PART ONE: Council looks past court case to future of Sheffield's street trees

Trees in Rivelin Valley Road, 23 of which will be felled.
Trees in Rivelin Valley Road, 23 of which will be felled.
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You could be forgiven for wondering quite what has gone wrong in Sheffield for the city council to feel compelled to take legal actions against residents - and even one of its own councillors.

The relationship between cabinet members, council officers and Sheffield's passionate tree campaigners is perhaps more strained than ever following a High Court judge's decision last week to grant an injunction effectively stopping anyone from protesting against felling by stepping inside safety barriers.

Bryan Lodge

Bryan Lodge

Amey will continue cutting down and replacing street trees as part of the Streets Ahead PFI highways maintenance contract, and work will accelerate between now and the end of the year in order to meet targets.

But campaigners who believe healthy trees are being felled in the name of profit are unlikely to be quietened by the court order.

So what does the future hold for both sides? The Star sat down with Bryan Lodge, cabinet member for the environment at the council, and Rebecca Hammond, co-chairman of Sheffield Tree Action Groups, known as Stag, to take stock.

PART TWO: Where do Sheffield tree campaigners go after High Court loss?

Bryan Lodge

The council has repeatedly said it never wanted to go down the legal route - something that Coun Lodge again made clear last week.

But he added, there was a difference between peaceful protest and illegal trespass - a point Mr Justice Males agreed with when he granted the injunction stopping people from standing inside safety barriers.

"I don’t want anybody to get into any bother," he said.

"I never wanted anyone going through the courts. I just ask them to respect that people are trying to do the work for the good of the whole city."

That injunction begins today, and will last until July next year. Anyone that breaks the conditions will be in contempt of court and could end up in prison.

This will be made clear to campaigners, Coun Lodge said, with large signs on all safety barriers put up around trees. Amey will collect photographic and video evidence to present to the court if necessary.

And, although an agreement agreement on costs - the details of which are being kept confidential - has been reached, Coun Lodge has little sympathy with the three campaigners, Dave Dillner, Calvin Payne and Alison Teal, who decided to go to court rather than agree to stop going inside the barriers. Five other campaigners signed undertakings to that effect.

"Who has put their homes at risk?" asked Coun Lodge, when asked whether the council was concerned about the financial impact on the campaigners.

"They have gone into it of their own volition.

"We had said if you continue to do this we consider it illegal. The judgement recognises that they have performed illegal acts.

"What option did they leave us?"

Tree felling and replacement work will accelerate from today as the council and Amey try to meet the targets set for the initial five-year 'core investment period' of the 25-year Streets Ahead contract.

Coun Lodge said he was 'confident' the work would be done in time.

About 500 trees need to be felled by the end of the year, taking the total to about 6,000 - although the council is replacing those it cuts down.

A further 90 miles of road also need to be resurfaced this year, to reach a target of about 700, while 900 new street lights are needed to get to a total of roughly 65,000.

The legality of the work has now been proven three times in court, following Mr Dillner's unsuccessful judicial review last year.

But it is the process of selecting trees to be felled that campaigners are still concerned about. They believe Amey's search for profit is coming at the expense of healthy specimens.

Trees, according to the council, are felled if they are dead, dying, diseased, dangerous, damaging to structures or discriminatory - meaning they are stopping people using the highway.

Coun Lodge said there were some engineering solutions included within the contract. If a tree could be saved by using other means, that was still possible - but the extra cost would then fall on the council.

"I don’t think it’s fully understood and appreciated, the pressures that are on the council," he said.

"The contract lets us do whatever we want. If we wanted to save a tree and spend money on doing it, then it’s there. But we have to cover the cost.

"Anything that’s a change is a cost."

Minor changes such as dropped kerbs can be negotiated in the contract, said Coun Lodge. But work to save trees such as the large Dutch elm in Chelsea Road, Nether Edge, at a cost of £50,000 - a figure campaigners dispute - the council must cover itself.

Coun Lodge said the fact 30,000 trees were not being felled showed engineering solutions were being used.

He also questioned why no-one had objected when in 2008 eight trees in Rustlings Road were cut down. It was here where felling crews arrived in the early hours of the morning in November last year, leading to three arrests. The council later apologised.

"We have now replaced these as part of the replanting," he said.

"You look at some of people’s comments and think let’s have a touch of realism here. What’s happened that’s different between 2008 and 2017?"

Campaigners have also criticised the council for ignoring the advice of the Independent Tree Panel, which said 316 trees due to be felled should be retained. The council agreed on 73 occasions.

Coun Lodge said people did not realise that the panel was looking at the same engineering solutions that had already been considered.

"Perhaps we didn’t get the message across," he said.

Poor communication is something Coun Lodge alludes to several times. It is something campaigners have picked up on, but have also gone further, accusing the council of a lack of transparency.

Coun Lodge admitted there was a lack of trust, but put that down to operating in a 'political bubble'.

He said he was happy to work with others, despite fallings out with Trees for Cities and the Woodland Trust.

And he insisted Sheffield was improving as a result of Streets Ahead.

"We all want the city to be a great place. I don’t want it to be seen as a place where things are going wrong," he said.