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Political row over herbicide spraying in Cambridge deepens

The political row over pesticide spraying in Cambridge deepened this week.

Liberal Democrat city councillor Katie Porrer (Lib Dem, Market), who successfully put forward a motion last July for a Herbicide Reduction Plan in the city, accused the Labour leadership of not taking the issue seriously enough and failing to inform residents about spraying.

It came after she opened her own curtains in her street near The Grafton centre on Monday morning to find a council worker spraying her front doorstep and the pavement directly outside her house, before continuing the process along the whole street.

Cllr Katie Porrer found herbicide being sprayed outside her door (56359477)
Cllr Katie Porrer found herbicide being sprayed outside her door (56359477)

Herbicide spraying is currently allowed in this area, as the city council has so far only committed to banning and trying alternatives this year in two trial wards - Arbury and Newnham. But the council has committed to inform residents ahead of time when spraying will take place, so that they can keep children and pets away from the hazardous chemicals.

Cllr Porrer said: “I was making breakfast for my child at around 8am and spotted someone outside my window with a backpack and a sprayer. I rushed outside, but by the time I’d got to the front door, my house had already been sprayed.

“I was angry and upset, both as a ward councillor and as a local resident. I moved the original motion to ban herbicides on our roads and pavements and verges last year and one of the key parts was to tell residents where and when herbicides would be sprayed until use could be permanently discontinued across the city after the trials.”

But Cllr Alex Collis (Lab, King’s Hedges) rejected the suggestion that the council was not taking the issue seriously enough.

She responded: “I’ve double checked with our streets and open spaces team and can confirm that we are - as agreed at committee, publishing ward by ward details of spraying schedules.

Cllr Alex Collis. Picture: Keith Heppell
Cllr Alex Collis. Picture: Keith Heppell

“These are updated on a Monday for the coming week and on a Friday, we report back on the past week.

“This information - which is freely available and which Cllrs Bick and Porrer could have easily requested - is available at https://www.cambridge.gov.uk/weed-spraying-schedule.”

Cllr Porrer argued the information is buried - and no-one has been told about it.

“Whilst I welcome the fact that this information is now finally online on the council's website, it has not been promoted to residents or ward councillors, and the update only appears to have been put up on April 22 and suggests that several wards had already been sprayed by then. This is exactly what we wanted to avoid,” she said.

“The Herbicide Reduction Plan commits to a communication plan, yet we have had no notification of the information being live to allow us to check dates, and you cannot find the page if you search for herbicides, which is obviously the first thing I did having observed the spraying.

“The link to this information is the last of 33 on a page covering a variety of options so is not easily visible and none of the residents I have spoken to were aware of this.”

The row follows anger that herbicide spraying took place last month by mistake in one of the two wards designated by the city council to be herbicide-free this year.

Jean Glasberg saw the results of herbicide spraying in Newnham. Picture: Richard Marsham
Jean Glasberg saw the results of herbicide spraying in Newnham. Picture: Richard Marsham

Contractors for Cambridgeshire County Council were responsible for spraying herbicide in Newnham, it was confirmed.

A miscommunication led to operatives carrying out the spraying ahead of a pavement resurfacing programme.

Jean Glasberg, chair of Newnham Croft Residents’ Association, who is standing in the city council elections for the Green Party, had been alarmed to see yellowing grass and vegetation die-back – telltale signs of herbicides. There are concerns for both human health and biodiversity over the use of such chemicals.

The Cambridge Independent understands that a highways maintenance manager was in the team responsible for designing the herbicide-free trials due to take place in Newnham and Arbury, following a vote by city councillors.

The manager informed the resurfacing contractor, but it appears this was not effectively communicated to those carrying out the work on 38 streets across the city.

Following the mix-up, Julia Shaw and Ben Greig, from Pesticide Free Cambridge, which campaigns to rid the city’s public spaces of chemicals harmful to biodiversity and human health, said: “Clearly there is need for much better communication between the various agencies and contractors responsible for Cambridge’s streets and open spaces, to ensure that the agreements made in last July’s herbicide-free motion are not further compromised, and we look forward to our meeting with the council to discuss additional ways of ensuring the trials are a success.”

A Cambridgeshire County Council spokesperson said: “Some areas of Newnham have been treated with herbicides prior to the start of a pavement resurfacing programme.

“We are aware that Newnham has been designated as a herbicide-free ward and have informed our contractors about this.

“Unfortunately, some advance spraying had taken place before this information was received by the contractor. We sincerely apologise for this and will make sure this does not happen again.”

Pesticide Free Cambridge has urged residents to report where there has been no advanced warning of herbicide spraying, or any spraying in areas that have been declared herbicide-free, both to the Cambridge City Council’s environmental services department and to the Health and Safety Executive at hse.gov.uk/pesticides/enforcement/reporting-incidents.htm.

Find out more about the campaign at pesticidefreecambridge.org.

What the council is telling residents

The council's weed spraying page tells visitors:

“We visited Cherry Hinton, Market, Petersfield, Trumpington and West Chesterton wards this week.

“We expect to have them all except Market finished by the end of Monday 25 April.

“From Tuesday 26 April we will begin spraying in Abbey, Castle, East Chesterton and Romsey wards, and finish in Market ward.

“We will only spray an area if it needs it. The work is dependent on the weather – we do not spray when it’s windy, raining or too hot. Our teams start early in the morning, so you might not notice them.”

Read more

Herbicide-free trials to begin in two Cambridge wards - and residents invited to help in 12 other streets

Petition demands Cambridge is made pesticide-free

Controversial chemical glyphosate still being sprayed by councils in Cambridgeshire

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