Sheffield tree felling campaigners pin hopes on injunction compromise

Trees have been felled in Dore, Sheffield
Trees have been felled in Dore, Sheffield

Anti tree-felling campaigners in Sheffield hope a legal compromise reached with the city council over an injunction aimed at curtailing some of their activities can be the start of talks that will see an end to the long-running dispute.

Lawyers for protesters and Sheffield City Council were locked in discussions for two days this week over a bid by the local authority to extend its existing injunction which prevents people entering 'safety zones' contractors put around trees about to be felled.

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The injunction has already led to four demonstrators being given suspended prison sentences for breaching its conditions.

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The council wanted the injunction's scope expanded to prevent protesters blocking tree felling by methods it sees as against the spirit of the original order.

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But yesterday, the parties came to a compromise which means the injunction will be extended for a further 18 months, rather than the three years the council wanted.

The agreement also saw compromise around a number of detailed issues, including the definition of safety zones, the right to protest on private land and slow-walking demos.

The negotiated agreement means that 13 protesters named by the council as part of the injunction process will not have to foot the bill for any of the council's £75,000 legal costs for th its latest application.

One of those named in the injunction, Calvin Payne, said: "We have seen in a little over 24 hours what can be achieved.

"Another thing the judge said is how both sides are to be congratulated about that.

"Unfortunately they spent a large amount of money to bring us here yesterday and today for something we've been asking for for literally years, that things are talked about. And it is a start."

Mr Payne, who was given a suspended prison sentence for breaching the original injunction last year, said: "If you compare what they wanted with what they got, it's very different.

"And the fact is that they've spend a huge amount of money, £75,000 of public money, to bring this here when the talks could have happened over a sandwich and a cup of tea anywhere."

The long-running controversy in Sheffield over the felling of street trees has seen demonstrations, arrests and van loads of police deployed to some of the city's leafiest suburbs.

The dispute is rooted in a 25-year, £2.2 billion private finance initiative agreement the council signed with contractor Amey in 2012 for road maintenance, which includes responsibility for maintaining the city's 36,000 street trees.

Around 6,000 trees have been felled so far and campaigners say the contract threatens a total of 17,500 - a figure disputed by the council.

The felling is currently paused after a series of incidents saw 25 protesters arrested between January and March.

Lewis Dagnall, the councillor responsible for the contract at Sheffield City Council, said the pause will continue until the council has had talks with campaigners over a 'compromise proposal for tree replacement work' it is currently working on.

Mr Dagnall said: "The modifications agreed by the court and defendants will ensure the smooth operation of the injunction, whilst protecting campaigners' right to peaceful protest."

He said: "Given the commitments by the council and campaigners to upcoming dialogue and to respect today's outcome, we hope there will be no need for the enforcement of the injunction."