Saturday, 9 June 2018

Letter from the Scottish Borders


Well, it hasn't taken the new administration at Newtown St Boswells long to get our backs up. They've already shown an ability to be even more annoying than their predecessors - some achievement, I hear fellow locals cry!

Many of us thought the removal of our kerbside garden waste collections several years ago ranked as the silliest cut to save money. It resulted in pensioners taking sacks of lawn clippings to their nearest recycling centre by taxi. It may also have sparked an epidemic of fly tipping in our beautiful countryside.

Thousands of green bins lie unused in gardens from Eyemouth to Peebles while we wait on the edge of our seats for a review of the council's waste management strategy. Meanwhile regular trips to the 'cowp' remain the order of the day.

The future of refuse collection and disposal has been "undecided" since 2015 when the previous administration had to abandon a waste management contract after losing close to two and a half million pounds on a failed venture with an insolvent contractor.

But I digress. The new target for our wrath is the ground breaking policy rubber stamped several months ago and revelling in the title: CHANGES TO GRASS CUTTING AND BEDDING PLANT PROVISION.

It slipped through virtually unnoticed, but is already proving to be a game changer. The immediate result has been the creation of scores of unsightly, unkempt green spaces in our towns and villages with grass allowed to grow a foot high before it is mowed.

The review of ground maintenance follows similar cost cutting exercises affecting all of our basic local government services down the years. It is a wonder another arms length company hasn't been set up to take on the 635 hectares of green space and 3,250 individual plots maintained by the council. Such a business could sit alongside those already functioning in other spheres including home care and libraries.

Information posted on the SBC website predicted: "As part of the Neighbourhood Services review, some parks and open spaces, grass verges and some amenity grass areas, including steeply sloping ground will look different as we change our grass cutting service across the Borders. The changes are required to ensure financial sustainability for the service as well as improving environmental sustainability".

The new policy did warn us: "GRASS CUTTING:There will also be a change of approach to general amenity grass areas (including cemeteries) so grass that was previously cut once every ten working days is cut approximately every 20 working days. This method is widely used throughout the UK and Scotland as an appropriate, sustainable and efficient method of maintaining green space"

Just try telling that to the many who are already writing angry letters of protest to local papers or have urged their local councillor to reverse the damaging measure before untold damage is done to our economy and our unique landscape. A host of community council chairmen and women are also on the case.

We could call it the unkindest uncut of all. But with tens of thousands of visitors from the rest of the UK and from overseas about to descend on us there is little appetite for humour. We mustn't allow the grass to grow under our feet!

A friend who spent time searching for his vertically challenged pooch [dachshund] in the Scottish Borders Council sponsored undergrowth wondered which firm of consultants had come up with the concept of the 20-day cutting cycle. Or did our elected members simply spawn the plain daft idea on their own?

For those who haven't read the small print, there's a second chapter of the policy due to kick in early in 2019. This could allow the council to abdicate responsibility for providing attractive floral displays even in the main tourist locations.

Beneath the heading BEDDING PLANT PROVISION we are informed: "The new provision will take effect in spring 2019, allowing us time to redesign areas and liaise with community groups. The provision will be either: introduce permanent rather than seasonal displays; grass over areas; support communities who wish to undertake bedding plant maintenance as part of their 'In Bloom' activities".

So, faced with a tidal wave of protest from their constituents, and the threat of inflicting untold damage on cash-strapped Borders businesses will those who are supposed to represent us have the courage to admit their folly and impose more cuts in this case? It would certainly be remarkable if an entire council administration admitted it was wrong.

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