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Council busts further myths on its street tree replacement programme

10th April 2017

The Streets Ahead programme is all about improving the city’s road infrastructure and also represents the largest investment ever seen in Sheffield’s roads, pavements, street lights and street trees. The investment will allow us to ensure we have street trees to be proud of across the city for the next generation and beyond. During the first five years of the contract, 6,000 of the city’s 36,000 street trees will be replaced on a one for one basis, with 600 additional trees being planted over the 25 year contract period.

In recent months, illegal disruption by a small number of protestors to Sheffield City Council’s street tree replacement programme has resulted in city-wide delays and a rising cost to the Sheffield taxpayer.

Cabinet Member for Environment at Sheffield City Council, Councillor Bryan Lodge said, “At the end of the day we all want the same thing. Good quality roads and pavements, together with sustainable street trees for Sheffield. In some cases we recognise that there are genuine differences of opinion on how we should achieve this. But we also know there is a lot of misunderstanding, scaremongering and false information around what we’re doing, and why we’re doing it.

“Earlier in the year we covered eight myths surrounding the street tree replacement programme and through this second myth-busting piece, we would like to set the record straight on more of the myths we have heard circulating. We welcome any questions the public have and I would reiterate my offer to come and speak to any groups who would like to find out more.”

Myth 9: Streets Ahead is removing healthy trees unnecessarily

Truth: A tree is only marked for replacement under the Streets Ahead contract if it is dead, dying, diseased, dangerous, damaging footpaths, private property or roads or discriminatory. Discriminatory means the tree creates difficulty for elderly, disabled and partially sighted people when using the footpath.

We are passionate about our tree stock in Sheffield and recognise the great benefits they bring to our urban environment. Tree replacement is always a last resort and ultimately, by the end of the 25 year contract, there will be over 600 more street trees in Sheffield than before the contract began in 2012.

Streets Ahead will upgrade and maintain Sheffield’s roads and street scene over a 25 year period and bring the roads up to a standard expected of a modern city.

Some street trees which are healthy, but are causing damage or obstructing roads and paths, will need to be replaced to ensure the highway and surrounding street scene remains safe and passable for pedestrians, cyclists and motorists – including people with disabilities, pushchairs and the elderly.

The Streets Ahead programme is funded through a Private Finance Initiative (PFI) contract, which gives us a narrow window of funding opportunity to replace those street trees where there is no alternative. On top of this, Sheffield City Council has had to find savings of £350 million over the last seven years, and services for vulnerable people are increasingly stretched. If we lose this opportunity, we will not be able to replace street trees in future, and ensure beautiful green streets for our children and our grandchildren.

Myth 10: Amey make the final decision on tree replacements for financial gain

Truth: The Council makes all final decisions on street tree replacement. Amey are paid a monthly fee by Sheffield City Council to undertake maintenance and upgrade works to the highway over the entire contract period.

No additional payments are made to Amey, above and beyond their monthly contract amount, when a street tree is replaced. There is no financial incentive encouraging Amey to replace trees.

Information about payments made to Sheffield City Council suppliers and contractors can be viewed at: https://www.sheffield.gov.uk/your-city-council/finance/supplier-payments.html

When a tree is assessed and identified for replacement under the contract, Amey make recommendations to the Council. The Council then undertake independent assessments before making a final decision on each tree.

Myth 11: The Streets Ahead programme is unlawful

Truth: The Streets Ahead contract and subsequent tree replacement programme has been challenged in the High Court and then the Court of Appeal. On all occasions, the contract was found to be lawful and legal by a High Court judge. Not only this, the judge stated that Sheffield City Council has a legal obligation to carry out maintenance work on the highways and streets.

The street tree replacement programme under the Streets Ahead contract is ensuring that Sheffield has a sustainable and varied tree stock for generations to come.

Myth 12: Streets Ahead is not considering all engineering solutions to retain street trees

Truth: Streets Ahead uses a list of 25 potential engineering solutions for retaining street trees. Of the 25 solutions listed, 14 can be carried out within the contract, with no additional cost to the Sheffield taxpayer. The other 11 solutions listed are available at an extra cost to the Council. The Council has suffered huge budget cuts over the last five years which means that careful consideration is always given to the 11 other engineering solutions to determine whether they represent value for money and are appropriate.

Engineering solutions that have been implemented by Streets Ahead can be seen across the city where trees, which fall into one of the 6D’s category, have been retained.

6,000 of the city’s 36,000 streets trees are marked for replacement during the first five years of the Streets Ahead contract and ultimately the city will benefit from an increased street tree stock by the end of the contract.

Myth 13: Sheffield City Council could just stop tree replacement work, and start again when it is less contentious

Truth: The Streets Ahead programme is funded through a Private Finance Initiative (PFI) contract, which has a requirement to bring the city’s infrastructure up to standard by the end of 2017. The programme of works within the first five years of the contract means that residents across Sheffield get the earliest possible benefit from better roads and pavements with minimal disruption.

We have a window of funding opportunity now to ensure beautiful green streets for our children and our grandchildren.

Sheffield streets are home to a diverse age and species profile of street trees as a result of trees being removed, replanted, managed and maintained over several generations. The Streets Ahead contract allows us to ensure a sustainable approach to the city’s street trees, so that they can flourish and be enjoyed by our future generations. This is not a new approach, but a concentrated programme whilst we have the funding available.

Myth 14: Most residents disagree with the proposals for street tree replacement on their streets

Truth: The surveys which were sent to residents where tree replacement was needed, found that less than 7% disagreed with tree replacement proposals. The majority either did not respond, or were in favour. This reinforces the Council’s determination to complete the works given that only a small number of people are against the programme.

Myth 15: Delays to the programme are costing Amey

Truth: Delays to the programme caused by tree protester disruption are a cost to the Council, not Amey and include legal costs for the High Court, additional staff to reschedule disrupted works, additional surfacing operatives needed to recover lost time and household survey costs.

So far, the programme delays have resulted in months of lost time, prevented 75km of pavements and 6km of road being resurfaced affecting 300 streets overall. The cost to the city’s taxpayers, brought on by delays to the programme, is already very significant and continues to increase as a result of protestor disruption.

Ultimately, delays to the programme, caused by a small minority, are costing Sheffield taxpayers.

Myth 16: Tree protestor action is always lawful

Truth: Whilst we appreciate that a small number of people have strong feelings towards the tree replacement programme and we fully support the right to peaceful protest, we also have a legal duty to complete these works

There is a difference between protesting peacefully, and illegally preventing lawful work from continuing. Lawful protest does not include stopping works or protesters putting themselves or others in an unsafe situation.

Work prevented by protestor action means the Council is unable to fulfil its legal and lawful duties under the Highways and Equalities Acts and complete works to the city’s roads and street scene that are so urgently needed and wanted. The protestors have had their opportunity to challenge the programme in Court on three occasions and have been unsuccessful each time. We now hope that the protesters will respect the rule of law and the judgement of the High Court after works were deemed to be lawful.

Myth 17: Streets Ahead plant tiny saplings in the place of larger trees

Truth: Street trees planted on the Streets Ahead contract are usually seven to eight years old and have a height of between three and four meters. This size is recognised to have the best combination in terms of vandalism resistance, and quick establishment. Streets Ahead has a good establishment rate of new tree planting, and of over 4,000 trees planted, less than 1% have failed to establish.

The trees that are planted are chosen both for their suitability for the challenges of the modern highway environment, as well as ensuring they will last for generations to come. We are not just thinking about the next five to ten years, but the next fifty years and beyond. The challenges of the modern day environment are somewhat different to those faced by the Victorians who planted the first street trees. Our considerations for street trees now must take into account an increasing population with subsequent increased traffic and use of the highway and surrounding street scene.

Planting larger trees reduces the chances of their survival and smaller trees are vulnerable to vandalism. The size planted is optimised for survival.

All the trees are sourced from suppliers here in the UK for biosecurity credentials, and all new trees have an irrigation spout fitted which we encourage residents to use during dry periods to help the new trees have the best possible start in establishing in their communities.

To read the first street tree myth-busting article visit: http://www.sheffieldnewsroom.co.uk/street-trees-myth/

To find out more about the Streets Ahead contract visit: www.sheffield.gov.uk/streetsahead