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Sheffield wins High Court battle to stop campaigners protesting tree felling

Sheffield City Council (SCC) has this week won a High Court battle granting it an injunction to stop campaigners trespassing on its land in protest of it felling trees.

The authority had been locked in a court battle with campaigners, including its own Green councillor Alison Teal, over them taking direct action by standing inside safety barriers put up around the trees.

Campaigners were incensed by council plans to chop down around 6,000 trees as part of a 25-year, £2bn highway maintenance scheme. 

But now the judge, Lord Justice Males, has ruled in favour of SCC and said that anyone trespassing on council land or interrupting work after 22 August will be prosecuted, and could face a fine or imprisonment.

The Sheffield Tree Action Group (STAG) has however said it is currently taking advice over its next steps with regards to appealing the decision.

Cllr Bryan Lodge, cabinet member for environment and street scene at SCC, stated that the authority had a responsibility to the taxpayers of Sheffield to do everything it could to avoid “catastrophic financial consequences” if the Streets Ahead work is not completed by the end of the year.

“Court action has been a last resort option for us,” he argued. “We had no choice but to pursue these injunctions to stop a small number of people from causing major delays, not only to tree works, but also to work on roads, footpaths and street lights across the city.

“The court decision is an extremely important step forward for the residents and council taxpayers of Sheffield.

“We will continue to support the right to peaceful protest, but this is different from trespassing, preventing vital highway works from continuing,” he added.

“We never wanted to be in this position and those stepping inside the safety zones were given numerous opportunities to prevent us seeking injunctions.”

Cllr Lodge said that SCC would be looking to seek associated costs and damages which will be covered at a later hearing.

“To ensure the programme can continue to be delivered within the intended timescales, we will now accelerate the work to get our roads, pavements, lights and trees upgraded,” he stated. “We will also continue to talk to the protestors, as we always have.”

However, this is a claim that was refuted by STAG, which slammed the council for not ever sitting down with them and having a proper conversation about the issue.

“The city council have now spent over £400,000 of public money, including legal fees, the Independent Tree Panel and Policing costs, to oppose the street tree campaign, but as was stated in court, they have never once engaged in a constructive discussion with STAG,” co-chairman Chris Rust stated.

“The past few weeks have seen an unprecedented level of criticism aimed at SCC, culminating in the intervention of the secretary of state for the environment, followed by absurd and misleading claims in the council’s response to Mr Gove.”

Rust continued to say that tree campaigners will not be surprised by this given the barrage of spin put up by SCC ever since this fiasco became a matter of public concern.

“STAG and its member groups now have more supporters than ever and we are determined to do everything we can to save the remaining healthy trees condemned by SCC and Amey.

“It was depressing, but not surprising, that SCC refused repeated requests in court for the highly secret Streets Ahead contract with multinational contractor, Amey, to be made public.

“Until citizens can scrutinise this £2.2bn agreement and SCC are prepared to listen and hold open discussions of how to resolve the dispute, mistrust and opposition is inevitable.”

Top Image: SCC felling trees in February c. Dave Higgens PA Archive

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David Tait   18/08/2017 at 09:26

Interesting article but it would have been improved if it had explained why the Council considers that the trees need to be removed - do you know why, other than as part of a works programme?

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