The cutting of grass, or lack of it in the Causeway Coast and Glens Council area was a bone of contention for a number of councillors, with Councillor John McAuley describing it as ‘one of the most inefficient services’ provided.
Members of the Environmental Services Committee met with DfI Roads representatives James Morrison, Section Engineer DfI Roads Causeway Coast & Glens West and Gary Quinn, Network Maintenance Manager to discuss a number of ongoing issues.
Suggesting DfI Roads, council and the Housing Executive talk to each other and develop a ‘grass cutting team’, Councillor McAuley said: “I think the way it is done as a whole is one of the most inefficient services we provide because it is a hot potato between DfI, council and Housing Executive and it’s got to the stage where I email all three at the same time if I have any complaints.
“If the three departments got together and formed a grass cutting team, I think there is massive savings to be made because there’s areas where DfI cut to a line and the next thing you see the Housing Executive out and the next thing the council, where one team could have cut the whole thing.
“It all seems so reactive, we get complaints and report them, then you go out and cut. Is there no plan because we seem to be reporting the same thing every year? We need a review of the whole situation.”
James Morrison, Section Engineer DfI Roads Causeway Coast & Glens said Cllr McAuley had a valid point, however he explained the difficulty with the suggestion was the ‘liability implication’.
He added: “I do accept there are merits in working together and currently the council and ourselves do work together. To be fair we do communicate with the Housing Executive and I talk to them frequently, but at this point we don’t have any cross liaison team but it is something I can take back with me to feed in to what we may be doing going forward.”
DUP Councillor Adrian McQuillan also had a problem with the same issues saying: “I’ve never seen the grass cutting as bad as it is this year.
“Normally the grass cutting starts at the end of May, early June but this year it didn’t seem to start until July and whilst there are some country roads cut, there is quite a section that isn’t.
“My area is all country and the farmers have been cutting the hedges and some farmers have been cutting the sides of the roads as well to try and help a bit. However, the farmers are saying to me they can’t be responsible for cutting the hedges and the roadsides as well, that the Roads Service has to play their part and they haven’t done that this year.
“Why did you start so late this year and why did you bring in an external contractor which probably cost more than if you had done it yourself?”
Mr Morrison explained: “It’s a matter of public record and it has been responded to in the local news, Cllr McQuillan.
“We had a combination of issues, some were mechanical and some were staff and then we also had an outbreak of Covid. It’s almost been the perfect storm from that point of view and then you add in the holiday period. Unfortunately this year it’s just how it’s worked out, if we could have been there any quicker we would have been.”
Cllr McQuillan felt the response from the DfI Roads section engineer was the ‘same old story’ adding: “Covid being used all the time, people are starting to wear thin with that argument of Covid.”
Responding to that comment Mr Morrison said: “With respect Cllr McQuillan, whilst I appreciate your perception of that, I can assure you that whenever a depot has an outbreak of Covid we take it seriously and as a consequence of that they were out of operation for near enough 10 days.
“As an employer we are bound to act and look after the people that work for us. I do appreciate from where you are sitting, it’s the last thing that’s needed but as a consequence of that we did not have the resources.”
Agreeing that the DfI has to have the responsibility for its employees, the Bann DEA councillor concluded: ‘Ten days won’t catch you up on what needs to be caught up, you were a month to two months late starting and it’s only 10 days we are talking about with regards to Covid but I take your point, you have to have the responsibility for the employees and I do agree with that.”