By Anna Whittaker, Local Democracy Reporter
A council staff member was caught joking about getting a chainsaw after a controversial decision was made to fell four trees in Newark.
A voice can be heard mocking campaigners and members of the public on the live stream of the Newark and Sherwood District Council meeting, which was broadcast via online video on Tuesday.
Campaigners were left “devastated” after councillors voted overwhelmingly in favour of plans to make way for 36 new spaces at the council-run London Road Car Park in Newark.
After the decision was made, someone off-camera in the council chamber can be heard on the video recording of the meeting, asking a colleague if a chainsaw is being readied.
When campaigners in the chamber heckle councillors following the decision, the same voice is heard saying “oh, look at them all” and “oh, shut up”.
It is not known who made the comments, because only their audio appears on the stream, while the camera is pointed at other people in the room. The staff member appears not to realise her comments can be heard on the stream.
The council’s Chief Executive apologised for the comments, calling them “off-the-cuff remarks”.
Jenni Harding of Protect Newark’s Green Spaces said the comments were “appalling”.
She said: “I am absolutely shocked that’s how low their opinion is of people.
“I couldn’t believe it. We weren’t allowed to speak during the meeting and this is what we get in return.
“It is crazy, this is not public service. We’re all very angry about it and it didn’t help we’d just had that terrible vote. It is awful.”
The ‘Stop the Chop’ campaign group said they have been told council Chief Executive John Robinson will look into the matter.
In a statement, Mr Robinson told the Local Democracy Reporting Service: “These were off-the-cuff remarks made by staff, for which I apologise. These will be dealt with internally in accordance with established HR procedures. This does in no way represent the views and attitudes of the district council.”
Councillors who voted in favour of the plans said they felt there was no alternative – as keeping the trees would have cost the taxpayer more than £600,000 because of a complex pre-existing legal agreement signed by the council.
The authority first proposed the project in November 2018, and in 2019 entered a legally binding agreement with Datch Properties Limited (DPL), which owns the land the extension would be built on.
The agreement commits the council to building the car park and to pay DPL £30,000 per year in rent for 25 years, after an initial two-year, rent-free period.
Other councillors argued that the trees should be saved.
Councilor Peter Harris (Lib Dem) said the council’s mistakes “will have to be paid for”.
He added: “It is very disappointing to hear this saga and I hope that a full review of this does take place.”