Leeds councillor hits out at police for not moving Extinction Rebellion protesters off Victoria Bridge

A senior Leeds Conservative councillor has criticised both Leeds City Council and West Yorkshire Police for “tolerating” this week’s protests by environmental campaign group Extinction Rebellion.

A councillor believes more could have been done to move protesters.

Coun Paul Wadsworth, who acts as the opposition group’s spokesperson for the environment said he was “disappointed” that the protest, which closed Bridge Street to traffic all week, was not moved to a space in the city centre where traffic wouldn’t be disrupted.

The council and police hit back, claiming they were protecting the rights of individuals to protest, and that proper measures were taken to keep disruption to a minimum.

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It follows five days of protests, as campaigners camped out on Victoria Bridge, blocking traffic on Bridgewater Place and Sovereign Street junction.

A councillor believes more could have been done to move protesters.

Coun Wadsworth said he supported the council’s introduction of a climate emergency earlier this year, but added: “It is disappointing that the council and police appear to have tolerated this protest and not attempted to move it along to a more suitable space in the city centre, where it does not disrupt traffic and people’s daily lives – is this an ‘event’ or is it a protest?

“We should all be working together on this agenda and I am not sure that this is the best way of persuading people to get on board with it – protecting the environment is crucial for all of us but stopping people getting to work and causing queuing traffic is more likely to enrage people than engage people.”

He also suggested that the protest may have caused more environmental harm than good, stating: “Protecting our communities and the environment from climate change and taking a lead on delivering a more sustainable society is absolutely what the council should be doing. We do not disagree with the protestors on that.

“However, I am not sure that disrupting the city centre for a week and potentially stopping people accessing their place of work is the best way to do it – how much additional carbon has been produced as a result of idling cars as they wait to get into Leeds?”

West Yorkshire Police Assistant Chief Constable Tim Kingsman said: “We appreciate the protest this week has caused some limited disruption in the city.

“We have worked tirelessly with partner agencies to effectively manage people’s right to protest as specified under the Human Rights Act, balanced with the rights and freedoms of others to go about their business.”

Meanwhile, Leeds City Council said it had struck “the right balance” in its response to the protest.

A spokesperson for the authority said: “The council worked successfully in partnership with the police to balance the right to peaceful protest with the aim of minimising disruption to people’s day to day lives.

“Diversion routes were swiftly put in place so that buses continued to run and the approach taken saw less disruption in Leeds than in some of the other cities where protests were held over the last week.”

The protests finished this morning, and the roads have now been reopened to traffic.