Secret plan to remove Rustlings Road trees made by Sheffield Council and police one month before raid

Sheffield Council, Amey and South Yorkshire Police secretly planned the controversial pre-dawn raid on Rustlings Road trees over a month before it took place, it has been revealed.

Thursday, 8th December 2016, 5:00 am
Updated Wednesday, 14th December 2016, 12:48 pm
Police officers were on hand when trees were felled on Rustlings Road, Sheffield

Residents were woken at 5am to move their cars and three people, including two pensioners, were arrested as they attempted to prevent the removal of trees on November 17.

The council has subsequently apologised for the way it was handled.

A written answer given at the full council meeting at Sheffield Town Hall on Wednesday by council leader Julie Dore confirmed the operation had been planned a month before.

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She said a joint meeting between council staff, contractor Amey and the police took place on October 12, when it was decided officers would provide ‘operational support’ during the tree-felling.

She also confirmed that an Independent Tree Panel report published just minutes before trees started being felled had originally been received by the Streets Ahead team on July 22.

Councillor Mazher Iqbal, cabinet member for transport, confirmed that traffic regulation orders relating to the removal of the Rustlings Road trees were not posted as ‘part of the decision not to give advance notification of the works due to the expected protester actions’.

Councillor Bryan Lodge, cabinet member for environment, also confirmed local councillors were not informed of the operation in advance ‘in the same way as usually happened’ due to concerns about protests.

Separate to the meeting, a Freedom of Information response by South Yorkshire Police about the operation said the force had been approached by Sheffield Council and Amey about it.

Superintendent Shaun Morley said: “In October 2016, Sheffield City Council and their contractor Amey approached South Yorkshire Police with a view to SYP supplying appropriate support to their planned tree-felling activity. Police officers were utilised during the SCC-led tree felling operation, based on the threat and risk assessment undertaken, the potential protest activity and the fact there were to be eight work sites spread over an area that extended over 900 metres.”

At a heated council meeting attended by dozens of tree protesters, Councillor Lodge denied the July report had been ‘sat on’ before being released and said some of the potential options for dealing with Rustlings Road were discussed at a council meeting in September.

“I have apologised about the way the information was kept quiet because of the operational circumstances for that particular road,” he said.

“We published the report for 40-odd trees, of which eight were on Rustlings Road.”

He said: “We take difficult decisions. Not every decision that is taken is a popular decision but are taken on balance to be the correct decisions.”

Coun Lodge was booed by the public gallery as he said: “I have tried to be as honest as I can in giving my answers.”

The council has said it is removing trees that are dangerous, diseased, dead or dying or causing damage or obstruction to pavements and replacing them with new ones.

But campaigners claim many of the tree removals are unnecessary - including several of those on Rustlings Road.