The Yorkshire Post could not have put it better when Secretary of State Michael Gove likened the Sheffield tree-felling drive to someone ‘pulling the teeth from a friend’s familiar smile.’
His words came during a specially-convened meeting with Sheffield residents and concerned lobbyists; a meeting instigated and chaired by this newspaper after months of unseemly conflicts as Sheffield City Council and its contractor, Amey, lurched from crisis to calamity in their determination to fell thousands of street trees, many of which were, and are, perfectly healthy.
Michael Gove meets Sheffield residents concerned over tree felling
Whilst making it clear from the outset that his powers here are limited, the Environment Secretary, wielding a copy of the two-inch thick contract between Sheffield City Council and Amey – a heavily redacted version, of course – assured the meeting that he was committed to doing all he could to protect the self-styled ‘Outdoor City’s’ most precious assets.
Mr Gove heard from the meeting that a groundswell of Sheffielders now want an independent audit of the city’s £2.2bn PFI contract, undertaken by a reputable, apolitical third-party company with a view to declaring it fit for purpose or otherwise.
The Minister, clearly encouraged by the spirit of transparency and a willingness to co-operate, appeared to acknowledge the idea, intimating that it could well be an avenue his department might pursue, should the local authority be willing to engage.
It is clear: there is a will on the part of the protest groups and a will in Government. It is time Sheffield Council showed willing, before its streets smile through dentures.