More than 40 war memorial trees in Sheffield will be felled and replaced, after council chiefs voted not to spend an estimated £500,000 saving them.
The fate of trees on Western Road, in Crookes, and four other streets in the city was today sealed after a three-hour meeting during which emotions ran high.
Cabinet members voted unanimously to replace the trees, planted in tribute to fallen soldiers, saying they could not justify approving costly engineering solutions to retain them when there is such a squeeze on budgets.
Campaigners fighting to save the trees, who claimed the estimated cost had been vastly inflated, greeted the decision with cries of ‘shame’.
The atmosphere at the meeting was unsurprisingly heated. Protesters were repeatedly warned they faced ejection for interrupting councillors, and a brief pause was held when one refused to stop shouting over them.
Councillor Bryan Lodge, cabinet member for environment, said: “It would be very easy for me and the officers to suggest we find the money and do the work, which I think would be very popular with most people, but I don’t think that would be responsible.
“We’re faced with very difficult finances and very difficult decisions to make, and this wouldn’t deal with the structural problems affecting many properties, nor would it resolve the problem in the long-term. It would be a short-term solution.”
The trees in question are among around 6,000 across the city which have either been felled or are facing the chop during the first phase of the council’s £2 billion Streets Ahead contract with Amey to improve roads and pavements across the city.
The council and Amey claim those trees are either dead, diseased or dying, or are obstructing roads and pavements or damaging property.
Cabinet members agreed to replace the war memorial trees being removed and to talk to people living on those streets about replacing some of the other war memorial trees which have been lost over the years.
They also agreed to plant around 300 new war memorial trees in the city’s parks and to hold dedication ceremonies for the new trees - a move they said was supported by the local branch of the Royal British Legion.
Tree campaigners questioned the estimated cost of saving the trees, criticising the council for relying on figures from Amey rather than commissioning an independent survey.
But council officers responded that were the work to retain the trees approved it would go out to tender, with no guarantee Amey would win the contract.
More than 6,200 people had signed a petition calling for the Western Road memorial trees to be saved.
Chris Rust, of Sheffield Tree Action Groups (STAG), claimed the decision came as ‘no surprise’.
“The council has been playing its usual game of giving the impression it cares while knowing full well it would eventually decide to bring on the chainsaws," he said.
He branded the £500,000 estimate a ‘joke’, saying Amey was able to name its own price.
“We are confident there are simple affordable solutions that would save these trees and the great majority of healthy condemned trees in Sheffield,” he added.