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Sheffield Council accused of 'grossly overestimating' cost of saving historic oak tree

Local residents have been fighting to save the Vernon Oak from being felled.
Local residents have been fighting to save the Vernon Oak from being felled.
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Two environmental charities have accused Sheffield Council of making a “gross overestimation” of the cost of saving a 150-year-old oak tree from being chopped down as part of the city’s controversial tree-felling programme - and say the situation casts doubt on the wider scheme to replace thousands of existing trees with saplings.

The Woodland Trust and Trees for Cities said the council are yet to respond to an expert report they have commissioned which puts forward alternative low-cost ideas to save the ‘Vernon Oak’, which the authority claims will cost £10,000 to save.

They say they have been waiting for a month to have a response from the council to a report they commissioned by highways engineer Martin Holland which states the tree could be saved with “simple measures”.

The tree on Vernon Road, Dore, is currently on a council felling list, despite an Independent Tree Panel established by the council saying there was a “strong arboricultural case for retaining this tree” and its excellent condition meant it should be able to live for another 150 years.

But the tree has been deemed to be damaging to pavement kerbstones and the council has ruled the necessary work cannot be funded from inside its £2.2bn highways maintenance contract with Amey. The authority wished to cut it down last October but put the plans on hold after Trees for Cities offered to pay for engineering work to save it - leading to the commission of the report.

As part of the tree replacement programme, healthy trees are being removed in instances where they are deemed to be damaging to pavements or roads or ‘discriminatory’ in preventing people with wheelchairs and prams from using the pavements.

Mr Holland’s report said either amending the kerb or just conducting ‘reactive maintenance’ at no immediate cost would allow the tree to be saved as it is unlikely to ‘produce any immediate hazards’ and there are no records of any accidents.

The maximum cost of amending the kerb in the way Mr Holland suggests is put by Trees for Cities at an estimated £1,000.

Beccy Speight, chief executive of the Woodland Trust, said: “A legitimate solution has been put forward at no cost to the council other than its pride. Passions are running high on all sides but decisions must be based on fact. An independent assessment concludes that the Vernon Oak does not need to be felled, and counters claims that to retain it would cost £10,000 showing Sheffield City Council’s estimate is enormously over-inflated.

“This also casts doubt on decisions made for other healthy trees that face the axe as part of the Amey contract.”

David Elliott, chief executive of Trees for Cities, said: “We have contacted Sheffield City Council with a measured and cost effective solution to save the Vernon Oak, but it remains to be seen whether they will take the recommendations on board and act on evidence put forward by a highly regarded and experienced independent highways consultant. We urge the council to act reasonably, and preserve this tree, and the city’s reputation as one of the greenest in Europe.”

The two charities said they hope a recent pause in felling operations in the wake of growing national condemnation of the tree-felling policy will give the council the chance to respond to its findings.

A Sheffield Council spokeswoman said: “We have received the report at the end of February and are reviewing it. Once the review is complete we will respond to Trees for Cities.”