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Budget cuts blamed for overgrown grass verges in Wrexham

COUNCILLORS in Wrexham have expressed their anger over the “embarrassing” length of grass in the county borough.

It follows budget cuts, industrial action and climate change being blamed for overgrown verges in the area.

Members of a Wrexham Council committee revealed this week how they had been inundated with complaints from residents left unhappy over the state of green spaces.

The issue has led to a crisis meeting being held between senior politicians and chief officers to try and resolve the situation.

More money is now being spent by the local authority to buy new grass-cutting equipment and increase staffing levels to tidy up grassy areas.

Several councillors hit out over the problem at a meeting of the council’s homes and environment scrutiny committee on Wednesday (June 19, 2024).

Acrefair North councillor Paul Blackwell (Lab) highlighted how overgrown grass were causing safety issues for drivers.

He said: “With the verges in Ruabon, you can’t see what’s coming round the roundabouts unless you’re in an SUV or a lorry.

“I’ve had comments to say that the team need their tools sharpening up and all sorts of emails ranting away at me.

“It’s been quite frankly embarrassing walking around the area.”

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Pant and Johnstown councillor Steve Joe Jones (Ind) echoed his concerns.

He said: “I’ve never ever known it to be as bad as it is now. I get calls and emails day and night. It doesn’t stop and it’s relentless.”

A report to the committee states that the council aims to cut grassy areas eight times a year.

Its grounds maintenance team is responsible for cutting approximately four million square metres of grass overall, which officers said required “an extensive amount of resource and time”.

However, due to an overspend of £4.5m last year, the authority’s environment department was forced to make cutbacks which impacted on the amount of grass cutting which took place.

Wet and warm weather conditions last winter, as well as industrial action by council staff were said to have added to the problem.

Cllr Terry Evans (Ind), Wrexham’s lead member for environment, said: “Last year, no grass was cut after August because of industrial action. Then we had a warm, wet winter where the grass didn’t stop growing.

“We were ready to go and the first week of March, but we were down on staff and machines because of budget pressures.

“We didn’t start cutting properly till the end of April and the ground was extremely wet. The machines were getting stuck and blocked because of the length of grass.

“We had a crisis point where we called a meeting with the chief executive, the leader of the council and the deputy leader

“After that meeting, we had permission to hire flail machines, which are on the way and to increase the number of staff to help out the teams. The cutting is not perfect by any means, but we are getting there.”

Darren Williams, chief officer for environment, also admitted the condition of some grass patches was “not where we’d like it to be”.

However, he said most areas of Wrexham were about to receive their second cut of the year.

He added that climate change and financial issues meant the council may have to review how it cuts grass in the future.

Mr Williams said: “We did have a significant issue with budgets, and you will all recall the challenge that we faced last year to try and bring budgets back in-line.

“We raised the issue, and members supported us in getting some more resource to assist with our grass cutting programme for this coming year.

“There were parts of the borough where grass continued to grow right the way through the season.

“We all need to be mindful that if that trend continues, I can foresee that in a very short number of years we will be cutting grass throughout the year.”

Committee chair Paul Pemberton (Ind) said there had been a breakdown in communication with officers over which areas were due to be cut, with emails from politician left unanswered.

Meanwhile, Brymbo councillor Paul Rogers (Ind) said he believed the council was no longer taking pride in the appearance of the county borough.

He said: “My own personal view is that this council needs to come back to its motto of ‘pride in your streets’, because I think we’ve lost that focus, especially in the last couple of months.

“I appreciate times are difficult when it comes to finances, but I think the department needs to refocus and embrace that motto once again.”

Council leader Mark Pritchard (Ind) said more money needed to be put into the grounds maintenance service and financial cuts needed to stop.

He said: “The frankness of it is that the grass is too high. I think it’s important that we all understand here that there isn’t enough money in that service.

“We’ve got to have that debate and have a frank discussion, if we want the standards to be met. I won’t be supporting cutting any more money from Streetscene.”

Councillors agreed at the end of the meeting to set up a cross-party task force to examine how grass-cutting can be improved.