Pensioners were arrested and cars towed away as workmen cut down trees on a Sheffield street under police guard.
Workers arrived early in the morning yesterday to chop down seven trees on Rustlings Road, near Endcliffe Park, which had been the subject of a residents campaign to save them from the axe.
Residents were woken by contractors who, with the protection of 12 police officers, began felling trees with chainsaws at around 5am.
One tree due to be cut down was still standing last night because campaigners had refused to move away from it. They stood within one of their gardens which was close enough to the tree to prevent it from being removed safely.
Sheffield Hallam Liberal Democrat MP Nick Clegg voiced his support for the campaigners and said the way the council acted was ‘inexcusable’ and ‘underhand’, whether people thought the trees needed to come down or not.
He has written to the council demanding to be told who made the decision to start so early without warning residents.
He added: "The council's approach to this is like some sort of anti-terrorist operation."
Two women, aged 70 and 71, were arrested in a stand-off with police officers who had accompanied the workmen who cut the trees down as part of a city-wide road and pavement improvement programme.
Bob Hockey’s 70-year-old wife Jenny, a retired university professor, was one of three people taken into police custody.
Mr Hockey, aged 72, said: “The police and contractors came and knocked on doors in the middle of the night at about 4.30am and asked people to move cars.
“Then some protesters went to intervene. There is not much we can do but Jenny wanted to make a stand.
“She and another woman stood inside the ribbon around the tree. Then a young lad passing by jumped in and joined them.
“We have been protesting because the council is cutting down healthy trees and ignoring the advice of a panel they set up to advise them.
He added: “I don’t blame the police. They are just doing their job.”
South Yorkshire Police said the police presence was ‘to ensure the safety of local residents and contractors whilst the work is carried out’ and that the arrests were made ‘on suspicion of preventing lawful work’ under the Trade Union and Relation Act 1992.
Rustlings Road resident Michelle Mullins, aged 42, also witnessed the arrests.
She said: “The women were crying because they were so upset. What kind of world are we living in at the moment? There’s little justification for this.”
Some locals had been woken before the work began by police who asked them to move their cars off the road.
For others, cars were towed away while they slept.
Craig Wilson, aged 24, had left his home on Ecclesall Road and was about to drive to work when he realised his car had ‘disappeared’ from where he had parked it on Rustlings Road at 10pm on Wednesday.
He said neither Sheffield Council nor contractor Amey, which is felling trees as part of the city-wide road and pavement improvement programme, notified residents of today’s tree felling plan.
Kath Peters, aged 78, said: “I think there are ways and means of doing things - if the council had looked after the pavements properly they would not need to do this.”
Speaking at Rustlings Road while walking her dogs, she added: “It’s a shame.”
Sheffield Tree Action Group member Chris Rust described the early morning operation as ‘very sneaky’.
One workman carrying out the tree-felling said they had not been told about the job until the early hours of Thursday.
Lib Dem councillor Joe Otten said the council’s ‘stubborn’ move to begin work on Rustlings Road was ‘pig-headed’.
He added: “They are magnificent trees that improve our quality of life.”
Coun Bryan Lodge, Sheffield Council’s cabinet member for the environment, said the early chainsawing was advised by South Yorkshire Police ‘to make sure it could be done safely’.
He said: “We carried out the work very early in the morning on the advice of the police to make sure it could be done safely. This isn’t usually needed but in this case it was considered the best option for the safety of the public, protestors and the workers.
“I understand there are strong emotions about this but have to stand by the decision to do this vital maintenance work. We’ve got 36,000 street trees in Sheffield and this programme means that in years to come we’ll have even more.”
Coun Lodge also said that the council’s decision - that has taken more than a year to finalise - includes a pledge to plant extra trees on Rustlings Road.
The council do have some support from the city’s residents.
Facebook user Andy Hides condoned the plans and said the tactic of ‘cut and replace’ is ‘basic forestry’.
He added: “Many of the trees are dangerous.”
But Nick Woffenden, aged 39, lives nearby and said seeing the trees being cut down was ‘hugely disappointing’ for him and his family.
He said: “I have two year-old and four year-old daughters and they are both very upset. They love going to the park.”
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