The new politician in charge of Sheffield’s controversial tree-felling programme has rejected calls to drop legal action to extend a civil injunction against protesters for a further three years - claiming doing so would be “gesture” politics.
Lewis Dagnall, cabinet member for environment at the Labour-run Sheffield City Council, said he was still trying to find a “reasonable way forward” with local residents as a review of the way felling operations are carried out continues.
It comes ahead of a two-day hearing in Sheffield next week where the council is applying to have a civil injunction banning ‘direct action’ protests against tree-felling extended for a further three years.
Coun Dagnall was speaking at a council meeting in response to a motion by Liberal Democrat Adam Hanrahan to “extend an olive branch” to campaigners by ending the attempt to extend the scope of the injunction and the time it will apply for.
He said: “I was never going to resolve this in seven weeks. I was asked why I didn’t drop the injunctions as a gesture. I’m not interested in gestures. I’m meeting residents through the summer where we can find a reasonable way forward.”
The meeting on Wednesday was the first time the council had met since the council applied to send four tree protesters to prison for contempt for allegedly breaching the injunction.
Although judge Justice Males found three of the accused had breached the injunction, two were given suspended prison sentences, with no further action being taken against the third. However, they are all expected to face legal costs running into thousands of pounds.
The original injunction was granted to Sheffield Council for 12 months last summer in the wake of growing protests about the removal of thousands of street trees in the city and their replacement with saplings. It prevents people entering safety zones set up around trees being felled and also forbids people encouraging or facilitating anyone else to break the injunction, including through social media.
Sheffield Council sought the injunction after campaigners prevented hundreds of trees from being removed by standing directly under those due to be felled. The tree-felling work is being carried out as part of a £2.2bn highways maintenance contract with Amey, which also involves work on roads, pavements and street lights.
Operations were put on hold in March following a national outcry against the policy and the use of dozens of police officers and security guards in supporting felling work. Coun Dagnall took up the cabinet post in May with a promise to find a “compromise” on the issue with campaigners.
Coun Hanrahan told the council meeting: “This is about collaboration and it is about compromise. It’s about working with those citizens who are not happy with the current position. We need to come to a compromise where the council isn’t a rock. It’s about going out there and engaging with people, and not just listening to them but also answering their questions.”
Green councillor Alison Teal, who was cleared of breaching the injunction herself last year, said: “Sheffield is a national example of how not to manage a public disagreement and how not to run a public consultation process. This isn’t collaborative because you are not including other political parties.”
Members of the council agreed by a majority vote a motion to adopt a more collaborative approach to the issue.