Sheffield Council seeks to extend tree protest injunction for three years

Tree-felling in Sheffield is currently on hold.

Sheffield Council is seeking to extend a High Court injunction banning ‘direct action’ protests against the removal of trees for a further three years.

Letters have been served on 10 tree campaigners asking them to sign new undertakings not to breach the injunction by entering ‘safety zones’ around trees due to be felled.

The council won an injunction last year which attempts to stop protests where campaigners, who believe healthy trees are being removed unnecessarily, would stand directly under threatened trees to prevent them being felled - a tactic that had previously used on hundreds of occasions.

The injunction is due to expire on July 25. But the letters from the council’s assistant director of legal services Steve Eccleston, which were sent out on Thursday, state: “The council intends to make an application to the High Court, the effect of which would be to renew the injunction for a further three years.”

Those sent the new letters have been given until Thursday, June 28, to inform the council whether they will sign new undertakings. The letters state: “If you do provide such an undertaking, the council will not seek legal costs from you.”

Earlier this month, the council applied to commit four protesters - Simon Crump, Benoit Compin, Fran Grace and Paul Brooke - said to have breached the injunction to jail for contempt.

A judge found Crump, Compin and Grace of them had breached the injunction, with the first two receiving suspended prison sentences and no further action being taken against Grace.

But the case against Brooke was dismissed this week.

The three found to have breached the injunction are expected to face thousands in legal costs from Sheffield Council, with a ruling on this still to be made.

Councillor Lewis Dagnall, cabinet member for environment, said no further court cases are currently planned but the extension of the injunction is required to prevent the potential of future disruption. The felling programme has been on hold since March as a review takes place of the way it is carried out.

“We are meeting with and listening to residents and groups about how we can resolve the current situation regarding tree replacement works,” Coun Dagnall said.

“Most people we speak to are committed to engaging in constructive dialogue and to working together to find a solution. Our priority is to find a form of compromise from the council, the contractor and campaigners which will enable us to move forward.

“With the conclusion of the recent court cases, we have been informed that there are no further historical cases of breach of injunction that the council intends to bring forward. We clearly hope that as a result of compromise from all sides further cases will not arise and ultimately the council will not have to rely upon the court injunction.

“However, we also believe it is extremely important that front-line workers should be able to go about their work without any risk to their health and safety. The current injunction, which supports the council in discharging its highways maintenance duty and protects these workers by enforcing the safety zones around their work, is due to expire in July. It is clear that when we have not yet reached a compromise, and based on the evidence provided by the council officers, their recommendation is right that the council must renew the injunction at this stage.

“This action is taken in the sincere hope that efforts to reach a compromise will be successful, the terms of the injunction will be adhered to, and that in the future a court injunction will no longer be necessary.”

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