape architecture department – and many highly accomplished arboriculturalists CONTINUE TO VALIDATE AND BOLSTER THE PROTESTORS’ POSITION, sharing a common belief that Sheffield street trees represent a unique and essential asset to the city and should be accommodated where practicable FOR PURPOSES OF AMENITY AND ENVIRONMENTAL RESILIENCE.


    Three key themes are emphasised. The first relates to the projected useful life of a street tree: whereas the council claims many of the trees planted in the late nineteenth/early twentieth century would benefit from replacement, based upon adapted methodology for determining the optimal rotation rates for tree crops, some estimates suggest that felling a typical street tree, such as lime, would occur closer to 270 years after planting, if the objectives were to MANAGE BENEFITS OVER TIME.

    The second disputed point regards the proposed ratio of replacement. All professionals maintain that in order to sustain the positive contribution of street tree stock to the health and vitality of the city, THE TREE REPLACEMENT RATIO NEEDS TO BE MUCH IN EXCESS OF ONE FOR ONE, with some critics claiming the rate should be closer to five.

    Finally, and certainly the most worrying indictment of the Streets Ahead policy, relates to best practice regarding highway standards and trees. Section B.5.46 of the Department for Transport commissioned document ‘Well-managed highway infrastructure: a code’*, states that

    ‘extensive root growth from larger trees can cause significant damage to the surface of footways, particularly in urban areas. A RISK ASSESSMENT should therefore be undertaken WITH SPECIALIST ARBORICULTURAL ADVICE ON THE MOST APPROPRIATE COURSE OF ACTION, if possible to avoid harm to the tree. In these circumstances, it may be difficult for authorities to reconcile their responsibility for surface regularity, with wider environmental considerations and A REDUCED LEVEL OF REGULARITY MAY BE ACCEPTABLE’.

    Such guidance has been repeated on multiple occasions and makes clear that CONCESSIONS WITHIN STREETS BETWEEN HIGHWAY ASPIRATIONS AND TREES ARE POSSIBLE AND CONVENTIONALLY REGARDED AS DESIRABLE. Amey and Sheffield Council, however, have to date pursued a more zealous/aspirational application of highway standards, with little tolerance allowed for acceptable deviations, or trees.



    I do not feel it is an oversimplification to summarise the issue in the following terms. From the council’s perspective, they have correctly identified a problem with bumpy roads and footpaths and they intend to solve it by making them smooth and flat, whatever the consequence. This solution appears logical, if streets were only appreciated as conduits for conveying cars and people and could accommodate no additional asset or function.


    As landscape professionals we know that to be untrue. Streets form a significant setting to our lives. We may sometimes drily commute upon them, but we also cheerfully stroll, jog, chat and play within them and happily settle upon them. Journeys and activities for which the setting is incredibly important, contributing to our sense of HEALTH and WELL BEING. More tangibly, streets are able to house numerous very practical functions and services, from the common and essential, including the ability to communicate people and information through roads, paths and wires, to cables and pipes for power and waste. GREEN ELEMENTS, INCLUDING TREES, OFFER FURTHER OPPORTUNITIES FOR AMENITY AND FUNCTION, providing attractive living sculptures that also have the incredible ability to PROVIDE FOR NATURE AND AMELIORATE OUR ENVIRONMENT.

    The task of GOOD DESIGN here, as with any other space, and as advocated within the term GREEN INFRASTRUCTURE, is to take opportunities and to USE RESOURCES ECONOMICALLY, providing multifunctional streets that are INTEGRATED with and beneficial to the context. Given the complexities and inherent potential of a city street, I believe such projects and their OBJECTIVES SHOULD HAVE BEEN FORGED FROM A COLLABORATIVE MULTIDISCIPLINARY TEAM, INCLUDING ARBORICULTURALISTS, LANDSCAPE PROFESSIONALS, ECOLOGISTS, HIGHWAY, CIVIL AND DRAINAGE ENGINEERS AND PROBABLY A GOOD FEW MORE, IN CONJUNCTION WITH THE SHEFFIELD COMMUNITY for which the works are intended to benefit.

    This pooled technical and community expertise would likely have contributed a bolder vision, a better understanding of OPPORTUNITIES AND CONSTRAINTS within the project, and INNOVATIVE SOLUTIONS that exploit the potential of the situation.

    The Streets Ahead project is truthfully a highway project focused upon delivering smooth tarmac, despite the environmental claims otherwise. It was likely formed with the best of intentions to solve a single perceived problem, that of potholes, but THE OBJECTIVES AND MECHANISMS FOR DELIVERY DERIVE FROM A NARROW PERSPECTIVE, THAT OF HIGHWAY ENGINEERS AND COUNCILLORS. I am certainly not criticising highway engineers, but I am emphatically criticising SILO WORKING, as it can offer only a narrow view for what is important, does not embrace collaboration and therefore DOES NOT EXPLOIT DESIGN OPPORTUNITY.

    For Sheffield to have achieved a better outcome, I believe they needed a bolder vision, which appreciated the potential of a street in its broadest sense, recognised and pursued by a multidisciplinary team that understood the existing assets. And of course, these PROPOSALS SHOULD HAVE BEEN DEVELOPED ALONGSIDE THE CITIZENS OF SHEFFIELD TO ENSURE THAT THE PROJECT REFLECTED COMMUNITY INTERESTS, PROMOTING REAL ENGAGEMENT AND OWNERSHIP. These feel like relatively modest aspirations given the scale of the project.

    However, the reality is that SHEFFIELD FEELS LIKE A BIG OPPORTUNITY MISSED, WITH THE STREETS AHEAD PROGRAMME AN IRONIC TITLE FALLING WOEFULLY SHORT OF ITS POTENTIAL. As a consequence, the public will has been frustrated, the council have suffered tremendous damage to their reputation and THE CITY WILL BEAR A POORER ENVIRONMENT. Perhaps a tough lesson on narrow ambitions meted out to Sheffield, but hopefully learnt by others.
    Steve Frazer CMLI is Principal Landscape Architect at Enzygo Ltd, Sheffield.


    Accessed at @ 5:15pm on 16th October 2017


    UKRLG guidance has been reviewed and revised.

    “‘WELL-MANAGED HIGHWAY INFRASTRUCTURE’ SUPERSEDES THE PREVIOUS CODES ‘WELL-MAINTAINED HIGHWAYS’, ‘Well-lit Highways’ and ‘Management of Highway Structures’. This was published on 28 October 2016.

    The new Code can either be adopted straightaway by authorities or they HAVE UNTIL OCTOBER 2018 TO ADOPT A RISK BASED APPROACH.”


    (The new guidance – ‘WELL-MANAGED HIGHWAY INFRASTRUCTURE’ – can be accessed using this link)

  5. Technotronic says:


    A Blog Entry By Harry Watkins (Principle consultant at “Rootstock”: a Sheffield consultancy for landscape architecture)

    A landscape professional that actually bothered to make an effort to stand up for professionalism and oppose bad practice!

    July 16th, 2017

    “The plight of Sheffield’s trees is well known: you’ve probably seen articles in the news with Sheffield residents and famous faces up in arms over the dramatic changes to the city’s streets. But alongside the anger and passion there is a question: how can such a seemingly dramatic programme of felling be allowed to be carried out in an era of unprecedented red tape and environmental protection?

    This is an issue that falls squarely within the remit of LANDSCAPE ARCHITECTS but beyond protesting and tweeting as individuals, I HAVE SEEN VERY LITTLE ENGAGEMENT FROM PRACTICES OR OUR INSTITUTE (I include myself in this) and IT FEELS THAT AS A PROFESSION, WE HAVE REALLY DROPPED THE BALL. One of the most vocal people in this case is Professor Stevenson, from the Department of Architecture at the University of Sheffield- but WHERE ARE THE CORRESPONDING BIG HITTERS FROM THE WORLD OF LANDSCAPE? After all, if public streets and trees are not our area of expertise, what is it we think we’re doing? There is of course an understandable consideration that landscape architects are professionals who must act with balance, act within our Code of Conduct and who act for clients (which means it’s how we earn our living, and in this instance, no landscape architects have been appointed by a client to oppose SCC / Amey)- what I WANT TO EXPLORE HERE IS WHAT LANDSCAPE ARCHITECTS CAN DO TO SUPPORT STAG SO LATE IN THE DAY.

    Sheffield’s trees are a significant part of the townscape character and however the trees have been thought of historically, the Streets Ahead programme and the opposition it has provoked have only served to increase the importance of street trees to Sheffield’s identity. Time and again, when meeting landscape architecture or dendrology colleagues around Europe, people ask me is what’s happening to Sheffield’s trees and how it can be allowed to happen. David Caulfield (Director of Development Services of Sheffield City Council) has highlighted the scale of the issue, pointing to the 2,000km of roads within the city and the 36,000 trees that line them. But no matter how important the trees are to the city, it does beg the question as to why the CITY COUNCIL has allowed the CARE OF THE URBAN FOREST to become so UNDERFUNDED AND POORLY MANAGED. By contrast, London has approximately 14,800km of streets, lined by 500,000 street trees- 33 trees per km compared to Sheffield’s 18 trees per km, and it seems to be able to manage the urban heritage without serving injunctions on its residents.

    There is a great deal of work that is being coordinated by the Sheffield Tree Action Group (STAG) and on the eve of an important court decision, I don’t want to comment on the important work that they are doing- there has already been a great deal written in the national press (unusually, Private Eye, the Guardian and the Daily Mail all agree on the importance of this scandal). Instead I wanted to focus on two aspects of the issue- the Streets Ahead programme and the laws surrounding urban trees.


    THE STREETS AHEAD PROGRAMME is the natural starting point (you can find the documents here) and a number of issues jump out. The first is that THERE SEEMS TO BE A CONFLICT OF INTEREST NOT ONLY IN THE DRAFTING OF THE DOCUMENTS BUT IN THEIR EXECUTION.

    In the judgment of the Dillner vs SCC & Amey Hallam, DAVID CAULFIELD GAVE EVIDENCE THAT IT WAS AGREED THAT THE STREETS AHEAD WOULD HAVE NO IMPACT *BEFORE* ANY ASSESSMENTS WERE CARRIED OUT (para 47). How on earth could they have reached a decision like this about such a huge and complex project- one that is trumpeted as the largest highway investment contract SCC have ever awarded- without weighing independent evidence? Nevertheless, with this conclusion already reached, the ENVIRONMENTAL SCOPING ASSESSMENTS WERE CARRIED OUT BY AMEY’S STAFF AND THEN APPROVED *BY AMEY’S OWN STAFF* RATHER THAN THE LOCAL AUTHORITY TREE OFFICERS (para 48), a procedure that surely raises questions about integrity and protocol.

    Moving into the documents, STREETS AHEAD’S STRATEGIC GOALS SEEM DESIGNED TO CREATE TENSIONS, rather than provide a clear ‘line of sight’: the goals are often conflicting, providing NO GUIDANCE to how they might be resolved. How do SCC or Amey intend to reconcile, for example, the opposing goals of “minimising future costs” against “improving COMPATIBILITY with the environment through HOLISTIC HIGHWAY DESIGN”? Even if minimisation of costs (a necessary aim in an age of austerity) is a key goal, how is this reconciled with well-known research that shows that newly planted trees have a life expectancy of 12-15 years – and will therefore increase down-stream costs?

    Within the ESA’s, ARBORICULTURAL OR LANDSCAPE ARCHITECTURE BEST PRACTICE DOES NOT APPEAR TO HAVE BEEN FOLLOWED, with suggested replacement tree species including Taxus baccata, Sequoiadendron giganteum in prominent positions, and Platanus x hispanica in narrow verges- species that no landscape architect would recommend if managing future costs were a consideration. Similarly, when challenged, THE ESA’S HAVE BEEN FOUND TO BE INADEQUATE, such as in Mr Robin Ridley’s case on Western Road, Crookes and the advice overturned.

    Amongst the MANY FRUSTRATING ASPECTS OF THIS POORLY DESIGNED PROGRAMME is the feeling that there is no opportunity to overturn or meaningfully challenge A BOTCHED CONTRACT. At this point, it’s worth turning to the law to see how so many trees can be felled and such a dramatic, long-term change to the city’s character can be carried out.


    The first question most landscape architects would ask is ‘WHY WAS AN ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT ASSESSMENT NOT CARRIED OUT?’ The ESA’s that Amey carried out borrow from the methodology of this process (even if THEY WERE DILUTED IN SCOPE, DETAIL AND PROTOCOL), which seems to acknowledge this route. Indeed, this was a key part of the Dillner vs SCC & Amey case, with a large part of the judgment devoted to it. But applying the EU Directive for EIA to urban forestry is problematic for two key reasons. Firstly, the Town and Country Planning Act of 1990 clearly states that Planning Permission (the first step in this process) is only required when ‘development’ is proposed. Development here has a very precise definition (see 55 (2) (b)), and unfortunately “works within the boundary of a road by a highway authority” come under this category. The second part relates to the Highways Act of 1980, which places a duty on a local authority to maintain a highway, and a provides a power to carry out improvements. Under this Act, maintenance includes the kerbs, verges and trees within the highway, meaning that not only does this work not trigger a planning application but that SCC (or Amey in this case) are obliged to carry this work out.

    So, the law here is pretty clear: AMEY DO NOT NEED PLANNING PERMISSION TO CARRY OUT THE STREETS AHEAD PROGRAMME BUT I DON’T THINK THIS SHOULD BE THE END OF THE DISCUSSION. After all, planning control is a creature of statute, an “imposition of public interest of restrictions upon private rights of ownership of land,” and as PUBLIC INTEREST HAS CHANGED OVER THE PAST TWENTY YEARS, SO TOO SHOULD THE LAW.

    There are three aspects here that could be considered: firstly, the DEFINITIONS OF ‘ROAD’ AND ‘HIGHWAY’ were deemed to be irrelevant in the Dillner case but I beg to differ: Mr Justice Gilbart wrote that a common sense approach is needed here and perhaps this is where landscape architects and planners should step in to enlighten our judges about the changing uses of the highway. As behavioural patterns change (and will only continue to change in the near future as a result of new vehicle technology and increased cycling), THE PRIMACY OF THE PRIVATE CAR WILL FADE and the uses of the road and the pavement will change. This might seem a small point, but it has significant implications and at the very least, the Highways Act of 1980 surely should recognise that THERE ARE DIFFERENT USES AND FUNCTIONS OF A HIGHWAY.

    Similarly, the term ‘engineering’ is key in the TCPA 1990, with ‘ENGINEERING ACTIVITIES’ BEING ONE OF THE FUNDAMENTAL DEFINITIONS OF “DEVELOPMENT.” As we learn more about the traits and uses of plants in urban environments, many are questioning whether plants are engineering tools- a valid question given their role in managing storm water and air quality, and whilst this might seem an esoteric argument, perhaps there should be a test of what constitutes ‘engineering’ and if WE CAN ‘BIO-ENGINEER A STREET.’

    Thirdly, the DEFINITION OF FORESTRY used in the domestic Regulations which apply to EU Directives for environmental assessment seem narrow and OUT OF TOUCH WITH CURRENT ARBORICULTURAL AND FORESTRY RESEARCH: we need every tool in the box to mitigate and adapt to a changing climate and our laws should be part of this. At the moment, “deforestation” only triggers EIA on sites over 1 hectare in size, a principle that seems futile in the case of an urban forest which can cover vast areas (in this case, 36,000 trees).


    THE WORK THAT STAG AND MANY OTHERS IN SHEFFIELD ARE DOING IS SO IMPORTANT in terms of maintaining a high profile for the cause and holding SCC and Amey to account but I feel that THEY HAVE BEEN NEGLECTED BY LANDSCAPE ARCHITECTS AND ARBORICULTURISTS: there is so much that professionals, academics and our professional bodies can do to challenge the terms of the PFI contract and the laws relating to urban forestry, especially as the first five year period of the Streets Ahead programme draws to a close and our opportunities to influence the next phases increase.

    In the first instance, WE SHOULD BE INSPECTING AND IF NECESSARY, CHALLENGING THE ENVIRONMENTAL SCOPING ASSESSMENTS THAT WERE CARRIED OUT. This is no small task: the City was assessed across 180 wards and each ESA needs to be provided (likely via a Freedom of Information request) and then reviewed by professionals who are suitably qualified. Nevertheless, the evidence so far is that THERE IS PLENTY TO CHALLENGE IN THE METHODOLOGY AND FINDINGS OF THESE ASSESSMENTS AND BY CHALLENGING THE QUALITY OF THE WORK rather than the legality, professionals can provide important support to the cause, ASSESS THE QUALITY OF THE WORK CARRIED OUT SO FAR AND ITS IMPACTS, AND RE-EVALUATE THE WORK THAT IS YET TO BE CARRIED OUT.

    Alongside this, A PROFOUND QUESTION NEEDS TO BE ASKED ABOUT THE PROCESS OF LANDSCAPE ASSESSMENT AND HOW IT AFFECTS DESIGN AND MANAGEMENT OF LANDSCAPES. If it cannot protect a magnificent urban forest, is it fit for purpose? In the instance of the Dillner case, trees are only seen as contributing to cultural heritage when seen in the context of listed buildings: surely the many lime avenues of Sheffield, as well as the more frequent cherries, crab apples and birches contribute positively to LANDSCAPE CHARACTER? By the same token, WE NEED RECONSIDER SPECIFICALLY HOW WE ASSESS TREES WITHIN URBAN ENVIRONMENTS: THE SHEFFIELD CASE HAS POWERFULLY SHOWN THAT ASSESSING EACH STREET ON ITS OWN, INDEPENDENT OF CONTEXT OR WIDER CHANGES IS NOT SUFFICIENTLY METHODOLOGICALLY SENSITIVE OR ROBUST. If we can agree on this, then there is an opportunity to challenge what we mean by ‘material considerations’ and by consequence, what actions trigger the need for planning permission.

    Further, whilst the Dillner case shows that EIA is not triggered under the current legislation and the High Court is not the place to hear this case, it is instructive in other ways. There are a number of instances where Mr Justice Gilbart appears to hint how this programme and the laws that cover it might be challenged: for example, in paragraph 94 of the judgment, Mr Justice Gilbart writes that the Court was “exercising jurisdiction as a court of judicial review. It is not an appellate tribunal with the power to take different views on the merits from the decision making body. IT IS NOT FOR THIS COURT TO DETERMINE WHETHER A DECISION TO FELL OR NOT TO FELL WAS WRONG ON THE MERITS,” (my italics).


    If we can persuade either the LI or the AA – ideally supported by other professional bodies – to follow this up then we should also consider paragraph 158, where Mr Justice Gilbart discusses the definitions of ‘maintenance’ and ‘improvement’- HERE IS AN OPPORTUNITY TO REINFORCE THE QUESTIONS ABOVE OF CUMULATIVE IMPACT AND SCALE OF INTERVENTION, AND REFINE OUR UNDERSTANDING OF WHAT IS BEST PRACTICE IN THE URBAN ENVIRONMENT.

    Lastly, perhaps the most contentious and long-term course of action is to EXPLORE THE DEFINITIONS OF ‘DEFORESTATION’, ‘MATERIAL CONSIDERATIONS,’ AND ‘DEVELOPMENT’ AT LAW: whilst research and practice progress, the law lags behind. In this light, these DEFINITIONS ARE A POWERFUL TOOL NOT ONLY IN PRESERVING OUR CULTURAL AND ENVIRONMENTAL HERITAGE BUT ALSO IN FIGHTING THE EFFECTS OF CLIMATE CHANGE in towns and cities.

    In setting out these ideas for possible next steps, I am not sure who should or can undertake them: THESE ARE BIG QUESTIONS THAT WILL TAKE A CONSIDERABLE AMOUNT OF PROFESSIONAL TIME TO RESOLVE and finding people to take on a long-term fight like this will be difficult.

    For what it’s worth, I AM KEEN TO OFFER ROOTSTOCK’S SUPPORT IF NEEDED and will be lobbying the Landscape Institute and the University of Sheffield to join in- if more landscape architects and arboriculturists can offer their support to STAG, WE MIGHT HAVE A CHANCE OF SHAPING THE NEXT 5 YEAR TRANCHE OF STREETS AHEAD AND SAVING OTHER TOWNS AND CITIES FROM SIMILAR FATES. In the meantime: follow John Cooper QC for updates and solidarity with the 12 residents of Sheffield who will hear their injunctions tomorrow.”


    (Accessed on 19th October 2017)

    “Rootstock is a small landscape architecture practice with big ideas. Established in ‘beta mode’ in 2015 with a full launch planned for 2019, we currently undertake a very limited number of projects that challenge us to explore themes close to our core interests: technical innovation, social impact, horticultural ecology and climate change.”



    e: harry@rootstock.me
    t: 07809 247 153
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    The Arboricultural Association is a trade association – not a professional body for arboriculture (The Institute of Chartered Foresters is the only professional body in the UK specifically for arboriculture and urban forestry).

    There has been much criticism from independent arboriculturists throughout the UK, and very much criticism from one particular Sheffield arborist. See the Stocksbridge Community Forum website for detail:


  6. Technotronic says:


    Posted by Eamonn Ward, on 7th November 2017, at 01:42 hrs

    “My brother manages the orchards at Chalice Well in Glastonbury. He visited Sheffield last week and I took him to The Vernon Oak and Chelsea Road Elm. Here are his thoughts:

    ‘As A HORTICULTURALIST AND WOODLAND MANAGER VISITING FROM SOMERSET I was shocked to see perfectly healthy mature elm and oak trees marked down for execution on the street corners of Sheffield.

    It seems simply because in the dubious judgement of road builders and tarmac specialists Amey and their confidential 25 year contract to maintain Shefffield’s roads thousands of mature trees must be cut down and removed for ‘health and safety’ reasons.

    Some health, some safety, when Government statistics show that between 1951 and 2006 more than 309,000 people were killed on our roads and 17 million injured whilst during the same period less than 1000 people were killed by trees and THE AVERAGE ANNUAL NUMBER OF TREE RELATED ACCIDENTS RECORDED AT A AND E DEPARTMENTS IS 55.

    Trees are not dangerous motor vehicles and roads are dangerous. On the contrary trees are beautiful and health-giving oxygenators and spiritual presences in our midst in urban landscapes. Why must healthy trees be sacrificed for the Great God Motor Car?

    THE FOOLISHNESS, INTRANSIGENCE AND SHEER BLOODY MINDEDNESS of Sheffield City Council’s long time Labour majority has resulted in tree lovers being threatened with court action and even imprisonment for attempting to take direct action against what are effectively any number of acts of CIVIC AND CORPORATE VANDALISM BY AMEY ON BEHALF OF SHEFFIELD CITY COUNCIL.

    Any notion of democratic accountability or reflection on the opposition of most people in Sheffield to this POLICY OF LARGE SCALE REMOVAL OF MATURE STREET TREES has been duly ignored by what is effectively a one party state in Sheffield.


    The trees planted under this contract will be at worst saplings in 25 years time and at best a very long way indeed from full maturity unlike the Chelsea Elm and the Vernon Oak and their brothers and sisters in SHEFFIELD’S URBAN FOREST of great Street Trees.

    LET COMMON SENSE AND HORTICULTURAL AND ARBORICULTURAL KNOWLEDGE AND GUIDANCE PREVAIL – STOP THIS MASSACRE of perfectly healthy and extremely beautiful and health giving mature specimen trees on the streets of Sheffield.

    Anthony Ward, Bsc, PGCE, NOCN(Organic Horticulture) Woodland and Orchard Manager from Glastonbury in Somerset.’ ”

    Source (STAG FB):

    • Technotronic says:

      Something odd is happening here. Existing and new Links to Facebook content are being automatically deleted. Do you know why Ian? Have you accidentally altered the blog settings recently?

      Anyway, I’ll post the link again (to use it, I’ll flank it with five upper case ‘Y’s. To use the link, you will need to copy and paste the link to your address bar (excluding the flanking Ys).


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