Conference call

Fencing being erected around Sheffield City hall
Fencing being erected around Sheffield City hall

THE barricades are up, around 1,000 police are being mobilised, between 2,000 and 3,000 delegates are on their way and up to 10,000 demonstrators are expected.

Sheffield takes political centre stage this weekend as the Liberal Democrat spring conference is held at the City Hall.

It was organised before the General Election - before Hallam Liberal Democrat MP Nick Clegg became Deputy Prime Minister in a coalition government with the Conservatives and before he stepped into minefields such as the raising of university tuition fees locally and the loan to Sheffield Forgemasters locally.

Protesters are promising a large and noisy but peaceful show of opposition from behind the mesh fence that has been erected around the City Hall, with Saturday due to be the main focalpoint. Demonstrators are meeting at Devonshire Green from 11am.

The conference is expected to generate £2.5m for the local economy in the form of hotel bookings and spending in shops, restaurants and other businesses. It will certainly raise Sheffield’s profile.

On the other side of the equation is the cost of the policing operation - anything up to £2m - and the fears of some shopkeepers that trade will be hit as their usual customers steer clear of the chaos.

Buses are being diverted and parking on some side streets is being suspended. The Barclays Bank at the corner with Pinstone Street will be closed for the day.

Pressure is on South Yorkshire Police from the highest levels to balance the safety of delegates, businesses and the public with the right to peaceful protest.

The local force says it expects demonstrations to be peaceful, but is planning for all eventualities. P

olice from neighbouring districts are being drafted in, and there will be officers on motorcycles, bikes, on horseback as well as on foot. The force helicopter will be on standby.

A commitment is being given to try to avoid the type of ‘kettling’, or containment, operation that proved controversial during protests in London. It is regarded as a last resort, with contingencies to allow non-protesters to get away.

Several protest groups have approached the police and negotiations are being finalised on their march routes through the city, both tomorrow and on Saturday.

Inside the City Hall, the atmosphere could also be heated as grass roots Lib Dems get the chance to grill senior members, including Nick Clegg, who will close the conference with a speech on Sunday.

Business, Innovation and Skills Secretary Vince Cable will take part in a question and answer session on Saturday.

Minister Vince Cable