Sheffield City Council has revealed plans to cut down almost half of the city’s 36,000 street trees as part of a controversial highways maintenance contract with Amey.
Previously unseen performance requirements from the 25-year £2.2bn Streets Ahead PFI deal show that 17,500 trees will be chopped down at a rate of no less than 200 trees a year.
The council was forced to publish the figures following an intervention by the Information Commissioner after battling with campaigners over freedom of information requests.
“The Service Provider [Amey] shall replace highway trees in accordance with the annual tree management programme at a rate of no less than 200 per year so that 17,500 Highway trees are replaced by the end of the term, such replacement to be in accordance with the Highway Tree Replacement Policy, unless authority approval has been obtained for deviation from the policy,” says the contract.
The revelation comes as protests over the controversial works pick up pace, after tree felling work restarted at the end of last month following a pause because of safety concerns. The council won a High Court injunction last summer preventing protestors from entering “tree safety zones”.
The local authority has denied that 17,500 is the target number of trees to fell, and said it estimated that 10,000 trees would be replaced over the course of the contract.
Under the PFI deal, trees are classified as either dangerous, dead, diseased, dying, damaging footpaths or properties, or “discriminatory” - for example by obstructing wheelchair users – before a decision to fell them is made.
The council lists 25 possible engineering solutions for problem trees, alongside felling, but only 14 of these can be carried out within the contract and protestors claim that healthy trees are being removed.
Sheffield City Council cabinet member for environment and streets scene councillor Bryan Lodge said: “It has taken longer than we would have wished, but it was always our intention to release more of the Streets Ahead contract in the wider public interest, through a structured, phased approach and we have been working since April 2017 to achieve this.
“One of the things people will see is that the contract allows for the replacement of up to 17,500 highway trees.
“Over the last two years, the council has been asked many times about the number of trees that will need to be replaced over the life of the Streets Ahead contract.
“In the first five years we have upgraded around 65% of the roads and have replaced around 6,000 trees in that time, including trees that required urgent replacement, sometimes on streets yet to be improved.
“It has always been and remains difficult to estimate an exact final figure for the number of trees that will need to be replaced, as tree condition will vary with time. But the figures to date demonstrate that our tree replacement work is not driven by a need to replace a set amount of street trees, but by a measured and restrained approached which guarantees our street trees will flourish in the future.
“Any suggestion that 17,500 trees is a target or a requirement is an incorrect interpretation of the contract, and indeed the High Court was clear that the ‘objective of the council has been to retain trees where possible,” said Lodge.
Amey declined to comment.