A report into the Sheffield street trees saga has come to the decision that the council misled the public, in a ‘dark episode’ for the city.
In 2007 the council outlined a programme for the Streets Ahead Scheme, suggesting 17,500 large mature trees be replaced with saplings.
Sir Mark Lowcock, head of the inquiry, said the council “stretched the use of its authority beyond reasonable limits” and that the scheme was “flawed from the moment the contract was signed”.
He said: “The dispute did significant harm. Thousands of healthy and much loved trees were lost. Many more could have been. People on all sides suffered anxiety, stress, injuries, wider physical and mental health problems and other harms which some continue to carry.”
The street trees saga was a well-publicised ordeal at the time that saw countless protests across the city of Sheffield and dozens of campaigners arrested.
Sir Lowcock added: “Some of the things the council did were, in the view of the Inquiry, unacceptable. Some of the ideas it flirted with but did not pursue were worse. The Council’s behaviour, in other words, was the fuel that drove the protests.”
An independent panel was misled over what could be done, as were the public and, later, the courts. The Inquiry did not find perjury or criminality but misleading the courts is a serious matter.
Three sets of recommendations have been made for the remaining 14 years of the contract.
These included apologies from the council, addressing new problems and risks that may arise and the obvious issues within the council and going beyond this one project.
A joint statement has been made by city council chief executive Kate Josephs and council leader Councillor Terry Fox.
It said the council welcomed the report and would take time to read and digest its findings.
“The council has already acknowledged that it got many things wrong in the handling of the street trees dispute, and we wish to reiterate our previous apologies for our failings,” it said.
“We are committed to doing better in the future”.
Councillor Shaffaq Mohammed, leader of the Sheffield Liberal Democrats said: “This report is absolutely damning of the behaviour and conduct of senior Labour Party politicians that have governed this city.
“Misleading the public and the courts by putting out false information and bullying protesters became the norm at Sheffield City Council.
“Questions now hang over the future of Council Leader Terry Fox and senior Labour Councillor Bryan Lodge.
“The findings of the report are so serious that I feel not only do they need to step down from their leadership roles in the council, but also need to consider whether they are suitable to continue in their roles as City Councillors.”
A spokesperson for the Sheffield Tree Action group said: “We are very pleased to see Sir Mark has confirmed so much of what we were sure to be the case and we will be studying his report carefully before making a detailed statement.”
The group has said it will be giving a further press statement later.