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‘We didn’t get our weedkilling regime right’ admits Cambridgeshire councillor





A decision to cease the chemical removal of weeds will be reviewed after claims Cambridgeshire resembles a “post-apocalypse movie”.

Councillors say they have been inundated with emails about the state of the county’s roads and paths following changes to the weed-killing regime.

Weeds littering Dartford Road in March.
Weeds littering Dartford Road in March.

“But we didn’t get this right,” Cllr Alex Beckett (Lib Dem, Queen Edith’s) told a meeting of the full council.

“Some of the issues raised by members shouldn’t have happened even under this trial – the policy still allowed for the removal of poisonous weeds such as ragwort, or those which posed a hazard. Going forward this shouldn’t be a one-size-fits-all policy, we should be tailoring the offering to each area,” he added.

In February, the joint administration announced that over the summer only weeds causing a “hazard” would be dealt with by chemical spraying.

They hoped the policy, which was part of cost-cutting measures and also aimed at protecting biodiversity, would encourage the public to deal with weeds in their areas by pulling them up when they came across them.

However, that has not happened and there has been a growing number of voices on social media calling for action.

A petition with 1,797 signatures calling on the council’s rainbow alliance to reconsider its no-spray policy amid fears weeds are causing thousands of pounds of damage was presented to Tuesday’s meeting by Conservative district councillor Charlie Marks.>kern 0pt

“These weeds have been allowed to grow along the kerbs and pathways even through the pathways themselves, which last year were resurfaced only at great cost to the county council,” he said.

Cllr Marks said this was “unacceptable to residents” and is “making our towns and villages look untidy and some have said look like ghettos”.

The petition was backed by his fellow Tories, who themselves presented a motion to the same meeting.

Cllr Chris Boden, leader of Fenland District Council, said: “The joint administration has really got itself in a bind on the subject of weeds. The situation the council now faces is very much a result, in my opinion, of poor governance.”

Cllr Boden (Con, Whittlesey North) said: “Weeds are already cracking up road and pavement surfaces around the county, building up an ever-increasing backlog of road and pavement repairs – stopping weed killing isn’t a saving, it will cost this council much more in the long-term because of increased repair costs. It’s worse than that. Weeds are clogging up the drains and the gullies by the roadside, hindering water flow off our roads, and they are increasing surface water flooding and flooding risk to adjacent properties.”

The council also heard that weeds are preventing district council road sweepers from working effectively.

Cllr Boden added: “Many residents have also complained about the appearance of our roads and paths. I’ve heard it said that the proliferation of weeds makes it look as though we live in a third world country.”

Coalwharf Road in Wisbech has weeds growing along the kerb while they also encroach onto the path.
Coalwharf Road in Wisbech has weeds growing along the kerb while they also encroach onto the path.

Cllr Geoff Seef (Lib Dem, St Neots The Eatons) said no subject has “filled my inbox more” than the “incursion of unwanted weeds” prolificating in public places and roadsides.

He continued: “Aside from the concern over the very real risk of flooding and blocked drains and gullies, which you will recall happened only a couple of years back albeit for different reasons.

“There is nothing that speaks of neglect more than weeds growing uncontrolled where they should not grow – unsightly, even embarrassing for residents or visitors and may well be a factor that deters investors.”

In an amendment to the Conservative motion, Cllr Neil Shailer (Lab, Romsey) highlighted how a wetter than average summer had led to increased weed growth, which helped the review.

“The data and feedback will be used to support biodiversity where we can, support communities where volunteers remove weeds without herbicide, while proactively controlling weeds and protecting the highway asset where that is needed,” he said.

The amendment removed the call to “immediately reintroduce the practice of removing all weed growth” and replaced it with “consider whether to”.

The motion was defeated, but the amended version was passed. The comments made at the meeting will now be fed into a broader engagement exercise with town and parish councils including a survey to gather feedback.

This is due to be reported back to highways and transport committee in January. The council will also review its current approach to weed-killing at the same meeting.



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