Report by the Director of Communities, Economy and Transport.
28.1 The Contract Manager Highway Infrastructure Services introduced the report. The report provides an update on the Grass Cutting and Roadside Vegetation Management Service following changes made to the Service in May 2018. The change in policy was to reduce the number of urban grass cuts to two cuts per year and has been successful. Under the revised Service, Borough, District, Town and Parish councils are offered several service options to either self-deliver grass cutting; pay for additional cuts; or accept the revised service of two urban grass cuts per year. In 2019 more Parish councils have decided to take up the option of either paying for additional cuts, or self-delivering the grass cutting service with a contribution from ESCC equivalent to the cost of providing two cuts.
28.2 The grass growing season in 2018 was a bit unusual, but 2019 has been a more normal year. There have been fewer customer contacts about grass cutting and there have been fewer issues around safety cuts for visibility splays. Following feedback from last year, the Team have developed more clarity about which areas need cutting and have been able to take a better approach to cutting visibility splays. There have been no significant operational issues such as machinery breakdowns. There has been more interest in Wildlife Verges and people can see the wildlife benefit of cutting verges less. There appears to be growing public support for cutting verges less which benefits wildlife.
28.3 The Committee discussed the report and the changes to the Grass Cutting Service. It noted that the Service changes have been positive in terms of the environmental benefits resulting from cutting verges less. The Committee acknowledged that the timing of cuts could be difficult as wildflower verges should ideally be cut towards the end of July. A feature of having a countywide contract means that verges in some places might be cut slightly too early or too late in the season. However, to have all verges cut at the same time would have an impact on the operational efficiency and cost of the grass cutting contract.
28.4 Some Committee members commented that the revised policy means that Parish and Town Councils can rightly decide what level of service they want. The Contract Manager Highway Infrastructure Service clarified that although some councils are self-delivering the Grass Cutting Service, this does not mean that ESCC has delegated the control of highway verges to them. The Team have worked very closely with Town and Parish Councils and if they self-deliver the grass cutting service, measures are in place to ensure all the relevant procedures are in place. ESCC also has an enforcement team and Highway Stewards who will deal with any issues related to verges such as parking and encroachment.
28.5 The Committee expressed some concerns about the quality of the finish that is being achieved, as the quality of the cut is determined by the machinery used and the length of the grass at the time of cutting. The use of flail mowers rather than cylinder mowers can leave a less than neat finish. The Committee asked if the Team monitor the quality of cuts.
28.6 The Contract Manager Highway Infrastructure Services outlined that the contractor uses rotary mowers which produce an acceptable finish given that highway verges are cut for safety purposes and not for appearance. The contractors carry out their own quality checks but ESCC also undertakes spot checks. The level of complaints regarding quality is fairly low, and the Team do act on reports or complaints from members of the public about the quality of cuts.
28.7 The Committee RESOLVED to note the report updating the Committee on the changes made to the Grass Cutting and Roadside Vegetation Management Service.