A panel set up by Sheffield Council to assess its most controversial tree-felling plans has cost taxpayers over £830,000 – despite the authority overruling its advice on hundreds of occasions.
It was revealed earlier this week that Sheffield Council had paid its highways maintenance contractor Amey £700,000 in compensation for delays to work caused by waiting for the findings of the ‘Independent Tree Panel’ it established in late 2015 and which ran until last summer.
Another Freedom of Information response has now shown that more than £130,000 was spent on the panel’s running costs, including more than £23,000 on posting out surveys to residents living on affected streets.
It means that in total, the panel’s work cost more than £1,000 for each of the 788 trees it ended up assessing, backing removal in 454 cases. Last summer, it was revealed that where the panel had recommended trees were saved, the council rejected the advice on 223 occasions and accepted in only 73 cases.
Anti-tree felling campaigners said today the panel had been a “pointless exercise” but council bosses said they stood by the process, which involved seeking the views of thousands of households.
The removal of thousands of street trees and their replacement with saplings is part of a 25-year £2.2bn highways maintenance contract with Amey which started in 2012 and also involves road and pavement resurfacing and the replacement of street lights. Tree-felling work has been on hold for almost three months after a national outcry against the policy following dozens of police officers and security guards being sent out to support operations in the wake of growing protests.