Pensioners arrested over tree-felling stand-off
Published 17/11/2016 | 10:49
Two women aged 70 and 71 have been arrested after a stand-off with police over the controversial cutting-down of trees in a residential street before dawn.
Angry residents in Rustlings Road, Sheffield, were woken by contractors who, with police protection, had arrived to fell a number of trees using chainsaws.
A crowd of neighbours and members of Sheffield Tree Action Group (Stag) stood around the last tree to go.
Bob Hockey's 70-year-old wife Jenny, a retired university professor, is currently one of three people in police custody after a "peaceful" protest with another neighbour in their street.
The 72-year-old told the Press Association: "The police and contractors came and knocked on doors in the middle of the night at about 4.30am and asked people to move cars.
"Then some protesters went to intervene. There is not much we can do but she (Jenny) wanted to make a stand.
"She and another woman stood inside the ribbon around the tree. Then a young lad passing by jumped in and joined them.
"I don't blame the police. They are just doing their job.
"We have been protesting because the council is cutting down healthy trees and ignoring the advice of a panel they set up to advise them."
Sheffield Hallam Liberal Democrat MP Nick Clegg voiced his support for the campaigners, who condemned "pig-headed" Sheffield City Council for going ahead with "improvement" works.
He tweeted: "V. shocked to hear this morning about #Sheffieldtrees Council actions are unjustifiable, underhand and a waste of precious police resources."
One Stag member, Chris Rust, wrote on Facebook: "There was a very sneaky, small print road closure notice at each end of the road which enabled them to do this. By the time it was light eight trees were gone, three people arrested on their doorsteps, massive police presence."
Joe Otten, Lib Dem member at Sheffield City Council and opposition spokesman for environment, told the Press Association: "They are magnificent trees that improve our quality of life. Yes, there are a few cracks in the pavement and some of the trees will have to go as part of the upgrade package.
"They have the budget and programme and they are just going ahead with it. It's pig- headed.
"It is not necessary. They are just being stubborn about the way they go about it."
Stag chairman David Dillner, who is at the scene, took the controversial tree-felling programme to the High Court earlier this year but lost his case.
The retired actor complained that Sheffield City Council had not held a full consultation before launching the programme, and had failed to assess the environmental impact.
Council bosses had disputed Mr Dillner's allegations and in April a judge said the claim was "devoid of merit".
In a statement, Bryan Lodge, the council's cabinet member for the environment, said he stood by the decision to do the "vital" maintenance work.
Mr Lodge said: "For more than a year we have worked tirelessly with Amey and the local community to find the right solution for Rustlings Road. We have written to every home, brought in a new survey process for the entire city and set up an independent tree panel. Our approach has been assessed at the High Court on three occasions.
"We have made a final decision to increase the number of trees on Rustlings Road by almost 30%. We need to replace eight out of the 30 existing trees, but we will plant 17, which means the road is gaining an extra nine trees.
"We understand that this will be a difficult day for the tree campaigners, but this work is absolutely essential to ensure that Sheffield has healthy street trees for future generations.
"We carried out the work very early in the morning, on the advice of the police, to make sure it could be done safely. This isn't usually needed but in this case it was considered the best option for the safety of the public, protesters and the workers.
"I understand there are strong emotions about this but have to stand by the decision to do this vital maintenance work. We've got 36,000 street trees in Sheffield and this programme means that in years to come we'll have even more."
South Yorkshire Police confirmed that 12 officers "provided assistance at the request of the council".
A police spokesman said: "We have a small presence to ensure the safety of local residents and contractors whilst the work is carried out. Three people have been arrested on suspicion of preventing lawful work under Section 241 of the Trade Union and Relation Act 1992.
In a statement Mr Clegg added: "Whether you think the trees need to come down or not, the way the council have acted is inexcusable.
"Sheffield's Labour leaders have shown that they are willing to go to any lengths in their tree felling mission against the wishes of the community, using disproportionate and underhand tactics to get their own way.
"Relationships between residents and the council are already strained over this issue and this will only inflame tensions further."