Protesters in Sheffield have today prevented council contractors felling trees visited by Environment Secretary Michael Gove 24 hours before as the Cabinet Minister came to the city on a fact-finding mission.
Michael Gove calls for end to 'bonkers' tree-felling
Campaigners said staff from Amey had been prevented from felling three trees on Kenwood Road by people standing on private property close to those under threat. But the council said a number of activists had “chosen to trespass inside safety barriers erected around tree works” in breach of a High Court ruling banning people from doing so.
It comes after the council revealed it had spent more than £250,000 on legal action in an ongoing dispute over the removal and replacement of 6,000 street trees as part of a major road improvements programme in the city. Campaigners claim many of the tree removals are unnecessary but the council says this is not the case.
Mr Gove visited the city yesterday to speak with campaigners and the council after previously calling on the Labour-led authority to call a halt to tree-felling work. Paul Selby, from Save Nether Edge Trees, said: “The first tree they came for was the one Michael Gove had said it would be ‘bonkers’ to have felled.”
He said a number of campaigners had been standing on private property to prevent tree removals, a tactic that resulted in contractors eventually abandoning their felling attempts for the day.
Councillor Bryan Lodge, cabinet member for environment and street scene at Sheffield Council, said: “We are incredibly disappointed that a number of tree activists have chosen to trespass inside safety barriers erected around tree works, despite a High Court ruling stating that anyone who did so is acting unlawfully and would be in contempt of court.
"This will result in further court action and potential imprisonment. This direct action is in complete disregard of the law and furthermore, goes against the wishes of the majority of people in Sheffield who are in support of our work.
“On-site signs which display the terms of the injunction can be seen on barriers across the city and so, those choosing to ignore the ruling are doing so at their own risk and with the knowledge that their actions will have serious consequences.
“Those taking direct action have had every opportunity to comply with the court rulings and furthermore, the council has repeatedly reiterated its support of peaceful protest which can be done outside of the safety barriers.
“The council has no choice but to continue collecting evidence to support its legal case to ensure those who are purposely preventing the completion of highway improvement works across the city are dealt with under the terms of the injunction.
“We never wanted to be in this position and we had hoped that people would respect the High Court ruling. Unfortunately, the continued action of a small group of people comes at a further cost to the Sheffield taxpayer and ultimately, prevents us from completing the much needed upgrade of the city’s roads and pavements as well as the installation of new street lights which we know Sheffielders want. Furthermore, the programme has the full democratic backing of the council and the legal backing of the High Court.”
It comes after the council confirmed it had spent almost £150,000 on a recent judicial review winning injunctions to prevent people standing inside safety zones to stop tree-felling taking place. It recouped £1,000 each in costs from three tree campaigners who had challenged the injunctions.
A further £103,000 of council money was spent after campaigners took legal action in a failed attempt to stop the felling programme.
Coun Lodge said: “In the current economic climate, with council services being continually stretched, spending money on pursuing legal action was never a position the Council wanted to be in.
“Following continued trespass by a small number of people into the safety zones around tree works, and despite several attempts to reiterate the consequences, the Council had no other option but to seek an injunction at the High Court to enable the vital highway works across the city to continue.
“Ultimately, the legal costs associated with seeking an injunction will enable the Streets Ahead programme to continue without incurring further costly delays for the Sheffield taxpayer.”