The contract which triggered Sheffield’s controversial round of tree-felling ‘could be changed’, a senior city councillor has admitted.
But Bryan Lodge, cabinet member for environment, said the cost would run into millions and that the council’s Streets Ahead highways deal with private contractor Amey - under which about 10,000 roadside trees will be cut down and replaced - was ‘what the city wanted’.
Coun Lodge’s comments come as campaigners plan fresh protests this weekend. A 150-year-old oak tree is earmarked for felling on Vernon Road in Dore, where activists are set to gather from 2pm on Sunday.
The cabinet member revealed that he and council leader Julie Dore had read the ‘unredacted contract’ with Amey, adding: “Elements of the contract could be changed - anything is open to negotiation. But there is a cost.
“Why would you go and change it? If that was the right thing to do for the city, why is it the wrong thing to do now?
“We’ve done four years of the replacement of highways trees.”
Coun Lodge said there was a maintenance backlog of up to 70 years. “We’ve been awarded funding to tackle these issues. It was negotiated and put in as a specification over a number of years, over a number of administrations and cabinet members and people involved. This is what the city wanted to be done.”
He drew a contrast with the council’s agreement with waste contractor Veolia signed 16 years ago, which is set to be torn up.
“The world is a different place. There will be financial penalties, but we are confident that with the circumstances and the low interest rates, that we can negotiate with Veolia, come out of that contract, and fund a different contract that will save us at least £4 million a year. The investment by Veolia was upfront - we’re still in the investment process with Amey.”
Exiting the Amey deal now would be ‘unaffordable’, Coun Lodge said. “We would have to repay all the investment.”
So far in Sheffield 14 people have been arrested for obstructing felling engineers.
Coun Lodge said: “I don’t want to see any arrests. People have a right to express their opinion and to demonstrate - people also have a right to go about their work. If they can’t respect that people are there to do a job that is legitimately authorised, we’d ask them to keep out of the way.”
He said Amey was looking at installing cameras in their vehicles to record evidence.
“Every day members of staff are subjected to abuse.”
‘Fixes aren’t in cost of deal’
Coun Bryan Lodge said he ‘accepted’ that the council had only followed the advice of Sheffield’s tree panel - set up to make recommendations on specimens that face being felled - six times.
But he emphasised that such trees had been ‘identified as causing specific problems’.
“These are the trees that are not suitable for engineering solutions, so they are the exception to the rule. Other solutions that then come in are outside the cost of the contract - if it means altering the carriageway, changing the alignment of kerbs. We all know the financial position of the council and there isn’t the money there to do it.”