Mr Gove visited the city on Wednesday to see for himself the impact of the tree removal which has prompted vociferous protests from residents and environmental groups.
He likened the tree-cutting programme to “pulling the teeth from a friend’s familiar smile”.The minister talked with campaigners, including Green councillor Alison Teal and two pensioners arrested while trying to protect trees last year, at a meeting chaired by James Mitchinson, editor of The Yorkshire Post, before visiting the council.
Mr Gove said he hoped a “decent conversation” with Sheffield City Council would help identify different approaches.
He told The Yorkshire Post: “It is also the case that we will explore what legal or policy avenues we have.
“In some respects time is marching on and with every week that passes more trees are designated for felling but I’ve asked the [Department for the Environment Food and Rural Affairs) lawyers and policy officials to let me know what we can do either now or in the future to cause the council to pause, think again and go down a different route.”
Mr Gove was told of campaigners’ frustration at the council’s approach to the issue which has seen injunctions granted to limit their ability to protest and a resistance to considering alternatives to cutting down.
Mr Gove said: “Having listened to people who have been on the frontline, it seems to me clear that the council has no adequate defence for continuing to cut down trees in the way that it has been.
“Sheffield is losing, we are losing, an amazingly valuable natural resource and the justification for it seems as flimsy as an autumn leaf.
“The idea that because tree roots might potentially cause a kerbstone here to be slightly out of alignment or might theoretically pose a risk to someone’s mobility and therefore that justifies felling trees that have been here for generations is bonkers.
“What the council should be doing I think is trying to work with the contractor, Amey, to find different solutions rather than cutting down trees.”
Coun Bryan Lodge, Sheffield City Council’s executive member for the environment, welcomed Mr Gove’s visit and stressed the Government was helping to fund the Streets Ahead scheme.
He said: “Over 65,000 trees have been planted across Sheffield in the last three years, including those planted as part of the Streets Ahead contract and those in parks and woodlands included in the Council’s community forestry programme.
“We are incredibly proud of our green heritage which is why we are taking steps now, to ensure a well-managed and increased tree stock for years to come.
“We hope that following his visit, Michael Gove will now have a more informed understanding of the work we are doing, in partnership with his government on the Streets Ahead programme, which will transform our roads and pavements and ensure long-term benefits for the people of Sheffield.”