The Tree Strategy
STAG Understand that a tree strategy would guide and inform policy and decisions, and help ensure that:
- appropriate practical and/or other provisions are made for the public to participate in all relevant programmes and plans, within a transparent and fair framework;
- appropriate, adequate, methodologies are in place for all aspects of arboricultural management and practice;
- there are policies that ensure that decision making is open, honest, transparent and consistent;
- appropriate, adequate, balanced assessments are used to inform decisions;
- decisions are not unduly influenced by transitory or exaggerated opinions (whether formed by the media, lobby groups or vested interests, such as Amey’s business interests);
- acts and omissions are proportionate and represent a sustainable approach;
- decisions are based on sound evidence and are defendable
- adequate provisions are made to, at least, maintain the shape, size and distribution of canopy cover in each land-use category (so far as is reasonably practicable), so as to preserve the range, magnitude and value of benefits that it affords to the environment (neighbourhoods) and all inhabitants, by way of a range of ecosystem services;
- Sheffield’s natural resources are cared for and used in a prudent and rational manner.
The tree strategy should:
- be draughted, in accordance with current arboricultural and urban forestry good practice;
- be developed through extensive consultation both within the local authority (LA) and among the local community;
- include a sub-strategy for community involvement that includes a balance of three essential elements: education, consultation and participation;
- contain detailed policies (with stated aims and objectives) and plans that will guide and inform management decisions and help temper a risk-averse approach;
- include targets and ensure that they are specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and timed (SMART), to aid adequate resource allocation and delivery;
- ensure regular monitoring of the strategy’s progress;
- be revised every five years, to reflect changes in legislation, policies and current arboricultural and urban forestry “industry” guidance and recommendations.
- ensure that adequate, appropriate, assessments are adopted;
- ensure that current, recognised and widely accepted assessment methods are adopted;
- make provision to ensure that personnel participate in a programme of continued professional development
The purpose of and necessity for a tree strategy is set out in a range of documents that contain current good practice guidance and recommendations. They aim to foster a sustainable approach to arboricultural management and practice, to help policy and decision makers fulfil policy commitments (local, national, European and international) and duties and obligations imposed upon them by legislation.
Current documents include:
Britt, C; Johnston, M; Riding, A; Slater, J; King, H; Gladstone, M; McMillan, S; Mole, A; Allder, C; Ashworth, P; Devine, T; Morgan, C; Martin, J. et al (2008). Trees in Towns 2: a new survey of urban trees in England and their condition and management. London: Department for Communities and Local Government.
Available here [Accessed 30 July 2015]. Trees in Towns II
The British Standards Institution (2014). British Standard 8545:2014 Trees: From Nursery to Independence in the Landscape – Recommendations, London: BSI Standards Ltd.
Available here. [Accessed 20 March 2015].
The National Tree Safety Group (2011). Common Sense Risk Management of Trees: Guidance on trees and public safety in the UK for owners, managers and advisers. Forestry Commission Stock Code: FCMS024 ed. Edinburgh: Forestry Commission.
Trees and Design Action Group (2012). Trees in the Townscape: A Guide for Decision Makers. Available here. [Accessed 27 June 2012].
The Advisory Tree Forum
We were informed that The Forum Advisory Panel (provided on request by Amanda Preston PA to Steve Robinson former Head of Highway Maintenance for SCC) would consist of the following groups:
- Chair – Terry Fox
- Deputy Chair – Tony Downing
- Councillors from all political parties
- Streets Ahead Technical staff
- Amey arboricultural experts
- Amey highways
- SCC Parks
- Streets Ahead Communications staff
- SCC Conservation / Planning Officer
- Amey ecologist
- SCC legal advisor
- SCC Highway maintenance expert
- Sheffield Bird Study Group
- Wildlife Trust
- Tinsley Tree Project
- Access Liaison Group
- Sheffield Royal Society for the Blind
- Woodland Trust
- Over 50’s
- Reporters from Star Radio Sheffield and Telegraph
As outlined in more detail in FAQs section, what is particularly notable from looking at the list of panellists is that over half consist of representatives from Amey and the City council. STAG would have expected to see representatives from the private and voluntary sectors, totally independent of Amey or the Council and without bias or conflict of interest/s.
Given the seriousness of the subject matter and the likely magnitude of city-wide negative impacts as a direct result of the Council’s acts and omissions, we would certainly have expected the following to have received invitations to put forward representative/s to be on the forum panel:
- Trees and Design Action Group
- Arboricultural Association
- Institute of Chartered Foresters
- The National Tree Safety Group
- The Landscape Institute
- The UK Roads Liaison Group
- National Joint Utilities Group
- Joint Nature Conservation Committee
- The Forestry Commission
The PFI Contract
In an attempt to discover the detail of the Amey contract, a Freedom of information (FOI) request – Reference – FOI / 478 – was submitted on Thursday 16th July, 2015 (because neither the Council or Streets Ahead were prepared to answer questions):
“Under the FOI act, I request to know precisely how the PFI contract with Amey is funded, who is involved and the terms and conditions attached in each case.”
A response was received on Friday 17th July, 2015:
“Before we can begin to process your Freedom of Information Request, we would like to clarify what information you require.
It is not clear what information you are requesting. Can you please clarify exactly what you wish to obtain. You may wish to review the information already made public in respect to the Amey Contract available at the https://www.sheffield.gov.uk/business-economy/contracts/scc/major-contracts.html and https://www.sheffield.gov.uk/roads/works/schemes/streetsaheadproject/contract.html. The latter including payment mechanisms for the contract. Sheffield City Council has a PFI contract to Amey Hallam Highways Ltd for the delivery of a complete highway maintenance service which includes all highway maintenance activities such as street cleaning, winter maintenance, carriageway and footway resurfacing, signal maintenance etc. Payments made by the Council under the contract do not relate to the provision of specific items of work. Instead, a single payment is made for each month of the 25 year term of the Contract. As a result, we do not have a figure for the cost of specific activities.
The Freedom of Information act states that we must respond to a Freedom of Information request within 20 working days, however, the 20 working days do not include any time spent clarifying a request. Therefore, once we have received your clarification, we can continue processing your request within this time frame.
You can provide your clarification by writing to the address above, emailing FOI@sheffield.gov.uk or by telephoning 0114 2734567 and asking for the Information and Knowledge Management Team.
We look forward to hearing from you.
Resources Business Support”
As per the above request, clarification was provided to the FOI Information and Knowledge Management Team on Fri 17th July, 2015, as follows:
“At the meeting of full Council on 1st July 2015, Cllr Fox claimed that any delays to highways re-surfacing works – particularly to pavements – would cause investors to lose confidence and withdraw funding. I would like to know which investors are involved, their contact details, what funding they are providing, and what contractual agreements each investor has made with regard to the provision and withdrawal of goods, services and money, and with regard to contract termination, in relation to the Streets Ahead project.”
Following the above clarification, Mark Knight – Information Management Officer provided “answers” in his communication dated 7th August 2015.
The response was as follows:
“Response: Lloyds Banking Group, KfW, Nord LB and SMBC. The equity providers are Amey Ventures; Aberdeen Asset Management and Equitix. The Council is unable to provide the contact details for these organisations as it is not information we hold. Similarly, the Council is not party to the funding agreements between Amey and its lenders therefore cannot release this information as it is commercially confidential.
All other information relating to the Contract’s termination provisions are available for the public to read at Sheffield City Council – Streets ahead contract”
In addition to the above FOI response, there was an earlier one, issued in response to a request made on 7th February, 2014:
“I request a copy of the contract between you and Amey that governs the maintenance of road-side trees.”
The FOI request and the response are available to view online here.
The response was as follows:
From: Highways PFI Client Team Sheffield City Council
19 February 2014
Dear Mr Jones
Following your further request dated the 19th February 2014, please find the below information.
We can confirm that the Streets Ahead contract can be found online if you follow the below link; https://www.sheffield.gov.uk/roads/works…
The contract was published as part of our on-going commitment to transparency. However, please note that information has been redacted where it is considered commercially sensitive or where personal data is included.
For the parts of the contract that have not been published for reasons of commercial sensitivity, please find below our reasons for claiming exemption for the release of this information.
The information requested under FOIA and the Contract “Commercially Sensitive Information” and after careful consideration your request; the Council has decided to refuse the disclosure of the information requested under Section 41 and 43 (2) of the FOIA.
Basis for decision:
The FOIA allows the Council to refuse to disclose information where:
- to do so would, or would be likely to, prejudice the commercial interests of anyone, including the Council, pursuant to section 43(2) of the FOIA. We can only do this if it is not in the public interest to disclose the information.
Why does the exemption apply in this case?
- The information, if disclosed, would or would be likely to prejudice the commercial interests of the Council should the information be disclosed. It is information that is used by the Council in relation to a commercial activity that is carried out in a competitive environment, relating to the unique offer being negotiated between the Council and a third party, and therefore the Council and/or the third party’s ability to compete in the commercial arena could be harmed by disclosing this information.
The Public Interest:
In relation to the exemption under section 43(2) and its application to the categories of the information requested, the Council must decide whether it is in the public interest to disclose the information you have asked for, but which falls within the specified exemption. Even though this information is exempt, because this is a qualified exemption, the Council may still have to release this information to you if it is in the public interest to do so. We make this decision by balancing the public interest in disclosing the information against the public interest in not disclosing it. There is usually a presumption that the public interest is in favour of disclosure of information unless there are significant public interest reasons weighing against disclosure.
Factors In Favour of Release of Information in the Public Interest
In determining the public interest in this case, regard was had to factors in favour of the release of this information in the public interest:
- Furthering the understanding of and participation in the public debate of issues of the day.
- Promoting accountability and transparency by the Council and the other public authorities relating to public sector contracts.
Factors Against The Release Of Information In the Public Interest
Regard also has been had to factors against the release of this information in the public interest:
- Prejudice should not be caused to public authorities by disclosing the detailed provisions of their commercial negotiations, particularly prior to such negotiations having been concluded, in a way which does not serve the public interest.
- Public authorities should not give any one person or body a commercial advantage over other similar persons or bodies by disclosing information that is not widely available and relates to commercially negotiated positions or offers.
The Balance of the Public Interest
The Council acknowledges that transparency and accountability of its contract(s) is within the public interest and would mitigate in favour of disclosure of contractual documentation. However, the Council must balance against this the undue prejudice that would or would be likely to be caused to Amey or the Council by disclosing this information.
The Council considers that to release the requested information would unduly prejudice the Council and/or the relevant third party in a way which does not benefit the public interest, and would potentially give a commercial advantage to other potential contractors in a way which does not benefit the operation of public authority negotiations.
On the balance of the public interest the Council has determined that it would not be in the public interest to release this information at this time.
Reviewing this decision;
If you are unhappy with the service you have received in relation to your request and wish to make a complaint, you should write to Mr Michael Crofts, Director of Business, Strategy & Regulation, Floor 4 Howden House, Union Street, Sheffield S1 2SH.
If you are not content with the outcome of your complaint, you may apply directly to the Information Commissioner for a decision. Generally, the Commissioner cannot make a decision unless you have exhausted our complaints procedure. The Information Commissioner can be contacted at: The Information Commissioner’s Office, Wycliffe House, Water Lane, Wilmslow, Cheshire SK9 5AF.
Highways Maintenance Client Team
In addition to the above information, a private e-mail sent by Cllr Julie Dore – Leader of the current Labour Council – to a concerned citizen provides further insight in to contractual difficulties:
CC: Jack.Scott@sheffield.gov.uk; Mike.Drabble@sheffield.gov.uk Subject: RE: Shame on you Date: Fri, 28 Aug 2015 15:48:15 +0000
I’m sorry that you feel this way about your Labour Council, having supported us for many years. However, I do not agree with your assumption about our decision/s. In response to your question, why have we arrived at this decision?
It is quite simple really, the trees are dangerous to pedestrians, especially for those with sight impairments, for those with mobility/disabilities and for those with prams and buggies. The trees that have been identified for removal, as not all trees are to be removed, are damaging the pavements, and in some cases the road. Where trees are not affecting the pavements/roads they are to remain, as we all agree that it is important to keep as many trees as possible. We have clearly put our case forward publicly and in fact the Cabinet member Councillor Terry Fox has met with many members of the public and the campaign group.
For your information, regarding the consultation by this Labour Council, Councillor Terry Fox has/is engaging with the public, including residents of Rustlings Road and other interested groups, on a regular basis, including through a ‘Highways Tree Forum’, as follows:
“The request for a moratorium in the works will have a major impact on the scheme especially with the risk to zonal works and confidence from the lenders.
The key points of the moratorium:
• This has to be by agreement with lenders – which we are extremely unlikely to get – and if we did it would take 12 months stalling the whole of the ‘Streets Ahead’ programme.
• Sign off is required from DfT and Treasury
• During this process we are legally bound to maintain payment within the contract, with costs to the council that in the current Government public spending cuts are virtually impossible to find
• We would need to obtain insurance at major cost
• The moratorium would affect all core works – footways, lighting and carriageways
• The approach to lenders, DfT and Treasury would put at risk the financing of the project”
“We have a policy which has been adopted within the ‘Streets Ahead’ contract for trees, to ensure that we maintain a ‘Sheffield Standard’ (an attached sheet with pictures explains).”
I do hope this explains our position to your satisfaction, but if you wish to raise any other concerned issues, please do so.