THE leadership of Sheffield City Council can consider itself very fortunate that the authority will not face further censure over its tree-felling policy – and a total disregard for public attitudes towards the environment.
Yet, while many will be disappointed by this, the Forestry Commission’s findings vindicate the tree campaigners and the efforts of The Yorkshire Post in exposing one of local government’s more shameful scandals.
And the conclusions also justify the proactive stance taken by Michael Gove, the Environment Secretary, who took this issue seriously – and visited Sheffield – from the moment that he was asked by this newspaper to intervene.
A Minister who has been more enlightened on environmental matters than most, if not all, of his predecessors, his desire to “ensure that this travesty is not forgotten” is indicative of his displeasure with Sheffield City Council refusal to listen when concerns were first raised about its felling policy.
Outspoken language rarely used by national politicians, it clearly stems from how the council, and its Labour leadership rode roughshod over the cherished and long-held Nolan principles that were introduced in the 1990s to ensure holders of public office act in the “public interest”.
Not only did Sheffield’s destructive deforestation betray Nolan and make a mockery of its status as Britain’s ‘outdoor city’, but its repeated attempts to suppress the truth, coupled with South Yorkshire Police’s heavy-handed tactics, led to national notoriety.
And, more fundamentally, it has led to a breakdown in trust between the council – and the very people that it should be purporting to serve. Like the newly-planted trees which will take many years to flourish, it is likely to take just as long for improved relations to take root.