Amey and Sheffield City Council must resolve tree felling disputes, the South Yorkshire Police (SYP) commissioner has said, after an independent report found they were “dependent” on the force’s involvement to carry out work.
Protests erupted over the felling of street trees in the city – part of the £2.2bn Streets Ahead highways maintenance contract – to improve the roads in Sheffield, which had been nicknamed ‘‘pothole city’’.
The council said only trees which are dangerous, dead, diseased, dying, damaging footpaths or properties, or ”discriminatory” – for example by obstructing wheelchair users – would be felled under the programme.
The felled trees will be replaced at the same spot or nearby, however campaigners against the felling believe trees are being unnecessarily cut down.
Advisory Panel on Policing Protests chairman Andrew Lockley said: “The conclusion we have drawn is that Sheffield City Council, and its contractors Amey, have become dependent on the heightened level of SYP involvement, to carry out the tree-felling programme.
“Policing is paid for from the public purse; we are confident that SYP would not choose to spend its limited budget to police the trees protests, as whilst resources are being expended on tree protests, they are clearly unavailable elsewhere.”
The turning point in the Streets Ahead saga came on 22 January when Amey’s security team used force to remove protestors from inside a safety zone, and in the process a security guard’s wrist was broken, the report said. A police investigation into the situation is ongoing.
Police implemented Operation Quito on 26 February and officer involvement was stepped up. Local newspaper reports at the time said more than 30 police officers attended one protest. The felling programme was paused in March and there is no indication yet of when or how it might resume.
South Yorkshire police and crime commissioner Alan Billings said: “I am hopeful that Sheffield City Council and Amey will find a way forward that will not result in the type of protest that we saw in the first few months of this year.
“When the programme does resume I will seek to engage with Sheffield City Council to ensure that the policing of protests can be as low key as possible, to ensure South Yorkshire Police resources can be used to better effect elsewhere.”
The report says: “There is no escape from the conclusion that Amey would not be able to fulfil its contract without a police presence.”
The police were left “in the eye of the storm” as the council withdrew from public engagement says the report. The report adds: “It will have appeared…that Sheffield City Council had simply washed its hands of the issue and left Amey to it and the police on the front line of enforcement as a result of its positive obligation to uphold the right to carry on lawful activity.”
An Amey spokesman said it welcomed the report and its top priority is to keep the public and staff safe. “We are continuing to work closely with the council to decide the next steps so we can deliver the many benefits of an improved highways network for the people of Sheffield without the need for further police involvement,” he said.
Sheffield City Council environment and street scene cabinet member councillor Lewis Dagnall said: “Whilst operational decisions regarding policing are rightly a matter for South Yorkshire Police, the report to the Commissioner also presents suggestions for improving engagement between the Police and the council.
“We will consider these seriously, and I will now look to meet with the Commissioner to further discuss the findings of the report and update him on our progress towards reaching a compromise.
“It’s our sincere hope that achieving a compromise will mean further police involvement proves unnecessary when work recommences, as noted in the report. I am continuing to meet with residents and stakeholders to listen to their views, and I remain confident that a compromise from all sides will enable us to move forward as a city.”
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