I can’t imagine that Michael Gove and Jarvis Cocker often share the same point of view, but both are opposed to Sheffield council’s policy of felling up to 25,000 trees deemed “dangerous” and replacing them with saplings.
Gove has called for the “destruction” to stop, while Cocker hosted a fundraiser with Richard Hawley for the Sheffield Tree Action group, and called the fellings “crazy”. The saga is as gripping as any new binge-watching must-see on Netflix; in fact, if the streaming service is looking to branch out – sorry – into new British drama, then this story of private finance initiative contracts gone wild and local heroes protesting the loss of their streets’ trees should provide plenty of inspirational material.
The details of the dispute are depressing, a labyrinthine and frustrating portrait of marketisation that flies in the face of what residents actually want their city to look like. Dr Simon Crump, a senior lecturer in creative writing at Huddersfield, said this week that he was willing to go to prison for the cause. “I’m prepared to put my head above the parapet and stand up to bullies. For me, it’s about the right to peaceful and effective protest. If they can do this to us over some trees, they can do this to us for anything,” he said, a true Swampy for the modern age.
When Gove, Cocker, two Sheffield MPs and South Yorkshire’s police and crime commissioner, Dr Alan Billings, are among the many voices requesting some common sense and decency; when police resources are being stretched because up to 30 police officers are turning up to fellings with as many as 90 protesters; when the council has hired private security to enforce injunctions against protesters; and when it’s all, essentially, down to money, then it seems like it’s time to, well, stop and try to see the wood for the (old and loved) trees.
• Rebecca Nicholson is an Observer columnist