Causeway Coast and Glens will enter into a seven-year agreement or Memorandum of Understanding with the Department for Infrastructure Roads Service to trial a ‘cut and lift’ approach to grass cutting in the Coleraine area with an aim of reducing the number of cuts carried out each year.
Members of the Environmental Services Committee unanimously approved the recommendation which will see the council receive a new mower suitable for the task, costing £50,000 from DFI Roads Service.
Annual maintenance payments of £36,400 will also be paid, reducing as the number of cuts reduces.
Currently the council spends approximately £350,000 per year cutting roadside grass verges on behalf of DFI Roads and it is hoped the ‘cut and lift’ method will reduce the number of cuts to verges and promote biodiversity.
The report brought before members said: ‘Cutting and lifting of grass has been shown to reduce the nutrients in the soil which in turn inhibits grass growth. This allows wildflowers to establish and encourages pollen loving insects. Experiments in recent years on both verges and council land has proved successful in this regard.
‘As the grass will be lifted, it will reduce year on year the number of cuts required each season to a point where one in spring and one in the autumn will be all that is required. This will allow wildflowers to establish and provide more attractive verges.
‘If successful the scheme will be rolled out to other areas.”
Although all councillors voted unanimously in favour of the recommendation, some concerns were raised.
DUP Councillor Ivor Wallace said: “My main concern is reducing the number of cuts to verges considering the number of complaints we already get about road ends not being cut. Would the reduction in the number of cuts affect that as well?”
Gareth Doyle, Head of Estates, responded to the question saying: “What we cut is mainly town centres within the 30pmh speed limits so there will be no change to that, in fact we are going to take on an extra few thousand metres for them within the town limits.
“The grass cutting will be continuing as in the past, every couple of weeks, but because we will be lifting the grass it will grow slower, you won’t have the same problems with long grass and sight lines being affected.
“This has been trialled in England and they have found that after five to seven years they are down to one or two cuts a year.
“The trial will take place in Coleraine including the bypass and high profile areas that everyone can see. If the plan works we will roll it out to other areas.”
DUP Councillor Alan McLean suggested the council were being ‘bamboozled a bit’.
“I just wonder if we are being blinded by this fancy new mower we are going to get,” he said. “I know since I came onto this council I have heard this talk around the Riverside Park area in Ballymoney, about biodiversity and not cutting the grass and it will be a lovely meadow and it’s far from a lovely meadow.
“Is this going to work? Are we getting sucked in by the DfI by throwing us a mower, or are we being bamboozled a bit?”
Mr Doyle didn’t feel that the council were being taken advantage of.
He said: “They are still going to pay us £36/37k a year for the next few years as well as the mower so they aren’t going to penalise us straight away in terms of grass cutting.
“Yes it does work but we are taking it on a softly, softly approach and doing it on a trial basis in Coleraine. If after a few years we find we are still cutting the grass every few weeks then we will know it won’t work.”
Bann DEA Councillor Adrian McQuillan was concerned if all the attention was on Coleraine that other parts of the borough would be ‘looking a right mess’.
Party colleague DUP Councillor John McAuley was rather sceptical about the arrangement.
He commented: “I’m struggling to be convinced with this. We currently spend £350,000 cutting roadside grass and DfI are going to be so kind to us to give us £36k but that’s alright because they are giving us a lawn mower so we can cut their grass.
“I’m struggling to join up the dots, the only person getting a good deal here is DfI and it makes me nervous. We already have issues, I didn’t think it was possible to cut the grass any less the state it’s in.”
The Head of Estates felt it was an opportunity to do something different saying: “If we don’t trial this then we are stuck spending £350,000 a year and getting £30 odd thousand back. Basically the status quo will remain; we will just carry on the way we’ve been going in recent years. If it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work.”
Councillor McAuley continued to press the matter adding: “If it is such a good mower and you cut the grass less, have DfI trialled it, is this the mower DfI use to cut their grass?“
Mr Doyle explained that neither DfI Roads Service nor Causeway Coast & Glens Council use the ‘cut and lift’ method, before The Causeway DEA Councillor commented: “So DfI is buying us a lawnmower which will result in us having to cut the grass less but yet they haven’t tried that to see if this is the case or not.”
Mr Doyle confirmed they hadn’t saying: “They are working on evidence from other councils mainly in England.”
Proposing that the recommendation was accepted, the Mayor, UUP Councillor Richard Holmes added: “I do worry about people dressing up cost cutting in biodiversity clothing but I think these things are worth trying.”
The recommendation passed unanimously and will now go to full council on Tuesday, November 2 for ratification.