Sheffield campaigners are holding a two-day vigil at the Town Hall after an independent inquiry into the city’s street tree saga highlighted a “failure of strategic leadership”.
Campaigners held banners, using hashtags #SorryNotSorry and #SaveSheffTrees, outside Sheffield Town Hall at the protest’s launch on Monday. They are calling for the resignations of Councillors Terry Fox and Bryan Lodge, for the report to be publicly debated and for changes to be made.
Last Monday, a 227-page independent inquiry of the dispute came out. Sir Mark Lowcock, Chair of the independent inquiry into the street tree dispute, described it as “a dark episode in Sheffield”.
Sir Mark said: “In 2007, the council took delivery of an analysis it had commissioned from Elliott Consulting Ltd. The analysis found that 74% of the city’s 35,000 street trees were mature or overmature. In March 2008, the council produced an outline business case for the Streets Ahead programme in which it said that ‘a large proportion’ of the mature and overmature street trees were ‘now ready for replacement’.
“That is not what Elliott said or intended. The Inquiry did not find evidence that, in saying this, the council was malign or intending to mislead.”
Sir Mark said: “Our conclusion is that the council’s behaviour amounted to a serious and sustained failure of strategic leadership. Responsibility for that ultimately rests with the political leadership, in particular the relevant cabinet member and the council leader: they were responsible for setting the direction and tone.”
Labour councillor Terry Fox – now the council leader – was responsible for the Streets Ahead contract between 2015 and 2016. About 5,600 trees were removed and replaced between 2013 and 2018 as part of a £2.2bn street improvement project, the report found.
Council leaders apologised but resisted calls to resign.
A statement on behalf of Chief Executive of the Council Kate Josephs and Coun Fox said: “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.”
Annette Taberner, 65, one of the campaigners, said: “We are not happy with that response. They said they will make some personal apologies later on. They have said a couple thousands of sorry but we haven’t believed them.”
Coun Fox will make a statement at the council meeting this Wednesday.
Christine King, 66, former co-chair of STAG – Sheffield Trees Action Group, said: “What we want is for the council to implement the recommendations in Sir Mark’s report.
“His report highlighted significant failures in strategic leadership; but councillors implicated in this remain in place and appear unrepentant. It’s hard to see how ‘trust and confidence’ can be restored when senior figures aren’t prepared to take responsibility for their actions.
“Bluntly, you can’t move on if you stay where you are.”