CRAIGAVON council has bowed to public pressure and decided to resume cutting the grass areas owned by government departments in the borough - even though they are paid just £7,000 for work that costs £75,000.
The proposal by Alderman Stephen Moutray went through on a 17-8 majority, with Sinn Fein members opposed. It reverses a decision taken in January that the council should stop cutting grass areas for which they did not have responsibility.
The u-turn comes as The Portadown Times received numerous complaints about the ‘unkempt’ appearance of grass verges in the borough. It was also a hotly discussed topic on the paper’s Facebook page.
As a result of the January move, countless acres of grass have been growing wild and unkempt, with agencies like the DRD cutting just a four-foot swathe on road verges to satisfy health and safety legislation, and ignoring the rest.
In proposing the rescinding motion, Alderman Moutray said, “The borough is in an appalling state. It may seemed a good idea at the time, as grass doesn’t grow in January, but it has certainly grown within the past few weeks, and we have been inundated with complaints. We (DUP) opposed the January proposal and we were right.
“It has been getting worse by the week, and if this proposal is passed tonight, the workers should get the cutters out tomorrow.”
Councillor Mark Baxter accused the DRD of “hacking down the grass verges twice a year and forgetting about the rest”. He added, “The DRD is ruining the borough’s chances of winning the ‘In Bloom’ competitions. You can’t even see the Waringstown village sign for grass and weeds in an area that’s seeking inward investment.”
And Alderman Sydney Anderson commented that it may be ideal for “cows horses and goats to graze”, but it was unsightly and the £75,000 saved was a false economy.
SDLP’s Joe Nelson recalled he had voted for the original proposal to stop cutting the grass, “but having seen the result and the horrendous feedback, I’m changing my mind”, a view echoed by Alderman Meta Crozier who added that the council should re-negotiate the £7,000 from the government departments, “for something more realistic”.
Sinn Fein members, though, were opposed, with Councillor Tommy O’Connor challenging “council double-jobbers” (Moutray and Anderson MLAs) to make the DRD cut their own grass, while Mairead O’Dowd insisted that £75,000 of ratepayers’ money should not be used for “something that isn’t our responsibility”.
And Johnny McGibbon compared it to a resident of an estate cutting his own lawn “and then doing the whole estate”. “It’s exploitation,” he claimed. And he asked where the council - “which cut the budget to the bone at the start of the year” - was going to find the £75,000.
Alderman Arnold Hatch said that, under the original arrangements, the council also cut grass “for industrial millionaires” and suggested the issue should be decided by the local government auditor. He tabled an amendment to that effect, which fell on a 20-5 majority, after which the Moutray proposal was passed 17-8.