Sheffield Council is taking legal action against eight campaigners, including one of its own councillors, in a bid to prevent them from participating in future protests against the removal of trees from the city’s streets.
If the injunctions are granted, those involved would be barred from “direct action” and could be chased for damages or even face the prospect of jail should they disobey. The council claims such draconian action is a last resort after months of disruption to the felling programme, with protesters’ tactics including standing directly under trees scheduled for removal.
Thousands of trees are being removed as part of a 25-year £2bn highway maintenance programme based on a controversial PFI contract signed with contractor Amey in 2012.
While the council insist only trees that are dead, dying, diseased or dangerous are being removed and then replaced, protesters argue with equal conviction that many do not need to be chopped down and the work is being carried out as a cost-cutting exercise.
The seemingly intractable situation has already resulted in numerous arrests, including of pensioners, with cases subsequently dropped by the CPS. The outcome of this latest court battle may well set a precedent for how councils deal with those who protest against their policies and as such, is one we should all watch with interest and concern.