Tree campaigners asked to leave council meeting

Tree campaigners held a rally outside Sheffield Town Hall chanting: ‘We’re not going away’ before two were asked to leave a fractious meeting inside.

Thursday, 18th July 2019, 2:24 pm
Updated Thursday, 18th July 2019, 4:29 pm

Sheffield Tree Action Group repeated calls for an independent inquiry after a recent report found almost 200 trees which were due to be felled have been saved after being reassessed.

After the rally, campaigners moved inside for a Cabinet meeting. The protocol is that members of the public can ask questions but can’t enter into a debate with councillors but it prompted a number of disagreements between chairman Coun Olivia Blake and members of STAG.

At one point during the meeting, Coun Lewis Dagnall, cabinet member for environment, told campaigners: “Stand for election if you are so confident you can do better than we can.”

Sheffield Tree Action Groups and supporters stage a rally outside the Sheffield Town Hall. Picture: Marie Caley

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Paul Brooke, co-chairman of STAG, asked if the council would make public the specification changes it had agreed with Amey.

Coun Dagnall said: “We have made tremendous progress and it is a credit to campaigners who have worked with us to get us here today.

“Amey are doing work that they had previously advised they felt was unviable, and unviable in the longer term, and they have now decided that they can accommodate both upfront costs and also take on the financial risk on work they would have otherwise thought was risky. It’s not just a question of upfront costs but also the risk.”

When pressed by Mr Brooke, Coun Blake said: “This isn’t for questions to go back and forth” and Coun Dagnall added that he met regularly with STAG and there would be plenty of opportunity to get information.

Campaigners were then warned to stop throwing questions out. Coun Blake said: “If you carry on interrupting the meeting I will ask you to leave. The questions have been put and answered. This is not a back and forth.”

When asked about an inquiry, Coun Blake said the council was happy to continue meeting STAG, and mediated meetings if necessary. She added: “This is not the forum to discuss the need for an inquiry and that should be taken back through a mediated process.

“We have to look forward and if we want to discuss whether or not to have an inquiry, we need to continue that discussion in the mediated talks.”

Dave Dillner asked the council to state on record that allegations against campaigners did not emanate from councillors officers or councillors.

Coun Daganall said Cabinet was there to discuss a report that showed ‘enormous progress’ and looked to the future to put differences aside.

Mr Dillner was asked to leave by Coun Blake after he repeatedly spoke. She said: “You have had an answer, you might not agree with it, but this is not a discussion forum. Can you please leave the chamber.”

As he left he said: “You will have to face this eventually, mark my words, this is a circus.”

Coun Blake said: “If you continue to shout out I will ask you to leave, it’s the simple. It’s a decision making body, not a discussion forum.”

As Mr Dillner left, there were calls of “public interest bouncers” and “dictatorship”.

Minutes later, Coun Blake asked a second member of the public to leave saying: “Right, let’s get this clear. This is not a discussion forum. Can you please leave the chamber, I have asked you a number of times not to heckle. Otherwise I am going to stop the meeting.”

The protestor did end up staying but someone else shouted out “if you answered the questions, there would be no need to heckle”.