Amey's response to the Sheffield Street Tree Inquiry report

03 May 2023
Cityscape of Sheffield.
Amey welcomes the publication of Sir Mark Lowcock’s Sheffield Tree Inquiry Report (the Report).

The Streets Ahead Programme focused on highways, footways and LED low-energy lighting replacement and improvements, and contained a requirement that a significant amount of works should take place in a “Core Investment Period” during the first 5 years of the Contract (which is common in PFI contracts). The tree replacement programme (which formed part of the wider works) was considered necessary to improve and reduce the age profile of the city’s tree stock, and minimise future damage to new or renewed carriageways and footways by replacing them with more appropriate species.

Amey believed when we put forward our proposal during the bid process that it was meeting Sheffield City Council’s ambitions to deliver a tree replacement programme that would enhance the environment over the long term. We (along with other stakeholders) failed to recognise or adequately predict the strength of feeling around the programme and the numbers of trees to be replaced. We apologise to the people of Sheffield for not predicting this earlier and when we designed the tree replacement activity for the Core Investment Period.

With hindsight we should have consulted more widely with residents and others at design stage, been prepared to challenge elements of Sheffield City Council’s ambitions regarding the tree replacement programme and placed a greater emphasis on the protection and management of the existing tree stock. Today, having learnt from our experiences of the Streets Ahead Contract, we would ensure consultation and flexibility to adapt to changing environmental, social and economic circumstances would be built into any long-term maintenance contract.

Amey focussed the Core Investment Period works on geographic zones to avoid the significant traffic congestion that had accompanied the Supertram project in the city but this meant the activity was concentrated on locations including the south and southwest of the city. Again, if we had envisaged at the design stage the strength of feeling these works would cause, we would have sought greater flexibility to the specification and the ability to consult with residents at design stage to avoid the level of protest that resulted.

The inquiry report recognises the Contract was a particularly complex one with a high degree of inflexibility locked in from the outset. Amey, quite rightly, was held to very high-performance standards, and could be heavily penalised if we didn’t meet them. But an unforeseen result was that when protests against the Street Tree element of the contract arose, Amey was not in a position to adapt the delivery model by, for example, unilaterally ceasing elements of its works, nor were we able to take ownership of what and how we communicated with residents.

As the protests escalated, we worked closely with Sheffield City Council and South Yorkshire Police to develop solutions that we hoped would bring the protests to an end before resorting to the use of “reasonable force”. We recognise that we should have called for an indefinite pause to the tree replacement works at an earlier stage and prior to the use of reasonable force being deployed. We are sorry for this and how it negatively impacted those protesting, living and working on the effected streets.

Today Amey works closely with the Sheffield Street Tree Partnership, which has been successful in developing a new, more consultative approach, to the management of street trees, to such an extent that its approach is seen as exemplary and a model of best practice.To build on this, we are keen to progress the spirit of partnership which has been developing with SCC and on all sides. We

believe this will help us all effectively deal with future challenges on the contract. On our part, we acknowledge that this requires us to be flexible and constructive in finding and resourcing solutions. We remain committed to delivering excellent services to the Council and the people of Sheffield and to making protection of the natural environment absolutely core to what we do.