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Cllr Steve Bell is the Leader of the Conservative Group on Brighton and Hove City Council.
A study by East Sussex County Council shows a contrasting approach from two neighbouring councils on the issue of weeds on the pavement; and how residents have received very different services as a result.
Brighton and Hove City Council banned the use of weedkiller in the City in 2019 without putting any credible alternative plan in place. The decision back then was made by Labour Councillors, supported by the Greens, after both these parties were lobbied by an activist group, The Pesticide Action Network.
The result of Brighton’s ban has been very well-publicised in the national (and even international) media. We have had two summers’ worth of weeds getting out of control, pavements blocked with trip hazards, and pet injuries from the shards of seeds. A petition from one Woodingdean resident who incurred large vet fees has called for the council to reverse policy immediately.
This year just three people were employed to weed the 560 miles of pavements across Brighton. An impossible task. This has left the Council scrambling to find private contractors that are willing to manually weed the city’s pavement, at increased cost to the taxpayer.
In failing to meet its statutory duty to keep the pavements clear of weeds, the Council has exposed itself to greater liability from people tripping on the pavements. Written questions have revealed that the Council has had to pay out damages in a number of cases. The long-term liability from cracked-up pavements has yet to be calculated but will be substantial.
Compare this with the approach of neighbouring East Sussex County Council.
East Sussex was also lobbied by activists and campaigners calling for weedkiller use to be banned – however this Conservative run-Council took a different approach.
Instead of instantly banning the use of weedkiller on its pavements, East Sussex County Council, which has 1,900 miles of pavements to keep clear, has spent the past year conducting small-scale trials to see if alternatives are feasible or effective. The Argus reported on the results this week.
The first trial looked at using foam steam treatments as an alternative to glyphosate weedkiller – something that was initially mentioned in Brighton and Hove as a potential future option.
However the East Sussex trial found that such foam treatment requires three separate applications, costing 16 times more than using weedkiller. For East Sussex, using foam treatment would cost the Council £919,000, compared to its current cost of £55,000 using traditional weed spraying. The trial concluded that this foam alternative was a complete non-starter given these prohibitive costs.
East Sussex County Council simultaneously trialled two manual weeding approaches in Lewes and Hastings as an alternative to using weedkiller, to see if these would be effective. The first approach was a move to reactive call outs (where the council attended to remove weeds manually but only in cases where the weeds were posing a health and safety risk or potential damage to infrastructure.
The second approach was a volunteer scheme, where residents agreed to be left out of the annual weed spray, on the understanding that they would form a group and take charge of weeding the areas themselves. Such resident groups were provided with the equipment, training, and insurance provided by the council.
East Sussex County Council concluded from its trial that while manual weeding had benefits and drawbacks, such a policy needed further study. There would have to be much more significant work with regards to rolling such a programme out across a wider area.
As a result of the trial, East Sussex County Council has sensibly concluded that it will continue carrying out its annual spray its pavements, at a cost of £55,000 per year, while further data is collected.
This study has shown the many challenges of ending the use of weedkiller and highlighted the very different approaches of two neighbouring councils.
Brighton and Hove City Council’s knee-jerk ban was poorly-thought through and has cost the city and its residents dearly. Brighton is now behind the eight-ball, having failed in its statutory duties and is now out of options, other than asking residents to weed their own pavements, which it has done this month.
But by following an evidence-based approach, East Sussex County Council has saved their residents thousands of pounds, kept its pavements clear, and set the scene for incremental improvements in the future.
This is, in essence, why Conservative Councils deliver such better outcomes for residents than ideologically-driven alternatives, such as the Green/Labour alliance in Brighton and Hove. Conservative Councils put residents’ services first and foremost. The recycling rate in Brighton and Hove is among the worst in the country and half that of neighbouring Conservative West Sussex, for example.
Our Brighton and Hove Conservative team promises to sort out Brighton’s services if successful at the next election and has now launched our local manifesto, which you can read here.