Nazia Parveen North of England correspondent
Thursday 8 December 2016 09.45 GMT
Photograph: Gary Calton for the Observer
Sadness in Rustlings Road, Sheffield, where the contractor Amey felled a number of tree before dawn.
Sheffield council leader ignores calls to resign over 5am tree felling operation
Campaigners in Sheffield say 4,000 trees have gone since private finance deal was signed with contractor Amey in 2012
A council leader has ignored calls to resign over a pre-dawn tree-felling operation in which five people were arrested. Simon Crump and Calvin Payne were detained in the battle over Sheffield’s tree-felling programme.
Campaigners say 4,000 trees across the city have been chopped down since a 25-year private finance initiative (PFI) deal with the private contractor Amey was signed in 2012. The deal to maintain the city’s roads and pavements is said to be transforming Sheffield’s roads “from some of the worst in the country to the best”.
This month two women in their 70s spent eight hours in a police cell after they staged a similar demonstration to prevent trees on their road being chopped down. At a heated council meeting on Wednesday night, the Labour leader, Julie Dore, did not speak in response to a motion by the Liberal Democrat Joe Otten calling for her to go. Otten also called for the resignation of Bryan Lodge, cabinet member for the environment, over the events in Rustlings Road on 17 November.
Campaigners said residents were woken at 5am to move their cars ahead of eight trees being chopped down in Rustlings Road as council contractors took part in a “secretly planned” operation, backed by police officers. The council subsequently apologised for the way the operation was handled and promised that future tree removals would not take place before 7am.
At the council meeting in Sheffield town hall on Wednesday, Otten said an apology was not enough. Lodge responded by accusing the Liberal Democrat group of hypocrisy on the issue, claiming “trees were being felled across the city on a regular basis with no consultation with residents” when they controlled the local authority.
Dore did not make a speech in relation to the motion and left the chamber for part of the debate on it, returning for the vote, which rejected it.
Shaffaq Mohammed, leader of the Liberal Democrat group, said: “I expected her to be involved in this debate. This was the chance to look people in the eye and say: ‘We are sorry.’”
Meanwhile, Dore said in an earlier meeting that she would be reporting the Sheffield Hallam MP Nick Clegg to the Parliamentary Standards Board over “out of order” comments she claims he made about her denying responsibility.
“I have never said the decision on Rustlings Road was taken out of our hands,” she said.
Before the council meeting, around 100 protesters gathered outside the town hall chanting “save our trees”, with dozens packing out the public gallery during the meeting.