Fierce debate has raged over the felling of Sheffield’s highway trees with protests and rows flaring in the last year.
Campaigners insist there are alternatives to removing and replacing mature trees as part of Sheffield Council’s £2.2bn Streets Ahead contract, while the council has repeatedly claimed there is no other solution.
Here council leader Julie Dore and resident Louise Wilcockson argue both sides.
Sheffield Council chiefs have claimed they would have to stump up £26 million if all trees earmarked to be replaced in the city were saved.
The council is urging people to support the Streets Ahead contract with Amey, which also focuses on the resurfacing of roads and replacement of street lights, for the ‘sake of future generations’.
Coun Julie Dore, leader of Sheffield Council, insisted the highly controversial programme is about protection – not destruction.
She said: “Without this programme, our children and grandchildren would not be able to say they live in one of the greenest cities in Britain.
“I hope people realise that this tree replacement work is absolutely vital to maintain Sheffield’s tree-lined streets for future generations.
“This is a programme of protection, not destruction, and represents the largest investment there has ever been in the city’s street trees.
“Without the Streets Ahead programme, dying or dangerous trees would not be replaced.
“The facts are that since Streets Ahead started we have removed 3,388 trees and planted 3,618.”
According to the council there are still 2,000 more trees to be replaced on Sheffield highways as part of the contract. Of those, 100 are down to be replaced because Amey says they are diseased or dying.
The council said there are 200 trees which would cost between £50,000 and £100,000 to save, 1,000 which cost between £3,000 and £5,000, and 700 trees which would cost around £1,000 to save.
While the authority stressed that the numbers were estimates, this gives a figure of up to £25.7 million.
Coun Dore added: “We’ve listened to people’s concerns and paused the programme to survey 5,136 households on the 80 streets where we are planning tree replacements.
“Though only 13 per cent of those households replied, we have still referred 42 streets to an independent tree panel.”
Coun Dore said it was not acceptable that disabled residents were unable to use footpaths in Sheffield, due to trees making pavements uneven.
She is now urging people to read the Streets Ahead Five year Tree Management Strategy – at www.sheffield.gov.uk/streetsahead – after it was released last week and reflect on the aim of ‘protecting the city’s 36,000 street trees for years to come’. The council have made an interactive map of where new trees have been planted: www.sheffield.gov.uk/in-your-area
Campaigners fighting to save Sheffield’s trees from being axed have accused the council of ‘emotional blackmail’ and misleading the public.
Louise Wilcockson, of the city-wide campaign, says council chiefs are wrong to claim they are protecting trees for future generations – and are instead stuck in a ‘limiting’ contract with Amey.
She said: “The council needs to stop peddling the emotional blackmail and misleading comments that any money to implement alternative solutions is somehow taking funds from other areas of need.
“This is a £2.2 billion contract and such methods should have already have been budgeted for.
“We believe penalties faced by the council to utilise flexibility in the contract, as well as maximising profit for investors, is taking precedence over people’s health, our environment and Sheffield’s long-term ability to market itself as the greenest city in Europe.”
Louise added: “The council should be negotiating with Amey and trying to save healthy trees, not trying to convince Sheffield they are doing the right thing by cutting them down.”
Campaigners are urging the council to do a ‘cost benefit’ to analyse the ‘true’ value of trees to the city.
They are pushing the authority to consider the wider cost implications of removing mature trees, including the £160 million Sheffield’s NHS spends every year on treating problems caused by air pollution.
Louise said: “The Star reported that 500 people a year are dying in Sheffield due to air pollution and this is costing the city’s NHS £150 million a year.
“It is highly likely that the cost of retaining the roadside trees would be worth it due to the vast benefits to our environment and long-term economy, including savings to our city’s NHS.”
She added: “Sheffield Council has not carried out a cost benefit, as other cities have and as is recognised good practice. Neither have they carried out an Environmental Impact Assessment.”
Louise also questioned how the council arrived at the cost it has released.
She said: “These figures aren’t from an independent organisation. They are from the council and there is no break-down or calculation how they arrived at the figures.
“For all we know the council might be plucking figures out of thin air.”