Sheffield Council has spent more than £400,000 pursuing legal action against anti tree-felling campaigners in the city, it has been revealed.
A Freedom of Information response to BBC Radio Sheffield said over £413,000 has been spent in relation to a series of legal proceedings connected to the Streets Ahead highways maintenance contract it has held with Amey since 2012.
The BBC reported that the council says it is due to get about £70,000 of the money back through reclaiming court costs from campaigners.
Thousands of street trees are being felled and replaced with saplings as part of the 25-year Streets Ahead project, which also involves upgrades to roads, pavements and street lights. Tree campaigners in the city argue many healthy trees have been felled unnecessarily.
The council has spent around £320,000 on barristers’ fees, as well as over £100,000 in fighting against an attempted judicial review into the legality of the programme in 2016. In March of that, a judge ruled that a request for a full judicial review was “devoid of merit”.
Further money has been spent in seeking a High Court injunction to ban protesters standing directly underneath threatened trees after the tactic was used successfully on hundreds of occasions by campaigners to prevent removals taking place. Sheffield Council was granted the injunction last summer and has subsequently taken a number of campaigners to court on committal proceedings for breaching the injunction.
Cabinet member for environment and street scene at Sheffield City Council, Councillor Lewis Dagnall said: “Members of the public have a legitimate right to challenge local authorities.
“Similarly, the council must act to ensure it can fulfil its statutory duty to maintain the highway and keep workers and members of the public safe at all times.”
Tree-felling work in the city has been on hold since March as Amey and the council review the way in which work is carried out. It follows a national outcry earlier this year at the use of dozens of police officers and private security guards to support operations in the wake of growing protests.
Chris Rust, from Sheffield Tree Action Groups, said the council has “spent a fortune” fighting unnecessary legal battles. “Tree campaigners want to help find solutions but we seem to spend more time defending ourselves against attacks from our elected council,” he said.
In June, it was revealed Sheffield Council had paid £700,000 in compensation to its highways maintenance contractor Amey for work delays caused by its decision to set up an independent panel to advise on its tree-felling strategy - whose expert recommendations to save trees were then mainly rejected.
A further £130,000 was also spent on the panel’s running costs. Last summer, it was revealed that where the panel had recommended trees were saved, the council rejected the advice on 223 occasions and accepted in only 73 cases.