Crime commissioner Alan Billings has called on Sheffield Council to find a political resolution to the city’s bitter tree-felling dispute as South Yorkshire Police was accused of “a complete waste of resources” after deploying dozens of officers to oversee the latest work.
Sheffield Council contractor Amey wishes to remove 19 of the 65 cherry trees on Abbeydale Park Rise in the affluent suburb of Dore as part of a delayed highways maintenance contract that had been due to see the felling of around 6,000 trees by the end of last year, with saplings planted as replacements.
With some felling work still outstanding, the council and Amey say only dead, dying, diseased or dangerous trees are being removed but campaigners claim many of the removals involve healthy trees that do not need to be cut down, including those on Abbeydale Park Rise.
Nine of the trees on the street were removed last year but Amey staff, supported by “specially-trained stewards” and in attendance with around 30 police officers, returned to the road yesterday morning.
It is the second week since South Yorkshire Police announced it would have an increased presence at felling sites following clashes between campaigners and Amey security staff on Meersbrook Park Road which resulted in work being paused following “a number of injuries”.
Barriers were set up around three trees due to be removed yesterday but protesters went inside the safety zones and in some cases climbed the threatened trees in breach of a High Court injunction made last year making such demonstrations illegal.
Despite the heavy police presence, combined with more than 20 security guards employed by Amey, none of the trees were felled.
Russell Johnson, a member of the Sheffield Trees Action Groups, said the number of police officers in attendance was an “absolute waste of resources”. The trees on Abbeydale Park Rise are decorated each Christmas by residents to raise money for charity and Mr Johnson says their planned removal feels “vindictive” to campaigners.
Mr Johnson said he had counted 33 police officers on the road.
“There is a big question about the reputation of South Yorkshire Police being affected yet again,” he said. “How long can the police commissioner allow this level of policing resources to be used to achieve nothing?”
Dr Billings told The Yorkshire Post today: “My view remains as it always has been that this is not, or should not be, a dispute with the police. It is a matter between Sheffield City Council and some of its residents – a political matter. As such it should be resolved politically and I see no reason why it should not.”
He added: “The police response to tree felling in Sheffield has not changed. They must allow for peaceful protest on the one hand and enable people to go about their lawful business on the other. They must keep the peace and uphold law and order.
“The decision by Sheffield City Council to take out an injunction against the protesters has raised the temperature. Whilst the injunction is for Sheffield City Council to implement, not the police, I do expect the police to remember their responsibilities towards both protesters and contractors and respond proportionately. How many police are deployed at any time is an operational matter for the force. They will make a prudent judgement since an over-stretched force will not want to take officers from other duties unnecessarily.”
A spokesman for South Yorkshire Police said the number of officers in attendance at Abbeydale Park Rise yesterday was “standard procedure for operations of this nature.”
Amey says work is ‘essential’
Amey has said the felling work it is conducting has to be carried out.
A spokeswoman said: “Our work replacing street trees is essential, and so is the need to keep our staff and members of the public safe. Sadly, we need the help of specially trained stewards to keep our work area safe as a small minority of people continue to deliberately obstruct our lawful work.”