Kicking weeds into the long grass.

It’s that crucial phase in the local election timetable…initial leaflets have been delivered, hundreds of residents have been spoken to on the doorstep and the statement of persons nominated has been published.

So on a day off from the campaign trail it’s time to mow the lawn. If it isn’t done today, it won’t be done until after polling day on 07 May!

I like long grass…I prefer the back lawn to tend towards a meadow rather than a well-tended manicured lawn, and I talked to a local resident i Newman Road about this in January, and he disagreed with me.

And that’s one of the problems I hear on the doorstep…it’s not the weighty issues that fill the letters of the Express & Echo but concerns closer to home – grass cutting and weeds. And different people have different views.

A year ago, I posted this photo on my Facebook page 

Green open space on Bowhay Lane
Green open space on Bowhay Lane

I think areas like this are an ideal space that could be made more attractive with wild flowers – which in turn will attract more wildlife.

Residents seem happy to accept this approach but are less forgiving about grass verges and the presence of weeds.

Devon County Council are responsible for grass cutting of verges and weed control/clearance – and these issues  were discussed at DCC’s Cabinet meeting on Tuesday 08 April 2015 when they considered County Road Highway Maintenance Capital Budget 2014/15 and 2015/16. Th report of Head of Highways, Capital Development and Waste HCW/15/26 highlights changes to Highway Maintenance Policy.

Specific revenue budget reductions are as follows:
*Grass cutting
– £700,000: this work function is being reduced substantially. Visibility areas including junctions and the inside of bends will be the only grass cut in both urban and rural areas.
*Weed treatment
– £250,000: stop weed spraying and the treatment of noxious/injurious weeds. Use Community Payback Volunteers to hand pull weeds in heavily infested areas

Appendix 2 to report HCW15/26 outlines how the the proposed changes will be implemented

Grass Cutting

DCC stated objectives say the control of growth on the highway is necessary for the following safety reasons:
• to maintain visibility areas/splays for highway users;
• to provide forward visibility to signs
and additionally:
• community self-help to address local issues over and above the level of service will be enabled and encouraged.

The policy to achieve these objectives will inlcude:
– Cutting on visibility areas (junctions, laybys and the inside of bends) is undertaken on an ‘as needed’ basis and the frequency below has proved adequate:
– Rural Priority Network – twice or occasionally three times per annum
– Rural other roads (excluding maintenance category 12 roads) – once per annum
– Urban roads (excluding maintenance category 12 roads) – four times per annum.
– Additional cutting (including other areas) will be undertaken to facilitate other maintenance works for example surface treatment or ditch cleaning. Also to provide forward visibility to essential road signs.
– The residual height of rural cutting is 100mm, and urban cuts 40mm.
– The Neighbourhood Office is authorised to determine the timing of the cutting and whether the maximum number of cuts is necessary. In a normal growing season the rural cutting commences on Priority Routes during mid-May. Urban cutting usually commences in April. Any cuts additional to the maximum number will be regarded as being for amenity or environmental purposes and will be the responsibility of City, Borough or District Councils. Partnership arrangements for commissioning the highway and amenity work are encouraged where appropriate.

Weed Control/Clearance 

DCC think that weed growth can cause damage to the highway network. The overall objective is to control the impact of weeds rather than eradicate all growth.

The policy to achieve theses objectives includes:
– Manual control methods will be used to remove excessive weeds on hard areas. Where possible weed treatment work will be integrated into a co-ordinated programme with the City, Borough or District Council’s highway sweeping. Where Town or Parish Councils undertake similar works, integration will also be encouraged.
– The total, non-residual herbicide glyphosate will be used to control weeds on filter/French drains. The herbicide will be applied to the weed growth only. The glyphosate used will be that approved for use near watercourses i.e. aquatic approval.
– A total residual herbicide containing glyphosate and sulfosulfron will be used prior to application of thin surfacing, slurry seal, micro asphalt or surface dressing; and also part of footway construction or other highway maintenance works. It will also be used to control weeds in escape lanes/arrester beds. The herbicide will be targeted at existing weed growth and areas of potential weed growth as a preventative measure. Under no circumstances will this herbicide be used near water or where it might enter a water course, and its use strictly targeted to weed growth and also areas of potential weed growth e.g. front and back of footway edge, 300mm swathe width covering the kerb edge.

And DCC will use the following procedures:
– Weed killing with herbicide will be undertaken to the appropriate specification contained in the Term Maintenance Contract.
– All herbicides shall be approved by the Chemicals Regulation Directorate and used strictly in accordance with the product label and the requirements of the Plant Protection Products (Sustainable Use Regulations) 2012 and any advice issued by the Chemicals Regulation Directorate and the manufacturer.
– Herbicides should not be applied during or before weather conditions that would render their use ineffective or result in the contamination of surrounding areas.
– Weed spraying within one metre of a water course or from the top of a river bank, requires Environment Agency notification prior to work starting, using an AQherb01 form, available from the Environment Agency.
– Prior consultation with the Environment Agency will be needed before herbicides are used on filter or French drains which abut or traverse Sites of Special Scientific Interest.
– In some locations, such as moorland areas where weed growth is unlikely to create a problem the appropriate Authority should be consulted before weed killing is undertaken.

There has been a lot of to-ing and fro-ing between Devon County Council and Exeter City Council over the treatment of weeds in the city.

In the past, DCC have contracted ECC to carry out the weed treatment./clearance on their behalf, but for the year 2015/16 have contracted the work out to South West Highways, who have in turn sub-contracted Hartwood Treeworks at “a price more favourable than that provided by Exeter City Council”.

Weed spraying started on 09 March and the contact will continue to the end of April. The programme prioritised footways along strategic routes first, and this will be followed by secondary commuter routes. Once, complete, footways within residential areas will be targeted.

This programme will then be repeated in June/July.

As far as I can see, the only roads in Cowick that have had week treatment to date are Cowick Lane and Dunsford Road (the strategic routes)

I’m still intrigued by that phrase “a price more favourable than that provided by Exeter City Council” . Does that mean that DCC expects to save money by doing the same as was planned by ECC (the probable answer), or (more unlikely) they will treat more residential streets than planned?