Tree protests 'wasting millions of taxpayers' money', claims Sheffield councillor

A Sheffield city councillor has accused tree campaigners of wasting 'millions' of taxpayers' money.

Saturday, 4th March 2017, 4:31 pm
Updated Friday, 24th March 2017, 10:08 am
Amey operations director Darren Butt and Sheffield Council's cabinet member for environment Bryan Lodge

Coun Bryan Lodge criticised the regular protests against tree felling around the city, saying they were getting in the way of 'lawful' work.

Responding to questions from the public at Friday's budget-setting meeting, he denied that delays to the Streets Ahead programme were hitting private contractor Amey's profits.

Tree campaigner Helen McIlroy with fellow protestors Dr Simon Crump, Calvin Payne and Dave Dillner in Nether Edge in Sheffield. Picture Tony Johnson

The cabinet member for environment said instead that costs resulting from protests, injunctions, Freedom of Information requests and court cases were borne by the council, and therefore taxpayers.

And Coun Lodge said most city residents wanted the council to get on with tree replacement and road resurfacing.

"We anticipate the cost to the council and taxpayers will run into millions," he said. "That includes court costs, the cost of new crews coming in to bring work back up to speed.

"There are extra costs for dealing with rescheduling work.

Councillors set the 2017/18 budget.

"It's not Amey's profits, it's local taxpayers. On a day when we are here making very hard decisions it's very difficult to accept."

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Tree campaigner Helen McIlroy with fellow protestors Dr Simon Crump, Calvin Payne and Dave Dillner in Nether Edge in Sheffield. Picture Tony Johnson

Tree campaigner Calvin Payne - who was due to stand trial accused of obstructing the felling of a tree on Marden Road, Nether Edge, last November, before charges were dropped last week - asked Coun Lodge whether it was 'in the public interest' for someone to be 'arrested, detained and charged for something that doesn't seem to be a crime in the first place'.

Coun Lodge said it was for the police to talk about arrests.

He said the council supported people's right to peaceful protest, but it also had duties to repair the city's roads.

"The world has moved on and we are facing big costs to the council taxpayers through delays to this project," he said.

Councillors set the 2017/18 budget.

"I do support the right to peaceful protest. I recognise that right. I recognise that we have a duty to ensure people have that right. It was exercised when the Lib Dem conference came to Sheffield.

"But what we ask is protesters allow the council and Amey to conduct its lawful duties.

"The lawfulness has been tested in the High Court.

"We ask that protesters conduct themselves responsibly.

"The vast majority of the people of Sheffield are now starting to say 'this is costing money - get on with it'."

Coun Lodge rebuked an accusation that he had not read the Streets Ahead contract, saying he had seen the 'relevant' sections.

And council leader Julie Dore confirmed that she did not sign the contract herself.

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