The Sheffield tree saga has been back in the news once again this week as dozens of police officers and private security guards descended on city streets in a bid to allow hugely-controversial felling work to take place, resulting in tense scenes and confrontations with protesters. The bitter dispute has led to multiple arrests and court cases.
The contentious tree-felling work is all part of a £2.2bn PFI highways improvement contract signed between Sheffield Council and Amey in 2012 and supported with more than £1bn of Government money.
The 25-year contract, called Streets Ahead, includes the resurfacing of city roads and replacement of street lights, but has come under the greatest scrutiny for the intended removal of thousands of the city’s 36,000 street trees, with those felled being replaced with saplings.
It was revealed in March 2018 that the contract contains a target to fell 17,500 trees.
Sheffield City Council and Amey have insisted that only dead, dying, diseased and damaging trees are being removed as part of the work. But campaigners say that many of the trees being removed are healthy and do not need to be removed - claiming the option is being taken for cost rather than environmental or health and safety reasons.
So how have things got to this point?
Here’s what you need to know:
July 2012: The Government announces it will support the Sheffield PFI highways deal with £1.2bn.
November 2012: Shortly after Sheffield Council signs a deal with Amey to carry out the project, a report at the time suggests 1,000 ‘not fit for purpose’ trees could be replaced, but adds that up to 18,000 could eventually be replaced with “more highway-friendly alternatives” over the course of the contract.
May 2015: ‘Save Our Rustlings Trees’ formed over threat to 11 trees on Rustlings Road. 8,000 people sign petition against the plans, which is presented to Sheffield Council.
August 2015: After more than a year of different residents’ groups across Sheffield raising concerns about tree-felling plans in their area - and a successful campaign to save 129 mature trees that were due to cut down to make way for a bus lane - the Sheffield Tree Action Groups (STAG) - a combination of different groups across the city fighting against felling plans in their local areas - is formed.
September 2015: The Woodland Trust calls for felling work to be halted in the city over fears about a “Sheffield street tree massacre”.
January 2016: Sheffield Council launches ‘Independent Tree Panel’ to recommend whether trees should be felled or saved on streets where residents have raised concerns.
February 2016: Tree-felling across Sheffield, which has seen more than 3,300 trees removed since the start of the contract, is temporarily halted after campaigner Dave Dillner wins interim High Court injunction.
March 2016: Judge lifts temporary injunction on tree-felling, saying campaigners’ requests for a judicial review of council decisions are “devoid of merit”.
November 2, 2016: Two men arrested for protesting against tree felling by standing under threatened trees on Marden Road, Nether Edge.
November 17, 2016: Three people are arrested in a highly-controversial “dawn raid” where Amey staff supported by police conduct felling on Rustlings Road.
January 16, 2017: Tree campaigners say membership of STAG has doubled in the wake of the Rustlings Road incident and tell The Yorkshire Post they expect more arrests, with the the issue now “way beyond people protecting trees and about democratic accountability and peaceful protest”.
February 6, 2017: Seven people, including Green Party councillor Alison Teal, arrested at tree protest on Chippinghouse Road, Nether Edge.
March 15, 2017: After charges are dropped against arrested campaigners, South Yorkshire police and crime commissioner Alan Billings says tree protesters should no longer face arrest.
May 2017: Amey begins to employ ‘bouncers’ at the tree-felling operations.
June 2017: Sheffield Council threatens legal action against campaigners if they continue protests.
July 2017: Campaigners sent legal letter by Sheffield Council warning they could face prison unless they sign commitments promising not to take part in protests.
August 10, 2017: Environment Secretary Michael Gove calls on Sheffield Council to end tree-felling programme.
August 17, 2017: Following a High Court hearing in Leeds in July, Sheffield Council wins injunctions to prevent campaigners protesting by standing directly underneath threatened trees and says it will ‘accelerate’ tree-felling. The council claims it would face “catastrophic financial consequences” if the felling of 500 more trees is not completed by the end of the year.
August 25, 2017: Sheffield Council admits to The Yorkshire Post that the costs associated with tree protests should fall on Amey and not taxpayers.
September 22, 2017: Sheffield Council is revealed to be facing financial penalty running into millions of pounds over delays to the felling programme caused by the establishment of the Independent Tree Panel; whose recommendations to save trees has been largely overruled in most cases.
October 2017: Campaigner Calvin Payne convicted of breaching High Court protest injunction after parallel case against Green Party councillor Alison Teal is dropped. He later receives a suspended prison sentence and is ordered to pay £16,000 in legal costs to Sheffield Council.
December 4, 2017: Sheffield Council leader Julie Dore indicates Streets Ahead contract could be ended early if it is proved to be “financially viable to do so”.
January 19, 2018: Sheffield tree campaigners present new evidence which they believe shows there is grounds to end the contract for free. The idea is rejected by Sheffield Council.
January 25, 2018: Nine days after Amey announce ‘specially-trained stewarding team’ will be deployed to remove protesters from safety zones, tree-felling work in the city is “paused” after clashes between campaigners and Amey staff on Meersbrook Park Road.
February 23, 2018: Amey announce tree-felling work will restart with South Yorkshire Police providing ‘a higher level of police presence’.
March 5, 2018: After bad weather halts planned tree-felling work on Thornsett Road the preceding week, more than 30 police officers are in attendance as attempted tree-felling takes place on Abbeydale Park Rise. Protesters climb threatened trees and no felling takes place but one man is arrested and a woman injured, with numerous protesters handed court summons.
March 6, 2018: Former Sheffield Council leader and Liberal Democrat peer Lord Scriven writes to South Yorkshire Police chief constable Stephen Watson to demand answers over the force’s policy in relation to tree-felling operations.
March 8, 2018: Police make two more arrests at a tree-felling protest - the second by officers in riot gear who remove a campaigner crouching underneath a cherry picker
March 9, 2018: Pensioner in his 70s arrested for alleged ‘witness intimidation’ at a felling operation on Abbeydale Park Rise - campaigners claim it is part of efforts to put people off taking part in protests
March 10, 2018: Sheffield Council is forced to reveal target to remove 17,500 street trees under the terms of the contract following a year-long battle by campaigners for previously redacted parts of the deal to be made public.