Thursday 18th July 2013
This was an evening of invited guests; volunteers with the Wildlife Trust, interested members of the public and representatives of local environmental organisations, to hear about the plans that amey have set out to undertake Sheffield council’s street work over the next 5 years. The ‘Sheffield Streets Ahead’ project will be encompassing tree replacement, resurfacing 200km of the city’s roads and replacing 11,000 street lights. The evening started with a 10 minute PowerPoint introduction on amey and the project, then for the rest of the evening it was exclusively a question and answer session. There were several representatives from various environmental departments of the company to answer questions.
After introducing themselves, it was time for amey to stand up and have their plans scrutinized by the eager audience. The topics of questions seemed to fall into major categories, namely local biodiversity, street lights, trees and carbon reduction.
The topic that received the most discussion was the issue of biodiversity and how to promote and protect it in Sheffield. Many people were angry that a Local Biodiversity Action Plan (LBAP) hadn’t been published yet which does seem poor considering that amey are nearly a year into the contract and that this was one of their priorities. We were assured that a draft is already out and that the full LBAP would be published by the end of the year. Amey said they would welcome any input from the various stakeholders present which seemed to please some people but I’m not sure everyone was convinced. When questioned more by the audience, the (only) biodiversity officer explained that areas of Sheffield, after an Environmental Impact Assessment, had been sorted using a traffic light system with green areas being ok, yellow requiring visits and action if necessary and red where there is an environmental alert for protected species with regular visits and projects in place. Although this appears to be a step in the right direction for Sheffield’s biodiversity, many people were still worried that there were not enough biodiversity officers within amey to really assess and implement the LBAP. When asked how many people within the company were involved with biodiversity the response was “we all are” but after being asked again a more exact number was given. The discussion moved on but it was obviously a hot topic as it was often revisited throughout the evening.
There was concern that the new LED street lighting that is being phased in is too bright and that the columns are too high, therefore lighting up the trees that birds and bats could potentially be roosting in. There were no comments as to whether this is true and we were told the “jury was still out on LED lighting” although amey are looking to Birmingham where the lighting has already been established. I got the impression that they wanted to move us away from this particular topic.
Amey sought to dispel the myth that trees in Sheffield are just being removed be we were assured that they are definitely being replaced, just not necessarily in the same location. There was a positive vibe that trees are important for the city and that conservation meadows are planning on being created. A member of the audience asked for more information on their carbon reduction plans. The answer was that all aspects of the project will reduce carbon with targets being set for the different parts such as using LED street lights will produce a 40-50% reduction and that all the fleet vehicles are energy efficient. However the answer didn’t equate to any specific numbers, the company representative’s response was that he had a report in his car that he could fetch after the meeting!! My feeling was that having the report in the car didn’t help us particularly and was poor preparation.
Amey’s clear aspiration is to develop long term management for the Sheffield landscape and to integrate these strategies with local organisations such as the Wildlife Trust but I feel they have some way to go before they fully convince some stakeholders in the audience particularly where biodiversity is concerned. I wasn’t sure what to expect when I was invited to this evening but was pleasantly surprised that the event predominantly focussed on a Q&A session rather than suffering a tedious talk with only 5 minutes for questions. I thought some of the company colleagues did well in answering, and at times defending, their plans but that others were under prepared which was disappointing. A female masters student asked at one point “how can we trust you?” which I thought summed up the atmosphere in the audience quite well. It will be interesting to see how Sheffield has developed in the next few years.
Laura Crook @crook_laura