Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn is backing calls for controversial tree-felling work in Sheffield to be paused, The Yorkshire Post understands.
Mr Corbyn is yet to speak publicly on the row between the city’s Labour-led council and campaigners over the felling of thousands of street trees under a £2.2bn PFI highways maintenance deal despite 12,000 people signing a petition urging him to intervene.
But The Yorkshire Post understands Mr Corbyn supports his shadow Environment Secretary Sue Hayman’s recent call for the work to be put on hold. She has offered to mediate in discussions between the council and protesters.
It comes as political pressure mounts on the council, with Environment Secretary Michael Gove warning today of potential Government intervention. Earlier this month, a year-long Freedom of Information battle resulted in Sheffield Council revealing its contract with private firm Amey contains a target to fell 17,500 of the city's 36,000 street trees and replace them with saplings.
In recent weeks, dozens of police and security guards have been attending felling operations, with 16 arrests made - including one incident where a woman was arrested for blowing a horn.
One man has been charged with obstruction of the highway and will appear in court next month.
Three Sheffield MPs - Labour’s Louise Haigh and Paul Blomfield, as well as Jared O’Mara, who is currently suspended from the party - have all called on the council to put the work on hold.
Environment Secretary Michael Gove told the BBC on Friday that the council was committing “environmental vandalism” and when asked if the Government would step in to help pay contract termination penalties, Mr Gove replied: “We will make sure that we will do anything that is required in order to stop this.”
Sheffield Council cabinet member for environment Bryan Lodge said Mr Gove’s comments were “uninformed” and “the majority of the people in our city want the work to go ahead”.
In a statement posted on her website, Labour’s shadow environment secretary Sue Hayman said she was keeping Jeremy Corbyn’s office up to date with developments after speaking to Sheffield MPs and the council on the issue.
She said: “Due to the importance of this issue, I have kept the Labour Leader’s office informed of progress.
“I have had conversations separately with Cabinet Member Cllr Bryan Lodge and Leader of the Council Cllr Julie Dore to discuss concerns in relation to the tree felling. My concerns have been followed up formally in a letter where I have also reiterated my offer of assistance in mediating the situation between protesters and the council to try and find a way through.
“Nobody wants to see much loved, healthy trees felled. Despite the fact that more trees will be planted by the end of the works than will be removed, I have urged Sheffield Council to exhaust all alternative options to felling the remaining trees and to fully acknowledge the environmental and community significance that these trees have.
“My formal offer to help mediate the situation and my request for Sheffield to pause the works to explore other options still stands. Practical solutions and sensible dialogue are what is needed, not jumping on political bandwagons and throwing fuel on the fire as we have seen from Michael Gove.
“I will endeavour to provide updates on this matter and continue to offer my support in finding a way through the current situation in Sheffield.”
The Sheffield Tree Action Groups, made up of campaigners across the city, have written to her to request a meeting.
The council is yet to respond to The Yorkshire Post in relation to Sue Hayman's comments.
Council says work is 'supported by majority'
The councillor in charge of the contentious tree-felling policy has claimed that the Streets Ahead highways improvement contract “is delivering what the people of Sheffield want”.
Coun Bryan Lodge said the PFI model for the contract was introduced at the Government’s insistence and tree replacement work is being carried out “to future-proof our green credentials”.
He added he believes the majority of people in Sheffield support the council.
“We remain confident that the contract is delivering what the people of Sheffield want. Satisfaction with the condition of the city’s roads, has doubled in the last ten years.”