Council highways contractor Amey is charging £2,000 for each sapling planted on roadsides in Birmingham.
The charges have been blasted as ‘reprehensible’ by one senior councillor at Birmingham City Council, which is facing £100million of cuts.
Other councillors believe that, in an age of austerity and shrinking council budgets, the charge is simply too high, especially when saplings can be bought online for as little as £20.
Each time Amey digs a hole and plants the trees on pavements, verges or central reservations in the city, it invoices the council for £2,000.
A tree-lined street will take tens of thousands of pounds from over-stretched local funds.
Chairwoman of the council’s transport and sustainability committee Victoria Quinn was stunned by the Amey tree fees.
Coun Quinn (Lab, Sparkbrook) said: “I have to say I find this charge ridiculous. It is reprehensible that, in 2013 during a time of austerity, we are being asked to pay this much for a natural resource.”
Her colleague Phil Davis (Lab, Billesley) added that a local tree planting scheme would blow an entire community budget, leaving no money for anything else.
But Amey, which has the £2.7billion contract to upgrade and maintain Birmingham’s highway network until 2035, said that the cost was justified.
Contract manager Eddie Fellows said: “It cannot be compared to placing a tree in a park. The highway is a hostile environment for a tree.
“Particular species need to be selected, then there are ground works and the impact on utilities to be considered.
“The work is carried out on an active highway, then there are accidents and vandalism.”
He added that the trees are maintained until 2035.
The issue came up as councillors discussed the draft Green Living Spaces Plan, which promotes tree planting and looks to protect parks and open spaces, not only to reduce pollution and carbon emissions but also to promote healthy lifestyles for citizens.
The council has a total of more than 70,000 trees lining the roads and many hundreds of thousands in parks, open spaces and gardens – all of which make a contribution to the environment, the committee heard.