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FEATURE

Streets ahead? Thousands of healthy, mature street trees have been felled in Sheffield as part of a programme to improve road surfacing. Steve Frazer, principal landscape architect at Enzygo, explores the issue

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heffield’s Streets Ahead programme has seen approximately 5,000 street trees felled in order to improve the roads – and sparked a war of attrition between Sheffield City Council and protesters. Headlines such as ‘Sheffield’s Street Tree Massacre’ have brought us stories of dawn felling, pensioner and councillor arrests, and high-level celebrity, political and expert condemnation. What is Streets Ahead? Streets Ahead is a £2bn public-private initiative between Sheffield City Council and Amey, tasked with improving and maintaining the quality of Sheffield’s roads for 25 years, starting in 2012. It sets out to upgrade and maintain all adopted roads and has been actively promoted by the council for the functional and environmental benefits that it will bring. If you have visited Sheffield, I’m sure you’d agree that these are laudable aims, given the city’s reputation for potholes. Lacking ambition However, Sheffield is known for much more than its potholes. The city is hailed as the greenest in Europe, with statuesque corridors of mature trees contributing to the character of many of its streets. Having moved to Sheffield in 2012, I was keen to know how the objectives of Streets Ahead would be reconciled with the city’s assets. I also wanted to know whether opportunities would be taken to improve the multifunctionality and efficiency of Sheffield streets, in line with aspirations for green infrastructure. This

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could include traffic management initiatives, stormwater control measures, improved ecology, and so on. There are endless possibilities when it comes to what a street can accommodate, and Streets Ahead appeared to be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to address the potential of Sheffield’s streets. Unfortunately, it quickly became apparent that the programme’s vision was narrowly conceived, without due consideration given to assets and opportunities, and would cause regrettable consequences throughout the city. Further cause for concern Rustlings Road was an early example that I became aware of; a number of healthy, mature trees had been identified as incompatible with the intended highway improvement. The reasons given for felling related to ‘damage and discrimination’ caused by the trees. ‘Damaging’ trees were those that the council claimed were causing harm to footpaths, while ‘discriminatory’ trees were those that were perceived as creating difficulties for elderly, disabled and partially sighted people (creating bumps in tarmac, etc.). Residents were concerned that these claims were being made spuriously, and that, if credible, they wouldn’t form an insurmountable challenge to the retention of the trees. Upon inspection, I agreed that the council was not endorsing a common-sense view. For example, a number of large, healthy trees that were important to street character, wellbeing and ecology were being proposed for removal due to small bumps they had caused in the pavement. It became evident that

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FutureArch February 2018

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