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Sheffield City Council has admitted it aims to remove half of the city’s street trees

About 17,500 trees are set for the chop

A Freedom of Information request has forced Sheffield Council to reveal that it plans to cut almost half of Sheffield's street trees and replace them with saplings.

Of the 36,000 trees in Sheffield, 17,500 will be cut down as part of the Council's controversial highway maintenance contract with private company Amey.

The contract, which has already come into effect and seen street trees chopped down, spans the course of 25 years. Figures show that 5,500 trees have already been cut down since 2012.

Council meeting minutes unearthed by campaigners show that the intention to replace half of Sheffield's street trees with saplings has existed since 2012.

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Campaigners have battled for the last year for non-commercially sensitive parts of the contract to be released.

The Information Commissioner has finally ordered previously redacted sections to be made accessible to the public, threatening the Council with legal action last month if there was no publication within 35 days.

One clause of the contract reads: “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.”

Sheffield Council's environment cabinet member Bryan Lodge has insisted that “any suggestion that 17,500 trees is a target or a requirement is an incorrect interpretation of the contract”, but that it "remains difficult" to say just how many trees are to be replaced.

“The Streets Ahead highways programme will see the upgrade of Sheffield’s roads, paths and street lighting and ensure they are maintained to a standard expected of a modern-day city.”

Tree campaigner Paul Selby, whose efforts were central to the Freedom of Information request succeeding, says the release of the details is a “smoking gun”, vindicating the claims of campaigners about removal targets.

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South Yorkshire Police have also come under criticism for their handling of protests that are taking place in response to the tree felling.

Protests at the removal of "one tree" last Monday (5 March) was met with 33 officers and 20 security personnel, with a 38-year-old man being arrested on suspicion of assault at Abbeydale Park Rise.

Assistant Chief Constable David Hartley said: "In terms of making sure that we're proportionate, fair and even-handed hasn't changed, the policing style and the numbers has changed. We've seen the move from largely peaceful protest turn into some disorder, so we had to change our approach."

South Yorkshire Police said its approach was "fair and even-handed", but former Council leader Lord Scriven has raised concerns over a "very worrying and escalating use of police at the felling of trees in Sheffield".