IT is both paradoxical and perverse that such a controversial tree-felling programme should be taking place in Sheffield when it prides and promotes itself as being the UK’s premier ‘outdoor city’.
Local residents have said so. The Yorkshire Post – and others – have supported them in their long fight against officialdom. And now Michael Gove, the Environment Secretary, has added his backing after the editor of this newspaper wrote to him and implored the Minister to intervene.
Noting this newspaper’s “persistent and persuasive campaigning”, the Cabinet minister’s personal letter to Sheffield Council could not be any clearer – stop the felling programme now so the “destruction of thousands of mature trees” does not “damage our children’s rightful inheritance”.
It can only be hoped that the local authority shows some humility and heeds not just Mr Gove, who is already proving to be an effective advocate for the environment, but its own ratepayers.
If it had done so in the first place, it would not have found itself presiding over this farrago of nonsense which has seen local democracy brought into disrepute by the council’s heavy-handedness at a time when the natural environment has never mattered more.
Of course, there will be dead, dying, diseased or dangerous trees that need to be removed and replaced. For the record, such occurrences happen in every parish, town and city. Yet, if other authorities, large and small, can manage this process without involving the police and the courts as the elderly are rounded up, why isn’t this possible in Sheffield?
The council’s arrogance and actions, thus far, suggest this programme is part of a cost-cutting programme, all the more reason for Mr Gove to now ask the National Audit Office to investigate the terms of the authority’s 25-year £2bn highway maintenance programme with contractor Amey which is at the centre of this scandal. There now needs to be total transparency – the public interest demands nothing less.
In the meantime, Mr Gove’s understanding, and intervention, is indicative of what is possible when grassroots campaigners do work with trusted media organisations like The Yorkshire Post to hold the political establishment to account, whether it be locally, regionally or nationally. It would be prudent for Sheffield Council to heed this before it digs itself into an even bigger hole.