Sheffield protesters considering next move after losing tree-felling High Court battle

What now for the Sheffield tree protesters?
What now for the Sheffield tree protesters?
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Protesters trying to halt a "politically controversial" street tree-felling programme in Sheffield say they are considering their next move after losing a High Court fight with council bosses.

They said Sheffield City Council had spent more than £400,000 of taxpayers' money opposing a street tree campaign but had not engaged in "constructive discussion".

Sheffield Green Party members said they were dismayed.

One party member estimated £100,000 of public money had been spent on legal action.

A judge has made orders stopping people taking "unlawful direct action" preventing the "lawful" felling of roadside trees.

Mr Justice Males analysed evidence at a trial in Leeds in July and handed down a ruling in London on Tuesday.

Council wins court battle to stop protesters delaying Sheffield tree-felling

A spokesman for Sheffield Tree Action Groups (Stag), which has been at the centre of opposition, said members were determined to do all they could to save remaining healthy trees which had been condemned.

He said: "Mr Justice Males has ruled in favour of Sheffield City Council's attempt to impose trespass laws on tree protests.

"Defendants are taking advice on their next steps.

"The city council have now spent over £400,000 of public money... to oppose the street tree campaign, but, as was stated in court, they have never once engaged in a constructive discussion with Stag."

He added: "Stag and its member groups now have more supporters than ever and we are determined to do everything we can to save the remaining healthy trees."

A Sheffield Green Party spokesman said: "Sheffield Greens are very disappointed that today the High Court ruled in favour of granting an injunction aimed at preventing peaceful protesting against the council's tree felling programme."

Sheffield council had asked for orders barring three named people, including one of its own Green Party councillors, and ''persons unknown'' from ''continuing to take unlawful direct action" or from encouraging others to direct action.

The three named people were: councillor Alison Teal, David Dillner and Calvin Payne.

Mr Justice Males said the council was entitled to the injunctions sought.

Ms Teal vowed to continue opposing the council's plans and "expressed dismay at the council's heavy handed and unnecessarily aggressive tactics".

"I am very disappointed with this outcome, but will continue to do all that I can to save Sheffield trees," she said.

"Sheffield Greens will not stop standing up for residents and communities who do not want this disastrous and unpopular tree felling programme to go on.

"I would like to thank my legal team for their excellent work, and for all the messages of support I have received.

"In the short term, we will of course be looking into possible avenues of appeal against this decision.

"It never had to come to this.

"The council say that this action was a 'last resort', but in truth they have wasted time and taxpayers' money on this needless, aggressive action when all they had to do was acknowledge residents' concerns and to mediate with us.

"In this, the case of Sheffield City Council vs The People, it is democracy and the residents of Sheffield who have lost.

"This decision by the High Court is very worrying, as the right to peaceful protest has been fundamentally threatened.

"The council's disastrous and unpopular tree felling programme continues to be a story of national and international embarrassment for our city."

The tree-felling programme has been criticised by former deputy prime minister Nick Clegg, when he was a Sheffield Lib Dem MP, and Conservative Environment Secretary Michael Gove.

Council bosses say the programme is essential if Sheffield's 36,000 street trees are to be managed for future generations.

They say trees earmarked for felling are dying or diseased, or pose dangers.

But protesters disagree and regular protests have been staged as contractors have removed hundreds of roadside trees.

Mr Justice Males emphasised his ruling dealt "solely with the legal question" of whether the council was "entitled" to injunctions.

"I express no view, one way or the other, as to the merits of the council's tree-felling programme or the objectors' campaign," he added.

"Those are social and environmental questions which are politically controversial and can only be resolved in a political forum.

"They are not a matter for this court."

He said the council had sought particular orders.

"In this action the claimant council seeks an injunction which it hopes will bring to an end a campaign whereby objectors, notified by social media that felling work is about to take place in a given location, attend at the site and, by their presence within a safety zone erected around a tree, ensure that the work cannot be carried out safely and therefore cannot be carried out at all," he said.

"The council does not seek to prevent further protests about its approach to the issue of tree felling, provided that such protests take place outside safety zones, but the objectors say that such protests would have little point as they would not prevent the felling of the trees in question."

He said the council was entitled to the orders it sought.

The judge said the three named people must not:

* Enter any safety zone erected around any tree within a specific area.

* Seek to prevent the erection of any safety zone.

* Remain in any safety zone after it is erected

* Knowingly leave any vehicle in any safety zone or intentionally place a vehicle in a position so as to prevent the erection of a safety zone.

He said the trio should not encourage others to make similar moves.

The judge made an identical order against "persons unknown".

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