An action group has slammed South Tyneside Council after figures reveal 173 trees have been felled to make way for new paths.
Campaigners from the South Tyneside Tree Action Group have attacked the Flags to Flexible scheme.
However, a council spokesman says the work, which can see trees removed as part of a footpath replacement programme, is “necessary” to ensure the safety of pedestrians and to reduce the risk of injury.
In some cases, the local authority, which is responsible for about 1.2m trees, say they are unable to be retained due to their condition. It is unsure how many more will be removed as part of the programme.
The group is now calling on the council to halt the programme and to consider alternative solutions to maintaining pavements.
Rachael Milne, one of the founder members of STTAG said: “We are appalled that so many trees have already been chopped down and that almost all our remaining mature street trees are now under threat.
It cannot be right that the decision to tarmac comes first and even if saplings are planted somewhere else like a park that is not replacing valuable street trees.Rachel Milne
“The council intend to continue with their plans to replace all our pavements and it seems that if trees are in the way, they have to go. It is not good enough that the council’s tree team are simply told by Highways Maintenance Team which streets are next.
“The tree team then discuss whether the trees can be retained if possible and if not, the siting of new trees in this location or adjacent. It cannot be right that the decision to tarmac comes first and even if saplings are planted somewhere else like a park that is not replacing valuable street trees.
The action group was formed following concerns from residents over the number of trees being chopped down where they live.
A South Tyneside Council spokesperson said: “We are committed to improving and maintaining our footpaths to a safe standard and through the Flags to Flexible programme we replace broken and unsafe flagstones with a flexible more robust surface.
“In some areas is it necessary to carry out a full footpath replacement due to ongoing damage from tree root disturbance. Regrettably, in some cases, it is not always possible to retain the trees due to their size, the extent of their roots and their condition.
“While the loss of any tree is sad, in such circumstances, the works are necessary to ensure the safety of pedestrians and to reduce the risk of injury.
“We consider our environmental responsibility with the utmost importance and are responsible for more than one million trees Borough-wide. The Council was also one of the first local authorities locally to produce a comprehensive tree and woodland policy with tree protection and sustainability at its forefront. We only remove trees as a last resort after very careful consideration. In line with the policy, for every tree removed, we plant a like-for-like tree nearby but in a more appropriate location.
“Planned highways improvement works are outlined annually through our community area forum meetings and before work gets underway in any particular area, we write to the residents affected.”