Legal cost of action against protesters over tree-felling reaches £75,000

Sheffield City Council is seeking an extension to its injunction.

Tree felling in Sheffield
Tree felling in Sheffield

A legal bid to extend an injunction aimed at preventing protesters from stopping tree-felling in Sheffield has already cost a council around £75,000, a court has heard.

Sheffield City Council has applied to the High Court to extend its current injunction which has so far led to four demonstrators being given suspended jail sentences for breaching its terms.

The council also wants the injunction’s scope expanded to prevent protesters blocking tree-felling by methods it sees as against the spirit of the original order.

The legal action is part of the long-running controversy in Sheffield over the felling of street trees which has seen demonstrations, arrests and van loads of police deployed to some of the city’s leafiest suburbs.

Tree felling in Sheffield
Workers use an aerial platform to reach a tree on Rivelin Valley Road in Sheffield (Peter Byrne/PA)

The application was due to be made at a hearing in Sheffield on Wednesday but the day was taken up with behind-the-scenes discussions between lawyers.

The only time all the parties appeared before Judge Graham Robinson, barrister Owen Greenhall, representing three of the nine protesters named in the injunction in addition to “persons unknown”, asked the court to first determine whether his clients would be liable for the council’s legal costs of about £75,000.

But the case was adjourned until Thursday without any decisions being made.

The current injunction, which expires later this month, prohibits people entering safety zones erected around trees which are due to be felled.

It also prevents anyone from encouraging people else to enter the safety zones, including through social media.

The council is asking the court to extend the injunction until July 2021.

It also wants the definition of a “safety zone” to be changed to include structures like walls on private gardens, as well as temporary safety barriers.

Tree felling in Sheffield
The council wants the injunction extended to 2021 (Peter Byrne/PA)

This is intended to stop the protest tactic of geckoing, which involves protesters inserting themselves between barriers and walls.

The Sheffield trees dispute surrounds a 25-year, £2.2 billion private finance initiative agreement the council signed with Amey in 2012 for road maintenance, which includes responsibility for maintaining the city’s 36,000 street trees.

Around 6,000 trees have been felled so far and campaigners say the contract threatens a total of 17,500, a figure disputed by the council.

The felling is currently paused after a series of incidents saw 25 protesters arrested between January and March.

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