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Council responds to further questions on its street tree replacement programme

5 October 2017

Five years on from the start of the Streets Ahead contract and questions around the street tree replacement programme continue to circulate.

In recent years, several misconceptions about the programme have distorted some of the truths, with the long-term benefits becoming increasingly misunderstood.

Following a second successful high court ruling and through this third myth-busting article, we hope to reaffirm the Councils position and give reassurance to the people of Sheffield that the contract continues to pave the way for a safer, smarter and greener city.

Councillor Bryan Lodge, Cabinet member for Environment and Street Scene at Sheffield City Council said:

“The street tree replacement programme, as part of the wider Streets Ahead contract, has received lots of attention during the last year, more recently, around the Council’s decision to seek injunctions against those unlawfully seeking to prevent tree works.

“It’s important to remember that we never wanted to be in this position; we had hoped that the small group of people who were trespassing within the barriers would realise the distinction between unlawful direct action to prevent works and peaceful protest- which we have always supported.

“Although we have successfully been granted the injunctions, we hope that people now respect the high court ruling by allowing us to continue with these vital highway works and adhere to our legal duties.

“Our objective remains the same- we want our city to benefit from better roads, pavements and street lighting as well as an increased and sustainable street tree stock that can be enjoyed by generations to come. The Streets Ahead contract enables us to achieve this and ultimately we know that the majority of Sheffield residents are supportive of this programme of works.”

 

Myth 18: The Council is preventing peaceful protest

Truth: The Council welcomes peaceful protest at all times. However, where direct action occurs inside safety barriers with the sole purpose of preventing lawful highway works, this then becomes trespass which breaches a court injunction and is no longer peaceful. The Court was clear in outlining the law: interfering with works is not a peaceful protest.

Safety barriers are erected around tree works to ensure the safety of workers and the general public- including protestors. Stepping or parking unlawfully inside these barriers poses an immediate safety risk and prevents the Council from carrying out work which it has a legal duty, under the Highways Act 1980, to complete.

In addition to the on-site no entry signs around tree safety zones, the Council continues to communicate with protestor representatives to ensure the distinction between peaceful protest and trespass is clearly understood.

Peaceful protest, which doesn’t interfere with or prevent essential tree works, is supported by the Council.

 

Myth 19: Injunctions will stop people from protesting

Truth: Completely untrue. Seeking civil injunctions from the High Court was a last resort for the Council to enable the continuation of vital highway improvement works as part of the Streets Ahead contract.

On the 18th August 2017, a High Court judge ruled that any member of the public attempting to trespass inside the safety barriers erected around tree works after the 22nd August 2017 until 23:59 hours on 25 July 2018 in Sheffield will be in contempt of court and could face imprisonment and any associated costs.

A full copy of the judgment can be found at: https://www.sheffield.gov.uk/content/sheffield/home/roads-pavements/streets-ahead/court-injunctions-trespass-tree-work-safety-zone.html

Successful court action came after a long dialogue between the Council and protestor representatives which reiterated the approach that would be taken by the Council should direct action continue. Unfortunately, some protestors chose to continue standing inside the safety barriers around tree works, leaving the Council with no other option but to seek injunctions.

Importantly, injunctions do not impact on an individual’s right to peaceful protest, which we fully support.

Find out more about the terms of the injunction order at: https://www.sheffield.gov.uk/content/sheffield/home/roads-pavements/streets-ahead/court-injunctions-trespass-tree-work-safety-zone.html

 

Myth 20: The Council doesn’t engage with the people of Sheffield about its tree replacement programme

Truth: The Council has taken several steps to ensure open and clear communication with the residents of Sheffield as well as protestor group representatives. This includes community roadshows, letters informing of works, offers to attend public meetings and regular meetings with protestor groups.

It remains important for us to keep our communication channels open and share updates about the programme.

We appreciate that there are a small number of people with different opinions about our approach to street tree replacement but we remain committed to taking the necessary steps to ensure that we listen and respond to all valid questions about the programme.

For example, in response to concern around some memorial trees in Sheffield, the Council has taken several steps to ensure a thorough and considered approach. This included the implementation of a Cross Party Working Group and an Economic and Environmental Wellbeing Scrutiny and Policy Development Committee to look in detail at the Western Road memorial site and make recommendations. This work is in addition to discussions with the War Memorials Trust.

The Council has recently committed to planting 300 extra memorial trees across Sheffield, including in parks and woodlands. Over the years, memorial trees have been removed across the city without replacement and the Council will now ensure that fitting tributes are reinstated to remember those who gave their lives for the country.

To mark 100 years from the end of World War 1, the Council will rededicate these trees in 2018 and commit to future maintenance of the memorials, working closely with Sheffield residents, the Royal British Legion, local veterans, schools and communities.

 

Myth 21: The council only agreed with the Independent Tree Panel on a small number of trees

Truth: The Independent Tree Panel was set up in November 2015 to offer independent advice to the Council on those trees marked for replacement.

The panel have now concluded their work in Sheffield and the Council and the ITP agreed on 70% of the trees that were referred. Where the Council has disagreed with the advice, the reasons are explained for each tree on our web site.

The council’s decisions have therefore been independently reviewed by a team consisting of a qualified arboroculturist, a highway engineer, a health and safety professional, a layperson and an independent chair.

 

Myth 22: Amey aren’t complying with health and safety regulations

Truth: Following a large number of complaints to the HSE (Health & Safety Executive) regarding Amey’s conduct on the Streets Ahead contract, senior officers from HSE undertook random site visits to both the Amey depot at Olive Grove and out on-site during tree works and routine resurfacing works.

After completing these checks, the HSE confirmed that they currently have no concerns about health and safety on the contract and furthermore, on all occasions, site working cordons were found to be fully adequate.

As part of the Streets Ahead contract the Council works closely with Amey to ensure all health and safety procedures are appropriate for the work being undertaken.

In July 2016, Amey won a prize in the ‘Most effective use of internal communications’ category at the HR Excellence Awards 2016 for its Target Zero campaign. Target Zero is one of the campaigns carried out by Amey in order to achieve a safety culture in the company.

 

Myth 23: The more complaints I make about the programme, the quicker I will get a response

The Council is proud to have an in-house customer services team who handle approximately 7000 Streets Ahead enquiries each month. These include email enquiries, phone calls and requests for service.

Once a Streets Ahead enquiry is submitted, it is usually sent to Amey to either draft a response or action if on site work is required. Although these enquiries vary in urgency and/ or nature, we always aim to get a response back to the customer as soon as possible.

Often, enquiries are submitted numerous times through various channels by the same person in relation to the same issue. Not only does this take up staff time to process, but each and every enquiry is then handled on an individual basis, increasing the workload for already stretched teams.

All enquiries about the Streets Ahead works should be submitted once to: streetsahead@sheffield.gov.uk

 

Myth 24: Trees only have a positive impact on air pollution

Whilst we fully recognise the numerous benefits that trees bring to our city, we also know that large trees in an urban environment can actually ‘trap’ pollutants.

A report produced by NICE (the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence) in 2016 suggested that ‘Leaves and branches slow air currents, causing pollutants to settle. They may also act as sinks for particulates and chemicals that may have direct or indirect effects in air quality.’

The report goes on to propose that local authorities and developers should ‘take into account the adverse effect that trees can have on air quality if badly sited or unmanaged.’

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/dec/01/trees-may-increase-air-pollution-on-city-streets

The full NICE report can be found at: https://www.nice.org.uk/guidance/ng70/documents/draft-guideline

The street ahead tree replacement programme allows us to properly manage Sheffield’s iconic tree stock and ensure an increased healthy number of trees for years to come.

 

Myth 25: The Council and Amey are filming people around tree works without consent or cause

To ensure the Council takes all the necessary legal steps to support its injunction process, evidence is needed in the form of video footage. Therefore, the Council will arrange for overt filming of any incident which may be required for evidence in court. This will include the safety zones pursuant to the injunctions but also other areas if it is considered that evidence is required. On these occasions, no person is granted any legitimate expectation of privacy.

The Council does not intend to film peaceful protests away from safety zones or Amey/Council operations provided these are not interfering with work, although this may be unavoidable on some occasions.

Filming will always be overt. The Council’s standing instruction is to avoid filming members of the public not involved in trespass into tree work safety zones, but on rare occasions that may, of course, happen.

 

Myth 26: Amey incur the costs of delays brought on by those preventing tree works

Delays to the Streets Ahead core investment programme have been caused by both Council decisions, such as to implement the Independent Tree Panel, and the actions of those trespassing within the safety barriers around tree works.

So far, the programme delays have resulted in months of lost time and prevented an estimated 75km of pavement being resurfaced and at least 6km of road. This impacts on more than 300 streets overall.

Whilst Amey are liable to cover the cost of any day-to-day delays to the programme, in cases where the Council is forced to ask Amey to delay or amend works, the cost of that delay is borne by the Council. This includes legal costs for the High Court, additional staff to reschedule disrupted works, additional surfacing operatives needed to recover lost time and household survey costs.

Contractual matters are complex and allocating responsibility for any issues depends on the specific circumstances, which can be interlinked.

The legal and commercial view of the Council is that there is a significant risk of costs falling to the Council as a result of the delayed works. In the current economic climate, this is unaffordable without diverting funds away from other already stretched services such as adult social care, which we know the people of Sheffield wouldn’t want us to do. The exact costs, brought on by the delays are currently unknown as the delays are continuing and so costs continue to increase.

In addition, discussions between the Council and Amey are ongoing and include the implementation of an accelerated programme of works following the recent injunction order.

 

Myth 27: The cost of legal action is brought on by the Council

Truth: The Council has been asked by a number of people and organisations about the costs it has incurred during the recent legal action in the High Court.  The legal action is in 2 parts – firstly the judicial review in 2016 and secondly the injunction action in 2017.  The 2016 action represents the councils defence after a single campaigner took the Council to Court and then lost on every point they made.  After that, the activists took the law into their own hands through repeated trespass to stop the tree work. This cost the council taxpayer a further £150k to secure a court injunction to stop the trespassing.

The legal action has cost the taxpayers of Sheffield the amounts below:-

2016 action

Internal Council legal costs £19,999.9 (362.21 combined legal officer hours)

External legal cost £83,702

Total 2016 = £103,701.94

2017 action

Internal Council legal costs £24,275.41 (468.4 combined legal officer hours)

External legal cost (as of 14/08/17) £125,384.99

Total 2017 = £149,660.40

Overall Total costs to the taxpayers of Sheffield up to 14/08/2017 = £ 253,362.34

Note that the above costs exclude the significant cost of technical and support staff supporting the production of court papers, providing responses and attending court.

Ultimately, the successful legal action was carried out to prevent further long-term delays to the programme caused by unlawful direct action that would lead to associated financial consequences. The cost of the action is less than the delay costs.

Read our previous street tree myth-busting articles at:

http://www.sheffieldnewsroom.co.uk/street-trees-myth/

http://www.sheffieldnewsroom.co.uk/treemythbusting2/