THE pragmatists might have hailed Sheffield City Council’s decision to suspend its tree-felling programme as a victory for common sense after this act of environmental vandalism earned national notoriety.
Meanwhile the more cynical will point to the suspension’s timing, and how the ruling Labour group, headed by the embattled council leader Julie Dore, could simply be looking to stem the protests until after the local elections on May 3.
It’s neither. By appearing to blame the “increasingly dangerous tactics” of protesters, Sheffield Council is both misguided and totally oblivious to the late Labour peer Denis Healey’s ‘first law of holes’. “When you’re in one, stop digging,” the former Chancellor once ventured.
The authority’s short-sightedness – coupled with over-zealous policing on the part of the equally troubled South Yorkshire Police force – has been nothing short of scandalous. Its continued obfuscation over the £2.2bn highways maintenance deal with private sector contractor Amey has brought the city, and council, into disrepute. And, despite calls from Environment Secretary Michael Gove, his Labour counterpart Sue Hayman and many others to think again, Coun Dore – and her team – have stubbornly refused to do so.
Given this particular ‘pause’ is not the olive branch that so many had been seeking as relations between the council, and local communities, deteriorate, the onus is now back on Mr Gove and Ms Hayman. At the very least, arborists need to be brought in to carry out a root-and-branch review of this policy to help councillors see the proverbial wood from the trees. For, if this had already happened, residents would not be taking to the streets in such numbers to highlight the difference between healthy trees which are being felled – and those which deserve the chop because they’re diseased and dangerous.