Sheffield Council forced to reveal target to remove 17,500 street trees under PFI deal
Sheffield Council has been forced to reveal a hugely-controversial PFI highways maintenance contract contains a target to cut down almost half of the city’s 36,000 street trees and replace them with saplings.
Information has been published following a year-long battle by campaigners for non-commercially sensitive parts of the 25-year contract with private company Amey to put placed in the public domain.
The council has previously insisted in Freedom of Information responses that there was no target for tree removal but the new information has come to light after the Information Commissioner ordered the publication of the previously-redacted sections of the contract. The council had claimed it intended to publish the information at a future date but last month the Commissioner warned the authority it could face legal action unless it published the information within 35 days.
One passage of the newly-published information states:
“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, such replacement to be in accordance with the Highway Tree Replacement Policy, unless authority [Sheffield Council] approval has been obtained for deviation from this policy.”
In a statement issued by Sheffield Council, cabinet member for environment Bryan Lodge today said it “remains difficult” to estimate how many trees will be felled over the lifetime of the contract and “any suggestion that 17,500 trees is a target or a requirement is an incorrect interpretation of the contract”.
The council has suggested it currently estimates around 10,000 trees will be replaced over the course of the contract. But tree campaigner Paul Selby, whose complaints to the Information Commissioner about the handling of Freedom of Information requests he was submitting to Sheffield Council led to the information being brought to light, said the publication of new details is a “smoking gun” that proves what campaigners have been saying about planned removal targets.