Up to 17,500 trees could be replaced in Sheffield City Council’s highways maintenance contract, newly released information has revealed.
The £2bn Streets Ahead contract, a partnership between the council and Amey Hallam Highways Ltd (Amey), is designed to ‘upgrade’ the city’s roads, pavements, street lights, and bridges.
Sheffield City Council - under pressure from the Information Commissioner - has now admitted the contract could lead to ‘the replacement of up to 17,500 highway trees’ with saplings - a figure that reportedly represents half of the city’s trees.
The contract has been embroiled in controversy since it was signed in 2012. It has led to up to 6,000 trees being felled to date and this new revelation suggests there will be many more.
The council has argued in the past they were only cutting down trees that were diseased or damaged.
However, environmental campaigners insist healthy trees were also being cut down. This has led to frequent protests and the arrest of Green Party councillor Alison Teal last year for being ‘disruptive’.
In response to the ongoing protests, the council secured an injunction last August against protesters it claimed were ‘trespassing’ within the safety barriers around tree replacement works.
The recent revelation about the number of trees which may be replaced has led to Cllr Teal accusing the Labur-run council of a 'shocking level of ecological ignorance.'
Cllr Shaffaq Mohammed, leader of Sheffield’s Liberal Democrats, has also accused the council of a lack of ‘transparency’.
.@BBCSheffield @SaveSheffTrees Currently our City Council has a real issue of lacking "Trust, Truth and Transparency" when it comes to the Streetsahead contract, the information released following the intervention of the Information Commissioner now raises serious questions https://t.co/KmQpCtcQ3y— Shaffaq Mohammed (@shaffaqmohd) March 12, 2018
However, the cabinet member for environment and streets scene at the city council, Cllr Bryan Lodge, insists the council had always intended on releasing the details of the Streets Ahead contract through ‘a structured, phased approach’.
‘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,’ he said.
‘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 approach which guarantees our street trees will flourish in the future.’
Cllr Lodge insisted the 17,500 figure was not a ‘target’ or a ‘requirement’ and said the council would ‘aim to minimise the number of trees being replaced.’