POLICE say providing security for the Lib Dem Spring Conference in Sheffield is the ‘biggest operation’ they dealt with since the 2007 floods.
But protesters have attacked the scale of the £2 million operation.
Around 1,000 officers are being deployed this weekend, with the force adopting a heavy presence to deter violence.
Police have been drafted in from neighbouring forces as South Yorkshire Police seeks to ensure there is no repeat of the violence which flared at the student protests in London last autumn.
As well as the heavy police presence, there are also folded-up steel barriers at the ready on Fargate which can be rolled out at a moment’s notice to contain crowds. And a further area has been fenced off in Barker’s Pool, designated as an area for protesters.
Late yesterday, around 500 demonstrators gathered outside City Hall as delegates arrived for the opening rally. Around 10,000 are expected for today’s main event.
Sheffield Commander Chief Superintendent Simon Torr said: “We would like to thanks protesters who were in the city yesterday for their co-operation with the policing operation. They have been noisy but well-behaved and we hope that continues throughout the weekend.”
One civil servant who was among the crowds yesterday - holding a placard with the message “Break the Con Dem Coalition: Resist, Protest, Strike” - said: “There should be an outcry about the amount being spent on policing. There’s no violence here and tomorrow should be peaceful. It’s our right to be able to protest.”
Max Brophy, a philosophy student at Sheffield University, led a short march of around 100 protesters outside the Town Hall yesterday afternoon, chanting anti-Government slogans through a mega-phone: “They’ve overspent massively on security. It’s disgusting when the Government is cutting public spending.”
At the entrance to City Hall, demonstrators confronted delegates - but the atmosphere was friendly, not hostile.
Michael Meadowcroft, a former Leeds councillor and one of the Lib Dem members willing to chat to demonstrators, said: “We have no control over the security operation - the police determine what is put in place. I would rather we had an open debate without barriers - although I am not in favour of people coming to disrupt things.”
Asst Chf Con Max Sahota, South Yorkshire Police’s strategic lead officer for the operation said: “This is a completely different operation to the floods because we’ve had more time to prepare although our security plans have been ramped up since the Lib Dems jointly came to power.
“We hope for the best and have planned for the worst. We have drafted in officers from other forces to ensure the conference and protests can take place safely and peacefully, other people can go about their normal business .”