Agenda item

Grass Cutting Performance Review


That the Committee supported the work being undertaken and was satisfied that no changes were required to the policy.


            The report was presented by the Chief Officer (Streetscene and Transportation). She introduced Neil Cox, the new Streetscene Service Manager to the committee. 


            It was good practice to review our practices and this service provision had been heavily impacted by the pandemic.  The Policy had been reviewed regularly since 2012 with the latest version approved in January 2020.  The report provided an overview of the performance throughout the 2021 season.  Members were referred to sections 1.02 and 1.07 which provided information on the operations and yearly cuts. The Chief Officer (Streetscene and Transportation) then referred to sections 1.10 and 1.11 and appendix 2 which provided a summary for each team and cuts during the season.   The impacts of the wet weather were also highlighted.   An explanation of the changes to the tendering process for the Weed Spraying Contract to make it more resilient, was also provided.  The Chief Officer (Streetscene and Transportation) finished by saying it was not proposed to make any changes to the policy.


            The Chair asked if the flower planting programme had helped with grass cutting.  In response the Chief Officer (Streetscene and Transportation) reported that there were processes to follow such as collection and replanting at the beginning and end of the season, which still required resources. The Highways Network Manager confirmed there were in excess 50 small sites across the county which required different responses, with dedicated machinery and management.  The Council supported and promoted any areas which were put forward for wildflower with some areas replacing grass cutting and others which did not. 


            Councillor George Hardcastle referred to the impacts of climate change with the grass growing earlier in the season and asked if extra cuts would be required.  In response the Chief Officer (Streetscene and Transportation) reported on plans to start the winter cut earlier and extend it but the season started earlier each year.  She explained the same resources were used to grit the roads and that in March and October each year grass cutting and gritting the roads overlapped and took place at the same time.   This was very difficult to manage but additional cuts were being planned for late January / early February to stay on top of this before the season started.  The Highways Network Manager reported in January 2020 a full successful cut was made but this advantage was lost as the country went into lockdown due to the pandemic in March 2020.  With the grass cutting season extending into the winter, the ground could become very wet and muddy, and the equipment churned up and damaged the ground which took longer to recover.  


            Councillor Owen Thomas raised the following questions:-


·           He referred to the last sentence on page 73 which stated cutting was to maintain highway safety and visibility.  He said in some well used rural lanes the high level of the grass was dangerous with a 50% loss of visibility.  They required cutting more than once a year.  The report stated there were 4 cuts a year in urban areas and one cut for rural areas.  

·           He referred to tenants’ gardens and asked why the grass was not taken away after cutting or wondered if mulchers could be used. 

·           He then referred to amenity areas saying he had attended football matches where the grass was 4 inches long.    Could this be looked at?

·         He then referred to hedgerows saying last year had been the biggest growth ever seen, scratching the cars and blocking visibility.  He understood that these were the responsibility of landowners but wondered if this could be addressed.  The growth of hedgerows and verges was increasing and had to be factored into the plans for the service.


            Responding to the comments raised, the Chief Officer (Streetscene and Transportation) agreed to speak to Councillor Thomas outside the meeting.  There were different standards for rural lanes and urban roads regarding visibility splays.  She took on board his concerns regarding the quality of work and confirmed she would investigate the issues Councillor Thomas has raised.   She commented that the frequency of cuts was set in the policy but if Councillor Thomas was aware of problematic areas, whether for hedges or grass cutting, she asked that he contact his Area Co-ordinator in the first instance, as they had the discretion to address such issues.  Referring to tenants’ gardens she confirmed this was following the policy and provided by a contractor.   Unfortunately there were insufficient resources to allow for mulching and collection of the grass cuttings.


            In response to the amenity areas point the Highways Network Manager commented that there had been quite a few complaints regarding the football pitches.  These were managed by schools or sports centres and the in-house team cut the municipal pitches. The schedule of performance for the municipal pitches was included in Appendix 2 but because of weather conditions it had not be possible to cut the grass at certain times; however the full 12 cuts had been delivered.   He asked Councillor Thomas to confirm the location of the pitches and he would investigate.  Referring to the rural lanes he confirmed the policy stated one cut, but another cut was carried out in September/October in 2021.  If the Area Co-ordinator was made aware of these issues they had the discretion to deal with this.  He agreed to speak to Councillor Thomas directly.


            Councillor Thomas confirmed that this had been raised with the Area Co-ordinator last year because of concerns over safety and accepted that last year’s growth was exceptional.


            The Highways Network Manager confirmed the majority of hedges were privately owned and that the Council would write to the landowner to give them the opportunity to carry out maintenance on these.   There was a process to follow if they failed to act on our advice.  Councillor Thomas added he would like to see the law changed so that the hedges were cut in the first month of the season.


            Councillor Paul Shotton said the impacts of climate change were seen everywhere.  He said the wildflower planting had been very well received in his area.  He was pleased to hear the contract situation was being addressed for weed spraying and asked if the weed killer was a weaker solution.  Replying to Councillor Shotton the Chief Officer (Streetscene and Transportation) explained the problem was not the solution used it was that the council had been let down by contractors and were struggling to fulfil the contacts. 


            The Chair asked what was being proposed with regard to the new contract.   In response it was confirmed the areas would be lotted to ensure resilience.  The Highways Network Manager confirmed that this was at the commissioning stage at the moment with lotting, size and areas being considered.  The areas north, central and south being considered which would mirror the verge mowing contractor areas.   With regard to verge mowing the same tenderer was being used for the north and south area but across three areas.  He provided information on discussions with Denbighshire County Council and the Housing department and said there was no real opportunity to expand the contracts.  The contracts would be lotted to ensure there was a fall-back position if needed.


            The Cabinet Member for Streetscene welcomed Neil Cox to the meeting and the streetscene service.   He commented that the Councillors were the eyes and ears for the Area Co-ordinators in the first instance.  If Members felt that specific issues needed raising he suggested that it should be included on the Forward Work Programme.


            Councillor Ian Roberts understood the frustrations but said that these issues did not need to wait for committee meetings they could be raised through the streetscene Area Co-ordinators, Senior Officers and Group Leaders.  During lockdown it was the Council’s priority to focus on providing essential services and praised the way the staff had worked during the pandemic.


            Councillor George Hardcastle agreed saying the streetscene and recycling staff did a fantastic job during the lockdown.


Neil Cox confirmed that members could contact him directly with any concerns.


The recommendations were moved and seconded by Councillors David Evans                    and Owen Thomas




That the Committee supported the work being undertaken and was satisfied that no changes were required to the policy.

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