Slow-motion resignations and knee-jerk deselections. Has Labour learned nothing from the street tree scandal?
Plus, Park Hill musical wins at the Oliviers
Good afternoon readers — and welcome to our Monday briefing.
‘Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in.’ Michael Corleone’s words in The Godfather Part III could easily apply to Sheffield Labour and the street tree dispute, which continues to be poisonous for the party. Last Friday, the saga claimed another victim, Birley councillor Bryan Lodge, who was the cabinet member responsible for the Streets Ahead contract between 2016 and 2018. While he did not say the tree issue was the reason for his departure, a senior Labour source acknowledged his position had become “untenable”. At the same time, a Labour candidate has been deselected for comments she made about the issue. Today, we ask: has Labour in Sheffield learned nothing from the tree scandal?
As well as that, we have a stunning eco-home in Heeley, a brilliant photograph from last night’s Olivier Awards, and we remember a very special gig that took place 60 years ago.
Catch up and coming up
For our weekend read, food writer Mina Miller explained how Sheffield’s thriving street food scene works — from pop-ups to markets and food halls to restaurants. You can still read that piece here.
Last week we sent out two great newsletters to our 1,292 paying members. The first was a beautiful piece of writing by Dani Cole about a Sheffield taxidermist who is trying to dispel myths about the much misunderstood practice. And the second was a fascinating story by former Sheffield town planner Simon Ogden about the long history of attempts to remake our city. An extract from that first piece is below.
Taxidermy, the art of preserving an animal's body by mounting or stuffing, often gets a bad rap, probably because it’s a bit morbid. “I think there’s a misconception that we’re all death obsessed,” says Sarah. “But it’s life we’re interested in.” Depending on a taxidermist’s skill, the result can be breathtakingly beautiful, terrifying, or incredibly funny (as chronicled by the book Crappy Taxidermy).
This week we’ll send out two more including one about the difficulties Sheffield’s hospitality businesses are facing at the moment and another about a group of secular nuns who are bringing together LGBT communities along the trans pennine trail. To help fund a new way of doing journalism in Sheffield based on subscriptions rather than clicks, please consider subscribing using the button below. It costs £1.34 a week if you pay for 12 months up front.
Editor’s note: The Tribune had another great month in March, with 106 new subscribers joining our growing group of paying members. Welcome to you all. We have big plans for this year with a new member of staff coming on board soon and more regular pieces from data specialist Daniel Timms (who wrote some of our best received pieces, like this one about the importance of play). If you want to help fund our work, please become a member today. Thank you.
The big picture: ‘This is for Sheffield’ 🎭
It was a great night for Park Hill musical Standing at the Sky’s Edge, which won two prizes at last night’s Olivier Awards in London. Their first win produced this absolutely iconic shot of Richard Hawley taking the applause of the crowd as he won for best original score or new orchestrations. And the show also won in the hotly-contested best new musical category, beating off stiff competition from songwriter Elton John and vocalist Beverley Knight. In an emotional acceptance speech, writer Chris Bush said: “This is for Sheffield.”
This week’s weather ☀️
Our weather forecast comes from dedicated Sheffield weather service Steel City Skies, who say high pressure influences more strongly this week,with a blip in the middle as we enjoy drier weather at last.
Monday ☀ Long spells of sunshine after a cold and frosty start. Light winds with temperatures rather cool in the shade. Highs of 11°C.
Tuesday ☀ Another cold start with a frost risk. What follows though is another fine and largely sunny day with highs of 12°C.
Wednesday 🌥 While we'll likely stay dry all day, cloud is expected to increase from the west after a sunny start. Highs of 13°C.
Thursday ☂ A weakening occlusion threatens patchy rain during the day. Cloud likely to be more extensive with highs of 12°C.
Friday 🌥 A lower risk of light rain, with drier weather expected to prevail as cloud breaks to brighter spells. Highs of 12°C.
Outlook: High pressure re-asserts to the east after that midweek blip, with a lot of dry and settled weather expected for the Easter weekend.
The big story: Slow-motion resignations and knee-jerk deselections. Has Labour learned nothing from the street tree scandal?
Top line: The Sheffield tree saga shows no sign of abating after one of the councillors who was heavily criticised by the inquiry resigned from a key committee co-chairmanship. At the same time, a Labour candidate has been deselected for criticising the way her party handled the long-running dispute. Has Sheffield Labour learned nothing from the street tree scandal?
‘Untenable’ position: In a statement tweeted by BBC Radio Sheffield political reporter Lucy Ashton on Friday, veteran Birley Councillor Bryan Lodge announced that he would step down from his position as finance committee co-chair at the election.
Councillor Lodge added that he would continue to serve on Sheffield City Council as Birley ward councillor for another year, but would stand down next year when his term was up.
While he did not mention the tree saga as the reason for his departure, Ashton quoted a senior Labour source as saying he was “massive distraction hanging over the party” and his position had become “completely untenable”.
Why now? Along with former leader Julie Dore, Bryan Lodge was the figure most associated with the long-running street tree dispute. He served as the cabinet member responsible for the Streets Ahead PFI contract from mid-2016 until early 2018, during which the report says attitudes within the council towards the protesters hardened. In the inquiry report, it was also revealed that he had prior knowledge of the pre-dawn raid on Rustlings Road.
Will it stop the rot? The turmoil might not have ended there. Since Sir Mark Lowcock’s report was published, former tree protesters and politicians have been calling for the resignations of Bryan Lodge and council leader Terry Fox.
Terry Fox, who served as cabinet member for the Streets Ahead PFI contract between 2015 and 2016, is seen as a less significant figure in the report.
Indeed, the report says the Independent Tree Panel he set up could have averted the crisis. Crucially, however, its findings were never acted upon.
Deselection row: And the dispute is still colouring internal Labour Party politics as well. Emily Wilson, who the party had picked to contest the Broomhill and Sharrow Vale ward in May’s election, was deselected last week. On Twitter, she said she had not been given the full reasons for the decision but was told that it relates to comments she made about the need for reform, greater accountability and transparency after the Sheffield Tree Inquiry. She said:
“These sentiments echoed Council Leader, Terry Fox’s own statement in response to the findings of the inquiry — that we must learn from the mistakes of the past. I stand by my statement that reform is needed.”
A febrile atmosphere: The fact that this is happening during election season is adding fuel to the fire. Lib Dem leader Shaffaq Mohammed again called for both Fox and Lodge to go last week (although neglected to mention the role his party played in bringing the PFI deal about in the first place). And tree protester Anne Barr, who also helped lead the It’s Our City! campaign to change the council’s governance structure, last week said she would be standing as an independent in Bryan Lodge’s ward — against Terry Fox’s wife Denise.
Our take: Being slow to react and attempting to stifle internal dissent were all hallmarks of how Labour handled the street tree saga. Having Lodge’s resignation dragged out of them and then trying to impose Leninist-style party discipline smacks of a party that is still to learn the lessons of the long-running dispute. Having said that, it will be fascinating to see how all this plays out at the election. Labour are riding high in the polls nationally and many voters may have more pressing concerns than the trees. We could be in for an interesting night.
Home of the week 🏡
This gorgeous detached four-bedroom family home near Heeley and Meersbrook allotments has a biomass heating system and rooftop solar panels. It is on the market for £500,000.
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Our media picks 🎧
Former Bank of England chief economist joins AMRC 🤝 The University of Sheffield have scored a major coup by bringing former Bank of England chief economist Andy Haldene to the AMRC. Haldene, who studied at the university himself, comes on board as chairman of the industrial board. He said the role was the “coming together of topics” that have been at the centre of his career for the last 30 years. The Times also covered his appointment here.
Musical captures life on an infamous Sheffield council estate 🎭 ITV News were at Park Hill flats last week ahead of the musical’s big wins at the Olivier Awards on Sunday night. Arts editor Nina Nannar spoke to songwriter Richard Hawley at the iconic flats (unbeknownst to me, right outside my front door), with the musician also chatting to some of the building’s current residents. Writer Chris Bush and actress Faith Omole also feature in the package.
The 90s nightclub that was 'like something out of a Terminator movie' 🎛️ A nice retro piece in The Star about Republic, the Sheffield superclub which blazed a trail in the 90s. Opening to great fanfare in 1995, the club was built in the former Roper and Wreaks steelworks and embraced Sheffield’s heavy industry heritage by including a giant crane above the dance floor. The club, which later turned into Gatecrasher, tragically burned to the ground in 2007.
Things to do 📆
Science 🧠 On Monday, 3 April at The Leadmill, Seed Talks will host another science-based evening all about ADHD. Dr James Brown (no, not that one) is a biomedical scientist and science communicator who was diagnosed with ADHD in 2021. As well as increasing your awareness and understanding of an ADHD brain, he will provide tips on how to navigate a neurotypical world as a neurodivergent person. Doors open at 6.45pm. Tickets are £11.50.
Theatre 🎭 Hot off the back of sell-out runs at last year’s Edinburgh Fringe, the multi award-winning troupe Police Cops bring their sell-out comedy blockbuster Police Cops in Space to the University of Sheffield’s Drama Studio on Wednesday, 5 April. The show is described as a gritty kitchen-sink drama turned into a vampire-slaying horror epic, complete with a 90s rave soundtrack and supercharged physical comedy. Tickets are £6-£13 and doors open at 8pm.
Art 🗣️ On Thursday, 6 April, Sheffield Museums will host Memory Is All We Have, a free online talk about the “restless” life and art of Sheffield-born sculptor George Fullard. In the talk, which accompanies the museum’s current exhibition, Fullard’s biographer Michael Bird will explore both the sculptor’s dreams and demons, including the lifelong influence of his Sheffield childhood and wartime trauma. The talk begins at 6pm and will last an hour.
‘It was 60 years ago today’ 🎸
Well, yesterday actually. On 2 April 1963, The Beatles headlined in Sheffield for the first time — just as their career was about to take off. It was actually the band’s third gig in the city, having previously opened the bill at two concerts at Sheffield City Hall the previous month. They would play twice more later the same year and then for a final time at the Gaumont in 1965.
The gig, which was promoted by Peter Stringfellow, took place at the Azena Ballroom on White Lane in Gleadless. The building still stands but is now a Co-op. Stringfellow had originally booked them to play at his Black Cat Club at St Aidan’s Church Hall on City Road. However, due to the band’s rapid rise up the charts, he changed the gig to a bigger venue.
The venue was limited to a maximum of 500 people, but Stringfellow reportedly sold 2,000 tickets for the concert. A setlist written by Paul McCartney shows the band finished their first set with their recent Number 2 hit Please Please Me, before closing the evening with their latest release From Me To You — which would be their first Number 1 record.
An event marking the 60th anniversary of the gig took place at the Co-op yesterday, with a handful of those who were there back in 1963 in attendance. Photos from the concert were also presented to staff to display at the store.