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Council announces independent inquiry into street tree dispute

New 'co-operative arrangement' between Labour and Greens includes long-awaited inquiry into the felling of thousands of street trees in Sheffield, expected to launch in the autumn. 

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Hawksley Avenue, Hillsborough.

Kelly Dorset.

The new co-operative administration between Labour and the Green Party will see Sheffield Council launch an independent inquiry into the street tree dispute in the city, it has been announced.

A press release from the Council outlined some “first-year steps” for the new administration, which will be run by a cabinet of 7 Labour councillors and 3 Green councillors.

The plans include “appointing an independent person to conduct a local inquiry into the management of the street trees dispute.”

The announcement said the details of the inquiry are yet to be confirmed, but that it will be launched with a view to “reflecting on and understanding what unfolded, to learn any lessons, and to support Sheffield to move forward confidently.”

The inquiry, which many campaigners have been calling for since a fragile truce was reached with the Council, is expected to begin in the autumn.

It will be seen as a victory for the Green Party in Sheffield, which opposed the tree fellings and increased its number of councillors from 8 to 13 in this month’s local elections.

Green councillor Alison Teal – who will become the Cabinet Member for Sustainable Neighbourhoods, Wellbeing, Parks & Leisure – was arrested for taking direct action to block fellings and faced the former Labour Council administration in court.

Local Labour leader Terry Fox, who will also become the new Leader of the Council at today’s AGM, is seen by some as symbolising the last administration’s poor handling of the dispute.

Councillor Teal told Now Then that the inquiry is important as "a demonstration of Labour’s willingness to address the lingering distrust which partly sparked the creation of the It’s Our City campaign" - a campaign which led to Sheffield voters deciding to change the way decisions are made in the Council.

"This will help us to transition from the old style of adversarial politics to a new cooperative way of working," Teal said.

Christine King, Co-chair of the Sheffield Trees Action Group (STAG), which since 2019 has worked collaboratively with the Council and private contractor Amey through the Sheffield Street Tree Partnership, told Now Then that the group welcomes "the long hoped-for" inquiry.

"Without an independently-chaired investigation into what went wrong, it's difficult for residents to believe that mistakes like these won't be made again, in this or other areas."

King said STAG looks forward to contributing to the inquiry, including the selection of an independent chair, and that the group "would like to maintain an ongoing contribution and consultation role."

Joseph Coles, Urban Programme Lead at the Woodland Trust, which was initially vocal in its criticism of the Council’s handling of the dispute, but recently approved a grant to support the planting of new trees in the city, said that the inquiry was “an important step in resolving what went wrong.”

Coles said that the mismanagement of the trees themselves “has been acknowledged and rectified” through the Street Tree Partnership.

“An inquiry into how the conflict was managed is a missing piece of work and absolutely necessary," he said.

"We hope it delves deep into the disputes, and provides recognition of the residents and how they were impacted, acknowledgement that it wasn’t handled appropriately, and confirmation that nothing like this will happen again.

“This will be essential for residents to truly back the positive forward momentum we have seen developing in recent years – not least through the Council’s Woodland Trust-backed Treevitalise project.”

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