Amey and Sheffield City Council “deliberately” misled the public over its tree felling programme as part of a £2.2bn roads project, a local government watchdog has ruled.
A Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman (LGO) report obtained by New Civil Engineer concludes that Amey, which was working for Sheffield City Council, “misrepresented expert evidence” over the contested removal of an alder tree in Totley.
Ombudsman representative Michael King said that the council and its contractor had concealed a tree expert’s report of whether the tree on Aldam Way truly should be removed.
“[Amey] misrepresented the expert advice it received from the tree consultancy,” King states in his report, which is due to be published in the coming months.
”The contractor deliberately set out not to reveal the true advice it had received.”
The tree in question had been condemned by the council due to “decay within the stem” caused by fire damage.
But Amey claimed the tree was to be removed ”due to damage to the highway network, radiating approximately 11m from the tree”.
However, using a freedom of information request, local protestor Sally Goldsmith obtained an independent engineer’s report from the council that stated the tree on Aldman Way did not need to be felled, despite claims of decay.
The independent report cited only “minor damage” to the highway and recommended the tree be retained.
Goldsmith submitted a complaint about the issue to the ombudsman’s office, which ruled the contractor and coucil were at fault, and that the council must apologise in writing.
Goldsmith said: “I very much look forward to receiving the apology from the council as set out in the Ombudsman’s decision. I was very upset that the council had lied to me. Residents have helped to protect the tree during two attempted fellings, and the tree is still here gracing the road.”
The tree fellings are part of the £2.2bn Streets Ahead PFI contract between Sheffield City Council and Amey.
In January, Amey began working with local protest groups to revaluate previously condemned trees in the area. The costs of the delays caused by the ongoing disputes are being met by Amey, not the taxpayer.
In response to the ombudsman’s ruling, a Sheffield City Council spokesperson said: ‘‘We will undertake the agreed actions within the timescales outlined in the ombudsman report and consider whether any lessons can be learnt as a result.”
Amey deferred to the council’s comment when contacted.
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