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  • Writer's pictureMichelle Weir (Local Democracy Reporter)

“We need to keep our borough neat and tidy” – new approach to grass verge cutting challenged

A new approach to grass cutting by the Department of Infrastructure (DfI) was challenged at Antrim and Newtownabbey Borough Council’s Operations Committee meeting on Monday evening.

DfI has announced plans for grass verge management across the Northern Ireland road network.

From next year, a single “swathe” will be cut along verges on the “strategic” road network twice yearly and sight lines at junctions will be cut at least twice a year. 

On rural roads, one cut will be carried out “late in the growing season when flowers have set seed and pollinators are less active”.

DfI has acknowledged that additional cuts at specific locations may be required to maintain sight lines for road safety purposes.

Currently, routine cutting is normally carried out up to twice a year in rural areas. In urban areas, grass verges are cut up to five times a year across the full verge although “in the current financial situation”, DfI  will “cut all roadside verges twice in the period April to October” and grass on sight lines, at road junctions and bends is “cut more often as required”.

The Department says that “along with the wildflower planting, the new measures will enable the Department to deliver on their commitment in support of the All-Ireland Pollinator Plan, and is consistent with the aims of the National Pollinator Strategy while supporting the Climate Change Bill passed earlier this year at the Northern Ireland Assembly”.

However, Macedon Ulster Unionist Councillor Robert Foster said he believes that the Department is “failing in its responsibility on grass cutting”.

“This will make the place look extremely untidy. What would visitors think when they come into the borough and see this. Can we just go to local Roads Service and ask what this means? I just think this is so wrong.

“Two cuts a year is not sufficient. Putting down this plan under the guise of a biodiversity strategy is not right.”

Airport Sinn Fein Cllr Annemarie Logue said that the Executive needs to be “back up and running”.

“There is enough pressure on local government at the minute.  We do not have the resources. I think we have enough pressures to deal with.”

Glengormley DUP Cllr Alison Bennington stated: “This has nothing to do with Stormont being up and running. This is a local issue by the local department and council and Housing Executive. We need to keep our borough neat and tidy. We are the ones getting complaints when things are not done. This is a local issue.”

Cllr Logue replied: “We do not have the money to do it.”

Antrim and Newtownabbey councillors had been told previously by the Parks Department that “grass cutting is an issue which residents are extremely sensitive about and which is very visible as well as being an important part of the presentation of the borough as well as for sight lines”.

The council’s own grass cutting schedule for the borough includes parks, cemeteries, play parks, small areas in towns and villages, leisure centres, riverside paths, car parks, bowling greens, 27 grass pitches, roundabouts, as well as council facilities including community centres, pavilions, Mossley Mill and Antrim Civic Centre.

A council officer told the meeting the local authority has signed up to the All-Ireland Pollinator Plan that allows it to “demonstrate our response towards biodiversity by placing signage around”.

“Rather than people looking at it and thinking we just have not cut it, it can give reasons why we have left it to grow,” he explained.

As part of the initiative, the Valley Park in Newtownabbey receives just an annual cut as part of a “pollinator-friendly regime”. It is one of eight locations in the borough where meadows are being created through one grass cut annually.

The council has also been working to restore semi-natural habitats and native plants at Hazelbank Park for example, with orchard planting and woodland bulb maintenance. 

Steeple play area in Antrim is designated a “species-rich” grassland site. There has been willow planting at Bruslee and hedgerow restoration and wildflower bank created at Sentry Hill.

At Sixmile Park in Ballyclare, there has been the creation of an orchard with 25 fruit trees and planting of a wildflower strip along the path. Wildflower meadow restoration has taken place at Hannan’s Field at Loughshore Park in Antrim.

The council also has a statutory duty to further the conservation of biodiversity while the NI Biodiversity Strategy has a set target to “significantly reduce” overall biodiversity loss.

Glengormley Alliance Alderman Julian McGrath has expressed concern over some country roads only receiving one cut.

Commenting ahead of the meeting, he said:

“This is often a hazard for walkers if the grass gets too long and cars can’t see them in good time. Provided there is flexibility and DfI cut sight-lines upon request, it could work.”


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