Councillors in Sheffield have voted to fell dozens of trees planted 98 years ago in honour of fallen soldiers in a move attacked by critics as “the first publicly sanctioned desecrations of a war memorial”.
But at a public meeting on Wednesday, the council said 41 of the trees would be chopped down as it was too expensive to save them.
Council officials said it would cost £500,000 to keep the memorial trees, which it claimed were causing “significant damage” to roads and private property.
The decision is the latest in the long-running battle over the council’s controversial plans to chop down 5,500 street trees as part of a £2.2bn PFI contract to improve the city’s roads and pavements.
Dan Llywelyn Hall, an artist who painted the Queen three years ago and who has campaigned to save the memorial trees, said the council’s decision meant Britain would soon witness “the first publicly sanctioned desecrations of a war memorial”.
He added: “Sheffield council have ignored the sentiment of what these trees represent for a community and the nation as a whole. They have proven themselves thoroughly undemocratic and negligent of any kind of social responsibility for the war dead.”
Llywelyn Hall, who led a “mass painting” of the memorial trees this year, said the move was the “final straw” for campaigners.
He said artists would be in attendance at the first sign of tree-felling “juggernauts” from the council’s contractor, Amey.
“Our artists will continue to paint and draw these trees in their splendour and go to any lengths to prevent their destruction,” Llywelyn Hall said.
“The corporate juggernaut of Amey will have blood of the war dead on their hands and, as for the council, their days of bean-counting are numbered.”
At Wednesday’s heated meeting, which was reportedly adjourned at one point because of shouts from the public gallery, the council said it could fund the removal of the trees from its existing highways contract.
But the £500,000 required to save the trees and make surrounding roads and pavements safe would have to be found from other budgets, including social care, the authority said.
In a press release, the council said it would replant any memorial tree that was felled and plant another 300 memorial trees in the city’s parks.
The councillor Bryan Lodge, the cabinet member for environment, said: “Cabinet has agreed that 41 memorial street trees, which are damaging our roads, paths and private property will have to be replaced.
“Given that, over the years, about half of the original memorial trees have been lost and never replaced, we believe our commitment to replace the 41 trees, both now and in perpetuity, is a decision that the vast majority of Sheffielders will support.”