The Sheffield trees saga has thankfully been largely out of the headlines during 2019 after a more conciliatory approach to the controversial issue of removing existing street trees and replacing them with saplings as part of a £2bn highways contract was taken. But major questions still remain about how and, most importantly, why the unhappy situation where dozens of police officers and private security guards were sent out to enforce felling operations in early 2018 unfolded.
Campaigners had persistently argued that many healthy trees were being felled unnecessarily by the council’s highways firm Amey for contractual reasons.
This has always been denied but now an internal council email from March 2018 has emerged in which an environmental technical officer suggests Amey could lose out on £15m should they only fell 10,000 trees rather than the 17,500 set out in the contract.
Sheffield Council say today Amey will not be financially penalised for retaining street trees and hopefully this is indeed the case.
But given the authority previously confirmed that the replacement of 17,500 street trees – almost half of the 36,000 in the city – is “already paid for” in the Streets Ahead contract, it begs the question why such a deal was agreed to in the first place and how much influence that number did have on the council’s approach.
This is particularly important given the vast number of legal proceedings that have taken place in regard to the tree-felling programme. A new street tree strategy for Sheffield will be unveiled soon; lessons must be learnt from the mistakes of recent years.