Sheffield Council bosses finally admit there was a target to fell half of city's street trees

Sheffield Council bosses have accepted they did have a target to remove half of the city’s street trees - finally reversing years of official denials that was the case.

Sheffield Council leader Terry Fox told The Yorkshire Post he ‘absolutely’ accepts all of the findings of an independent inquiry which heavily criticised the authority’s handling of its controversial tree-felling programme.

Coun Fox said this includes an acceptance the Streets Ahead contract did include a target to remove 17,500 trees and replace them with saplings - something he and other senior council figures had previously repeatedly denied in public.

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The inquiry by Sir Mark Lowcock found the figure was put into the £2bn Streets Ahead contract following a misinterpretation of a consultant’s report. The external report said three-quarters of the city’s 35,000 street trees were mature or over-mature - but this was wrongly interpreted as meaning they were “ready for replacement”.

Sheffield Council leader Terry Fox, pictured in 2021. Picture: Chris EtchellsSheffield Council leader Terry Fox, pictured in 2021. Picture: Chris Etchells
Sheffield Council leader Terry Fox, pictured in 2021. Picture: Chris Etchells

The council had spent years denying any such target existed and even when parts of the contract showing the 17,500 figure were placed in the public domain in 2018, they claimed the number was merely an “insurance policy”.

But Sir Mark’s report said: “The treatment of trees in the contract set the incentives for Amey’s programme of work. The contract is clear that the intent is for 50 per cent – or 17,500 – street trees to be replaced over the 25-year period.”

When asked whether he now accepted there was a contractual target to remove 17,500 trees, Coun Fox said: “I think that is quite clear in the report.”

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He said they were failings from both the Liberal Democrat and Labour administrations which dealt with the creation and adaptation of the contract.

The report highlighted several occasions where Coun Fox and others had denied the existence of any target.

In 2015, when he was the cabinet member responsible for the tree-felling programme, Coun Fox said the removal of any tree “is always a last resort”. In February 2016, he said: “We are not removing 18,000 trees as the campaigners have been suggesting.”

Then council leader Julie Dore also described felling as a “last resort”.

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The inquiry said: “The council’s assertions created a false impression and this contributed significantly to a loss of trust in the council.”

Speaking in a joint press conference alongside chief executive Kate Josephs, when asked when he regretted making those remarks, Coun Fox said that “we know now” there was a target.

When he was asked why he had not found out whether or not there was a target when he was cabinet member, Ms Josephs responded: “We accept and acknowledge all the findings and are committed to taking forward all the recommendations.

“Mark Lowcock’s report makes clear that there were a number of errors and there is a lot of complexity behind that.

“I think it is really important that we understand that and we are going to need to learn from that.”