Tree-felling panel expected to cost Sheffield tax-payers at least £1m

Police at a protest against tree-felling in Chippinghouse Road, Nether Edge, earlier this year
Police at a protest against tree-felling in Chippinghouse Road, Nether Edge, earlier this year
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A panel of experts appointed to investigate tree-felling in Sheffield is expected to cost tax-payers more than £1 million, it has emerged.

Sheffield Council established an Independent Tree Panel at the end of 2015 to address concerns about trees being cut down as part of its £2 billion street renovation and maintenance contract with Amey.

The panel was asked to consider whether trees recommended for the chop could be saved and to make recommendations to the council.

A Freedom of Information request by tree campaigners has confirmed the council, not the contractor Amey, will foot the bill for delays caused by this process.

It also reveals the cost is forecast to be at least £1 million, though the final figure is not yet known.

Tree campaigners have previously branded the tree panel process a 'sham' after healthy trees were felled even when the group had advised this may not be necessary.

Chris Rust, co-chair of Sheffield Tree Action Groups, said: "The ITP is a scandal. It has put the council at risk of huge financial losses but it has done nothing to address the concerns of the many citizens who want to conserve healthy street trees."

Councillor Bryan Lodge, cabinet member for environment, has previously accused tree protesters of costing the council millions of pounds by preventing work from taking place.

However, campaigners say the Streets Ahead contract appears to indicate Amey is liable for costs caused by protests.

Sheffield Council defended the panel process, saying a court ruling last year stated it gave those most affected 'the opportunity to have their say'.

A council spokeswoman said it 'fully considers' all advice from the panel and where 'practical' engineering solutions are proposed they are implemented, as has happened in 'around 10' cases so far.

However, she added that paying extra for engineering solutions to retain trees was not a 'viable or just approach' at a time when budgets were already under such strain.

The council said only 6,000 out of 36,000 street trees in Sheffield were marked for replacement in the first five years of the contract, and by the end of the 25-year contract there would be more street trees in the city than when it commenced in 2012.

Responding to an FOI request from the Save Nether Edge Trees campaign group, the council stated: "The costs (associated with delays caused by the tree panel process) are forecast to be a seven figure number which cannot be confirmed exactly at this stage.

"The first bill associated with these delays has not yet been submitted because the tree protesters continue to prevent highway trees from being replaced. Therefore, the areas of the city subject to delays in CIP (capital improvement programme) works have not yet been completed."

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