Sheffield tree campaigner to fight on despite High Court loss

A SHEFFIELD tree campaigner has said he will appeal a High Court ruling that dismissed his hopes for a judicial review on council plans to fell thousands of trees.

Tree campaigner Dave Dillner

Dave Dillner said he “felt forced” to take Sheffield Council to court to try and save mature and healthy trees from the axe.

But sitting at the High Court, Mr Justice Andrew Gilbart said Mr Dillner’s claim had been “devoid of merit”.

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Sheffield Council said they were “pleased” with the court’s ruling and would continue to listen to residents’ concerns about the felling policy, which came under scrutiny as part of the council’s road improvement PFI contract, Streets Ahead, with Amey.

During the long-running battle, campaigners said no cost benefit analysis had been done for the felling.

Speaking after the hearing, Mr Dillner, of Heeley, said: “I am extremely disappointed with the court’s decision to refuse permission and the decision to dismiss my claim to protect the trees of Sheffield due to the budget implications for the PFI contract and the council.

“The judge was fundamentally wrong to view this case through the prism of finance and any increase in the council’s costs – it is about fundamental fairness through public engagement and environmental protection for the trees of Sheffield, which are a great environmental asset.

“My legal team does not accept the strident criticism in the judgment and will be appealing the decision to the Court of Appeal before the end of the week on the basis the judge erred as matter of law on the grounds raised in the claimant’s case.”

The judge ordered Mr Dillner should pay £5,000 towards the legal costs run up by the council – as well as his own legal bills.

Sheffield Council say the programme is essential if street trees are to be managed for future generations, and that the trees scheduled for felling are dying or diseased, or pose dangers.

Simon Green, executive director for place at Sheffield Council, said: “What this programme has always been about has been upgrades to the city’s highways network, including protecting our tree stock for the long term ensuring we have decent roads and healthy trees for the future. We will now get on with the job of doing this.

“The judgement reinforces our legal duty to keep the highway in good repair, pointing out that failure to do so would inevitably result in injuries and legal claims.

“The decision demonstrates that we have been right to say we are following best practice guidance and working hard in the best interests of the city. While the court is clear that the council’s current programme of consultation is sufficient, we remain committed to listening to the residents of the city.”

Mr Justice Gilbart said his job had been to determine the legal merits of Mr Dillner’s High Court action.

“The court is neither an elected politician making policy decisions, nor an arboriculturalist or highway engineer,” he said.

“Nothing in this judgment is to be read as criticising the residents of Sheffield for seeking to protect the trees in their streets and roads, whose presence many of them appreciate so much.

“It may be that those who will be disappointed by the terms of this judgment will want to see a different legislative regime in place. That is a matter for Parliament and not for this court.”