Sheffield Tree Massacre paused by legal challenge

The street tree situation in Sheffield took a new turn recently when one of the leading community campaigners, Dave Dillner, applied to the High Court for judicial review of Sheffield City Council’s actions.

As part of the Council’s 'Streets Ahead' highway improvement programme, the contractor Amey has already removed around 3500 street trees and it has been claimed by protestors that up to 18,000 could be under threat, although the Council disputes this.

Short term victory for Sheffield trees

Local campaigners won a short term victory, as a High Court judge granted a temporary injunction to prevent further tree felling (except in cases involving danger to the public) to allow the court time to hear the case.

Here at the Woodland Trust, we are hugely relieved to see a pause in the tree felling and we hope it will give the Council time for a re-assessment and perhaps find a different way forward. We have been calling for a pause in tree felling to enable the Council to put a comprehensive tree and woodland strategy in place. We understand that a tree strategy consultation event is being held but we have been told they are not consulting on the street trees aspect.

It’s vital that the new tree strategy sets out the importance of trees and all the public benefits which they bring, including creating shade in summer, providing homes for wildlife, absorbing pollutants from the atmosphere, slowing flash floods and generally making people feel better.

The value of trees to Sheffield’s local economy should not be underestimated. In London, the contribution of urban forest to the economy each year has been estimated as nearly £133 million and even in a much smaller town such as Wrexham trees have been estimated to save the local economy more than £1.3 million a year.

And, apart for their recent record on street trees, Sheffield Council have a good story to tell. Sheffield has a reputation for being the most wooded city in the UK.

Nikki Williams on One Show
Nikki Williams (right) is
interviewed by Christine Walkden
for the One Show (Photo: WTML)

Hope for a solution

Removal of street trees should be resisted unless there genuinely is no realistic alternative. We would like to see an independent assessment of the trees which are under threat and a valuation of the benefits that trees bring to the city.

Mature trees are particularly important and it could take up to 40 or 50 years for a newly planted sapling to give the same amenity and wildlife value. So it’s vital that when a tree has to be removed, at least two new ones are planted, preferably as close to the original site as possible, with species which mature to provide significant canopy cover.

The street tree situation in Sheffield has been getting a lot of publicity. Our chief executive, Beccy Speight, was interviewed on BBC Breakfast recently and we have also participated in features on You and Yours (on Radio 4) and on the One Show on BBC1 where our Head of Campaigning, Nikki Williams, was interviewed by Christine Walkden.

What’s happening in Sheffield is important because of the sheer scale of the tree removal involved. Other Councils across the country are under similar financial pressures and it’s vital that they don’t resort to similar measures.

The public response to events in Sheffield has been impressive. It seems that people there really do care about trees. Let’s hope that a more sensitive and less environmentally damaging solution can be found.