‘Shameless’ Sheffield Council just tried to trample over basic civil rights

Sheffield City Council logo with shameless written over it
Steve Topple

Angry campaigners and residents have branded Sheffield City Council “arrogant” and “shameless” as a further, staggering development in the ongoing tree-felling saga has come to light.

The tree felling programme

Labour-led Sheffield City Council and its contractor Amey are chopping down public trees in the city. Local residents aren’t happy because of the environmental impact, the “Thatcherite anti-union” behaviour of the Labour council, and public health concerns. But the council argues that the work is necessary to “avoid catastrophic financial consequences”.

As The Canary has been documenting, people have been campaigning against the felling of trees. On 15 August 2017, following a court case it brought against three campaigners, the council said that anyone who tried to protest “inside a safety zone” around the tree felling area would be in contempt of court and “face the risk of a fine or imprisonment”.

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But the rules surrounding these “safety zones” went to extremes recently.

Extreme measures?

At some point in July, Sheffield City Council updated its ‘tree works’ webpage. It included a new rule: that any resident wanting to access their property via a safety zone “may be asked to provide identification in order to prevent unlawful trespass”:

Providing ID - Sheffield Council screenshot

As academic Jennifer Saul noted on 10 July:

By long tradition, people in the United Kingdom are not required to carry identification with them – what will happen when someone returns home from the shops to find barriers around their house? And what of children, carers, friends, cat sitters? The council does not seem to care. (Nor do they seem to care that preventing access to a property to any pedestrian, not just a resident, is against the Road Traffic Regulation Act, Section 14 (4).)

The new rule was met with anger from human rights campaign group Liberty:

But as promptly as Saul wrote an article on the new rules and Liberty tweeted its criticisms, the council deleted the webpage. A cached version is available here.

The council says…

A Sheffield City Council spokesperson told The Canary:

The Council often has to close parts of the highway to complete essential work safely and efficiently. During these closures, people have a right to access their properties, and highway workers will facilitate this for residents.

It isn’t a requirement to produce ID; we don’t believe this has happened in practice and the notice was posted in error.

As part of the pause in tree replacement, we’re reviewing procedures and the information provided on the website. In due course we will update the Streets Ahead webpages with further information.

The Green Party says… 

But the council has once again not impressed Green Party councillor Alison Teal. She told The Canary:

Sheffield’s Labour Administration employs shameless methods to stymie residents’ rights to oppose the council’s tree felling. They’re assuming a position that they hold absolute power over the city. How else can we explain their illegitimate attempt to deceive residents into thinking they have to provide documented evidence of their address to gain access to their own homes? They must be held accountable for this fraudulent abuse of power.

I do not believe the council’s claim that the website advice regarding IDs was made in error. They are attempting to cover up their shockingly blasé approach to perverting our rights.

Sheffield Council: an “arrogant abuse of power”

Local resident Justin told The Canary:

I was appalled but, given the climate in Sheffield, not shocked that the Council published this legally unfounded threat to its residents. They have persistently and deliberately misled the public and even South Yorkshire Police, in connection with Amey’s PFI contract.

This is yet another example of their arrogant abuse of power and their use of hideous and highly dubious tactics in intimidating residents of Sheffield. Even if the Council’s proposal to demand ID was legal, who was going to police it? Amey’s employees?

I’m delighted that Liberty intervened and shamed the Council, forcing them to remove their intimidating statement from their website. Little wonder that, whatever Sheffield City Council does in connection with Amey’s PFI contract, it is viewed with the utmost suspicion.

This latest twist in the ongoing Sheffield trees saga will just add more weight to campaigners’ arguments that the council’s actions are “reckless” and unnecessary.

Get Involved!

– Read more of The Canary‘s coverage on the Sheffield trees saga.

Featured image via Sheffield City Council – screengrab [altered]

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