‘The biggest victim was trust’: Sheffield tree campaigners demand exoneration and change

Sheffield tree campaigners have demanded to be exonerated at a special meeting to address the damning findings of the inquiry into the street tree fiasco.

Tree protester Calvin Payne was dealt a suspended jail sentence for breaching an order – obtained by Sheffield Council – banning people from trying to prevent tree felling. He was also ordered to pay the council £16,000 in costs.

He is one of several campaigners arrested for trying to protect thousands of trees from being unnecessarily killed by Sheffield Council. During the extraordinary full meeting he said the court action still affected those involved.

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He said: “I don’t think there is anything about the last seven years that says if you hide and put things into the long grass and keep things quiet and hope they go away that it works.

The extraordinary general meeting of Sheffield CouncilThe extraordinary general meeting of Sheffield Council
The extraordinary general meeting of Sheffield Council

“I want one simple thing, personally, I don’t want sorry, I want to be exonerated. I want the new leader of the council, the chief executive, the head of legal and governance to publicly exonerate me and others and say not only did I not do anything wrong, but I stood up to wrong and if those of us that did so hadn’t done so, that wrong would have been greater. More trees would have been felled, this council would have been in a worse position now.

“Our behaviour wasn’t something embarrassing to be hidden away somewhere, this city is a better place for our actions.”

Sir Mark Lowcock’s long-awaited report – which was commissioned as part of a power sharing deal between Labour and the Green Party when the former lost control of the council – sought “truth and reconciliation” following the infamous Streets Ahead programme that aimed to fell 17,500 street trees as part of a £2.2 billion contract between the council and Amey.

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The report showed the council overstretched its authority in taking drastic action against campaigners, had serious and sustained failures in leadership and misled the public, courts and an independent panel it set up to deal with the dispute.

The council passed a motion committing itself to implementing Sir Mark’s recommendations and installing a plaque to honour campaigners who fought to save the trees in the entrance to the Town Hall.

Earlier this year, the council said all financial claims against campaigners relating to the dispute would be dropped and those who already paid would be reimbursed.