Sheffield Council to remove controversial target to fell 17,500 trees from Amey highways contract

Sheffield Council has committed to removing a highly controversial target for the replacement of half the city’s street trees from a £2bn highways contract as the authority seeks to move on from its tree-felling debacle.

There were repeated protests against the council's tree-felling programme. Picture: Dean Atkins

Cabinet member Paul Wood told a council meeting last week that the council intended to make a change to its contract with Amey. The 25-year £2bn highways improvement contract called Streets Ahead started in 2012 and runs until 2037.

“On the removal of the Streets Ahead clause requiring the felling of 17,500 street trees, that will be removed,” he said.

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The existence of the target was revealed in March 2018 at the height of protests against the council’s felling policy, which was seeing thousands of street trees - many of them healthy - removed from roadsides and replaced with saplings.

The council had previously claimed there was no tree removal target but after they were order to publish details of the contract by the Information Commissioner, it revealed that it stated "the service provider [Amey] shall replace highway trees in accordance with the annual tree management programme at a rate of not less than 200 per year so that 17,500 highway trees are replaced by the end of the term.”

In recent years it has changed strategy to ensure fewer trees are felled while an inquiry has recently been ordered into what went wrong during the saga.

Coun Wood’s comments followed a question by tree campaigner Russell Johnson.

Mr Johnson asked that “in view of the new climate of cooperation” whether cabinet members “would commit to the removal of the Streets Ahead contract clause requiring the felling of 17,500 street trees in the duration of the contract” and also to “commit to the removal of the clause for straight, continuous kerbs allowing skilled Amey highway engineers to make sensible and pragmatic decisions without reference to a council officer for each and every case”. Campaigners have previously argued the requirement for straight pavement kerbs in the contract was behind some felling decisions.

Mr Johnson added: “These changes I ask for would have no cost implications for the council and I believe would be welcomed by the contractors so shouldn’t present any difficulties in negotiation.”

He also asked for the “cessation of the felling programme” to be formally announced as it is only technically “paused” at the moment.

Coun Wood said in relation to the removal of the requirement for straight kerbs, it remained preferable for that to remain to give the council oversight of the process - but he was still willing for the contract to be altered.

“I don’t believe we can leave Amey with the total charge of any part of this contract. I think there always needs to be oversight from the council and the council officers,” he said.

“However, I will commit to the removal of the clause requiring straight continuous kerbs and work to find practical solutions on a case-by-case basis.”

He added: “Regarding the cessation of the felling programme, I can’t find anything in the contract and have been advised there is no paperwork that makes that a formal decision as such.

“But what I can say is any street tree removal will be individually assessed and consulted on in line with the Street Tree Strategy approved by Cabinet in March 2021.”

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