The forlorn trees that cost Derby's taxpayers over £46k
THESE forlorn trees in their planters sitting on a building site each cost Derby City Council almost £8,000 of taxpayers' money.
But one garden centre manager says he could have found the same number of trees and planters for about a quarter of the cost.
The six Cypress oaks in planters were bought to stand outside Derby's newly refurbished Council House – at a cost of £46,200 but, after water from the planters was found to be causing a hazard by leaking on to the pavement, the authority moved them and is keeping them on a building site next to Derby Bus Station.
Now it says they will not be used outside the building at all but will instead first be moved to another "city centre location" and, next year, go to stand outside the authority's new multi-use sports arena.
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The authority, which lodged its planning application for the Council House refurbishment in 2010, says it must save £62 million over the next three financial years due to cuts to its Government grants.
It is understood that the authority was told there were cheaper trees available but still chose to buy the oaks.
Council leader Paul Bayliss, whose Labour group was against the Council House's refurbishment before taking power, said: "What we need to do is ensure there is proper supervision of schemes like this by councillors in the future as there clearly wasn't in this case. It's our duty to make sure we learn from these things."
News of the purchase has prompted outrage from the Taxpayers' Alliance, which called it an "obscene waste of public money".
Mark Smith, plant area manager at Swarkestone Nursery, said he could have ordered similar quality trees and planters for under £12,000 in total. He said oaks were sometimes a poor choice for planters as there might not be enough space for their large root networks.
If the tree outgrows the planter, they could "de-leaf and eventually die", he said.
He added: "There are far more elegant trees that would have been cheaper and easier to maintain."
Mr Smith said he could have ordered six mountain ash trees in large metal and wood containers for £11,971 for the council.
The £46,200 combined cost of the oak trees and planters forms part of the £24 million cost of the controversial Council House refurbishment, which came in millions of pounds under its original budget. Each of the "semi- mature" trees cost £1,200 and the large planters cost £39,000.
When asked to respond to Mr Smith's comments, the council referred the Derby Telegraph to BAM Construction, the firm behind the Council House work.
A BAM Construction spokesman said it had worked "very closely" with the council on the refurbishment. He said: "The project has been extremely successful in actual and financial terms. The trees and planters are no exception and BAM has been open about the costs and alternatives and delivered these – as with the rest of the project – in accordance with the council's wishes."
It is understood the council was informed that there were cheaper options but had decided to go ahead with the oaks and planters.
Mr Bayliss previously said he would like to see some public art outside the building to replace the trees but that it "certainly wouldn't cost nearly £50,000" and the council would look at grant funding.
The council had originally refused to reveal the cost of the trees and planters to the Derby Telegraph so the figures were obtained through a request by using the Freedom of Information Act.