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Sheffield City Council v Fairhall and others [2017] EWHC 2121 (QB)

DATE: 15 Aug 2017

This case involved the long-running stand-off between Sheffield City Council and tree campaigners as to the Council’s decision to remove, and replace, a large number of trees from its highways.

As part of its Streets Ahead programme, the council had sought, since 2012, to fell approximately 6,000 trees - deemed dead, dying, decaying, dangerous, damaging or discriminatory – on its highways. This was funded by way of a PFI contract with Amey Hallam Highways Ltd. A challenge to the lawfulness of the programme was rejected by Gilbart J in R (Dillner) v Sheffield City Council [2016] EWHC 945 on 27 April 2016.

Notwithstanding this, opposition continued in the form of “Direct Action”. This amounted to standing underneath trees (often a single person), within a safety zone demarcated by barriers, with the effect that work had to be stopped for safety reasons. By way of example, 427 tree fells were attempted in June 2017, 329 of which had to be abandoned due to Direct Action. There are approximately 1,000 trees remaining to be felled.

Sheffield City Council brought a claim, seeking to restrain a number of named persons as well as persons unknown from carrying out the Direct Action.

By a judgment handed down on 15 August 2017, Males J granted injunctions against three of the named defendants (Alison Teal, David Dillner and Calvin Payne), with the other six named defendants already having given undertakings to the Court that they would not continue with the Direct Action. An injunction was also granted against persons unknown.

Males J's reasoning was as follows:

(a) The Council’s decision to remove the trees was made lawfully pursuant to its statutory duty to maintain the highway, under s41 of the Highways Act 1980. It was for the Council to decide how to carry out this duty (§§51-52 and §§62-63);

(b) The Defendants’ submission that the PFI contract constituted profiteering from Amey and cost saving by the Council was not supported by coherent legal analysis; obviously Amey would hope and expect to make a profit and the Council was entitled and sometimes obliged to cut costs (§§55-57);

(c) Those carrying out Direct Action were committing a trespass; it was a criminal offence contrary to the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984 and s303 of the Highways Act 1980 (§§67-69);

(d) Articles 10 and 11 ECHR were engaged, particularly in light of the importance of the location of the Defendants’ peaceful protest (§79);

(e) Nonetheless, the restriction of Articles 10 and 11 ECHR in this case were justified. Bearing in mind the factors in City of London Corporation v Samede: the interference with the property rights of the Council was substantial; the road maintenance programme – decided upon by the democratically accountable statutory body – was being significantly disrupted; there was material interference with the rights of members of the public supporting the Council’s position; and, there had now been extensive debate about the issues (§§89-91).

David Forsdick QC and Yaaser Vanderman appeared for Sheffield City Council. 

A copy of the judgment can be found here. Press coverage can be found in the BBC, the Times and the Guardian