New council leader vows to fight Sheffield's corner like a 'champion boxer'
The new leader of the city council has vowed to fight Sheffield’s corner with the confidence and cockiness of a ‘champion boxer’.
Coun Terry Fox said he was prepared to ‘talk to anyone’, ‘go wherever’, ‘grab any opportunity’ and ‘do what he needed to do’ to make the city successful.
And if that meant new international ventures or buying a Tory minister an iced frappe “of course” he was willing to do it.
In his first interview since becoming leader in May, the Labour stalwart also revealed a desire to partially reopen Pinstone Street to electric buses, push for HS2, attract more manufacturing and win the arguments needed to tackle the ‘frightening’ climate emergency.
He said: “If you look at a champion boxer there’s no room for modesty. I think we have the confidence, there’s a steel rod that runs through us. We need people all over this city to stand up and put Sheffield first.
“I want to see Sheffield on the international stage. I want to lead delegations that bang the drum for Sheffield as the friendliest city and with the best manufacturing. Our public spaces are as good as any in Europe.”
Mr Fox also signalled a more businesslike approach to the risks in new projects.
He added: “Business people see failure as just another rung on the ladder to success. We will drop the ball no doubt, but it doesn’t stop us picking up and driving on the next 10 yards.
“Once the pandemic is over the world is our oyster. I will go wherever is required to fight Sheffield’s corner.”
He also vowed to stick with the decisiveness that last week saw him axe swathes of the £1.5bn Sheaf Valley regeneration plan.
The scheme was launched in March year with a controversial vision to move the Sheaf Street dual carriageway to the tram line behind Midland station and close much of Park Square roundabout to traffic.
Coun Fox said he knew the proposal was unpopular and it was best to act quickly.
He added: “We haven’t got the time, resources or capacity to deal with things that aren’t going to fly.”
Following the May elections, the Greens have three councillors in the ruling Executive. But the Labour majority means the party will win any vote.
Coun Fox set up a clash with the Greens by calling for Pinstone Street to be partially reopened to traffic.
Electric buses should be allowed to use the street again to ensure the city centre was ‘inclusive’, he said.
The route was closed in June last year to allow social distancing in its lower section near Furnival Gate. But that meant the rest of the road - outside the Peace Gardens and Town Hall - and parts of Leopold Street had to close too, while Surrey Street became a dead end.
The huge change - described as ‘semi-permanent’ by the city council at the time - sparked protests from businesses and bus users. Some 27 services were re-routed to stops a quarter of a mile away.
But others, including the Greens, welcomed it for creating a more peaceful and enjoyable environment better suited to walking and cycling.
Coun Fox said: “If we want to be inclusive we can’t have people pushing wheelchairs up from Arundel Gate. It’s been more than a year and I still get complaints in my postbag.
“I want to see new, electric buses on Pinstone Street with a bus gate on Leopold Street, but maybe half the services that there were.
“Reintroduce the FreeBee, I helped bring it in the first time, but make it electric.”
He also strongly disapproves of the anti-terrorist concrete security blocks and gates strewn about the city centre believing they send a message it is closed.
Meanwhile, Sheffield City Council has an ambition to be carbon neutral by 2030.
Coun Fox said it was ‘frightening’ how close that was and the climate emergency was in his ‘top five’ priorities.
“We want to show leadership on that. I don’t think everyone knows the level of change that is coming,” he said.
“It’s important to take the city along with us, we’ve got to be clear and convince people to choose less polluting options.
“We have to make that achievable for working men and women. The council can be a catalyst, it’s an argument we have got to win.”
He took inspiration from Rotherham manufacturer AESSEAL which has gone carbon neutral, he added.
A fan of manufacturing, he has also commissioned a report into why Heinz chose Wigan and not Sheffield for a new factory.
Coun Fox is a former miner who still has ‘the scars of 1984 on my back’ - a reference to the year-long miners’ strike.
But he insisted it would not prevent him working with the Government. And he pointed to his work with Conservative minister Oliver Letwin, who agreed millions for flood defences following a visit to Sheffield.
“It’s not personal. If Tory ministers want to come to Sheffield for a frappe of course I will buy them one,” he said.
The hardest test as leader was loneliness, he added.
“There are some decisions I’ve had to make that were not in the job description,” he said.
But despite his new responsibilities, he vowed to stay in touch with ordinary people and ‘air things in the tap room’, as one colleague put it.
Coun Fox is councillor for Manor Castle ward and drinks at the Trades and Labour Club on Duke Street. He also has a local in Pitsmoor and goes out in the city centre.
He added: “I talk to people, I listen to officers and experts but you can’t beat a man or woman giving you an elbow in the ribs.
“It’s part of my social life, I like going out for a drink in the city centre. It’s always good to test ideas. Being in touch with residents in this city is everything to me.”