Jeremy Barrell comments on the Sheffield Street Trees issue

Author:  Jeremy Barrell
Last Updated:  18/01/2016

The AA position on trees in streets closely reflects the very strong research evidence and government guidance that trees must be properly and fairly accounted for in the urban management decision-making process. The recent London i-Tree project valued London’s street trees at £6billion and identifies and quantifies the wider benefits they bring(eco system services) in respect of storm water alleviation, carbon storage and pollution removal. This report clearly demonstrates that in the light of the benefits that trees bring, there can be no credible case to adopt an automatic presumption to remove trees causing low levels of damage to infrastructure. The project report can be found by clicking here

At the strategic level, the Climate Change Act 2008 clearly articulates the need for urban management agencies to assess the risk and adapt the urban realm to reduce adverse impacts on communities. Indeed, recent international endorsements of that broad principle rule out any sort of argument that this is not an important or relevant management consideration. At a practical level, in ‘Well-Maintained Highways’, the highway managers’ government endorsed bible, these broad principles are distilled into clear advice in Section 9.6 Safety Inspection of Highway Trees:

“9.6.1: Trees are important for amenity and nature conservation reasons and should be preserved …”


“9.6.4: Extensive root growth from larger trees can cause significant damage to the surface of footways, particularly in urban areas. A risk assessment should therefore be undertaken with specialist arboricultural advice on the most appropriate course of action, if possible to avoid harm to the tree. In these circumstances, it may be difficult for authorities to reconcile their responsibilities for surface regularity, with wider environmental considerations and a reduced standard of regularity may be acceptable.”

This call for flexibility relating to trees is further reinforced in the government and highway professional bodies endorsed principles set out in the TDAG publication, ‘Trees in Hard Landscapes’, which considers why street trees are important and the practicalities of integrating them with other urban infrastructure.

In the context of the broad thrust of all this guidance and advice, the Arboricultural Association would urge all managers involved in this sphere to appreciate the importance of trees in streets, and particularly their beneficial effects on human wellbeing and health, flood buffering and their ability to make urban environments more pleasant places to live and work. We actively advocate that when tree removal is being considered, in addition to the maintenance costs associated with the presence of street trees, the benefits are also properly factored into the decision-making process. This particularly applies to infrastructure damage, where the highways guidance clearly implies that a flexible and balanced assessment is required.