Department: no money for grass

HEDGING BEING CUT. . . .The scene at Alder Road on Thursday as grass verges were being cut. DER2715MC064
HEDGING BEING CUT. . . .The scene at Alder Road on Thursday as grass verges were being cut. DER2715MC064

Regional Development Minister Danny Kennedy’s Private Secretary has written to Derry & Strabane Council outlining their lack of funding to deal with maintenance issues.

Derry City and Strabane District Council had previously written to Mr Kennedy’s department expressing their concerns and dissatisfaction with the current situation.

They took the decision to do so at a previous meeting after the withdrawal of £114,000 from Transport NI to deal with grass cutting and shrub maintenance in urban areas and along arterial routes across the council area.

The council had raised safety concerns and spoke out again the negative impact that this would have on the area “at a time when Council is looking to maximize inward investment and civic pride across the district”, a report brought before the July meeting of the council’s Environment & Regeneration Committee stated.

Councils have previously undertaken the grass cutting in their areas on behalf of the DRD, but have now found that funding for this has been withdrawn.

Derry-Strabane Council has had to find £75,600 to undertake a reduced grass cutting service over the current financial year to April 2016, with warnings of a potential impact on rates if the situation is not resolved.

Responding to the concerns, Mr Kennedy’s Private Secretary Ruth Galley said the decision was not taken lightly. She said that the department was facing a £60m resource budgeting pressure for 2015/16, more than half of which is falling to Transport NI.

She said: “The budget pressure has created an immediate impact on the delivery of routine maintenance services such as gully cleaning, road marking and street light repairs, together with road and footway patching winter service, grass cutting and the maintenance of traffic signals.

“The budget allocation that is currently available to Transport NI is only sufficient to cover our fixed costs, such as PPP payments and staff costs, energy bills for street lighting and traffic signals and statutory inspection and testing of street lighting installations.

“Since April 1, the Department has been unable, due to the funding constraints, to employ external providers to undertake to carry out maintenance activities such as gully cleaning, road marking, street light repairs and grass cutting.

“Unfortunately the funding for the grass cutting provided by Councils, on behalf of the Transport NI, fell into this category.”

Ms Galwey said she appreciated the concerns about road safety, but said that the Minister and the Department “will not be allowing road safety related maintenance to be stopped altogether and our internal workforce will be providing a skeleton routine maintenance service.

“With regard to grass cutting, this will allow all areas to be cut once between April and October with junction sightlines cut, as required, for safety reasons.”

She further said that purpose for grass cutting was “prevent overgrowth onto footway and carriageway surfaces and the obstruction of sightlines and traffic signs,” adding that they were “for road safety reasons not for cosmetic or amenity purposes”.

While paying tribute to the excellent grass cutting services undertaken by councils over recent years, she added; “The department simply cannot spend money it does not have.”