As noted previously, Councillor Melvin Seymour (Conservative, Northumberland Heath) does a pretty good job of chairing what is
usually an interesting Scrutiny meeting. Perhaps ‘Places’ is simply a more interesting subject than Resources can ever be.
The first item on last week’s Agenda was grounds maintenance which has come in for a great deal of criticism in recent months following various financial cut backs. The Deputy Director of Leisure and Parks, Ms. Toni Ainge was ready with her excuses.
She said that “Bexley had experienced unusual weather conditions in 2016 which had led to exceptional grass growth”. The weather station in Danson Park showed “three times as much rain than the June average since 1990 and twelve times as much as last year. It has led to exceptional grass growth. The situation has been exacerbated by the removal of a scheduled cut from the contract”. Ten down to nine.
The contractor has addressed the issue with extra staff and machinery and sanctioned weekend working at a cost close to £20,000, without additional charge to the Council.
Councillors Tandy and Slaughter (Conservatives, St. Mary’s and Sidcup respectively) both referred to climate change and the possibility that this year’s rain might become the new norm.
Councillor Stefano Borella (Labour North End) said the reduced number of cuts “was a political decision” and he was not sympathetic to the weather related excuses. Sceptics might agree that there has been more rain this year but would it alone account for the grass approaching three feet high in places? Councillor Borella thought it was “interesting” as does the remainder of the borough, that a Craft Fair was held during the new rainy season in the very same place where The Danson Festival used to be held before it was permanently cancelled because the ground conditions were said to be far too wet.
Councillor John Waters (Conservative, Danson Park) said that Ms. Ainge’s report “made sense and accords with common sense”. He spoke briefly of the grass growing to a couple of inches instead of an inch and causing additional cutting problems. Perhaps he doesn’t often venture outside and failed to see rather more than two inches. He thought that the contracted nine cuts a year should be made more flexible to allow for variable weather conditions. Ms. Ainge said she was looking at that sort of thing.
Councillor Cheryl Bacon (Conservative, Cray Meadows) said she was concerned about the quality of the cut.
Councillor John Davey (Conservative, Crayford) said that the longer grass helped biodiversity and not all residents are against it. Councillor Nigel Betts (Conservative, Falconwood & Welling) said he had had no complaints from residents at all.
Councillor Lynn Smith (UKIP, Blackfen & Lamorbey) made a plea for grass verges around schools to be given priority as long grass has proved to be a hazard for tiny feet. Ms. Ainge promised to take Councillor Smith’s comments on board.