Grass cutting of West Sussex’s public verges is set to be reduced as part of a new highways maintenance plan.
West Sussex County Council says ever-tightening budgets, safety and value for money criteria have all helped decided new service levels when it comes to grass cutting, weed spraying and winter gritting.
The authority has been cutting urban grass maintained up to seven times per year between March and November, but this will be reduced to up to five times.
However the county council will work with partner authorities so they can arrange extra cuts at their expense, work with interested organisations to increase biodiversity and promote conservation of the ecology and roadside verges.
Meanwhile the council says it can no longer afford to carry out routine weed spraying and instead will be focusing efforts on targeted spraying of footpaths using non-herbicides where there is a safety issue.
An annual programme to control Japanese’s Knotweed and Giant Hogweed will be unaffected.
Under the new plan, West Sussex Highways would continue to keep watch on the winter weather forecasts, ready to deploy gritters on a priority basis, to keep main routes open and passable with care. Details of the new gritting routes will be published in the winter service plan and will be available later this year.
The council would continue to top up community salt bins at strategic locations and work with communities and farmers during very cold weather.
Snow clearance will be based on the same areas as the new salting network.
Michael Jones, leader of the Labour group, said: “Not only will these things make the county look less tidy, there’ll be safety issues too.”
But Roger Elkins, cabinet member for highways and infrastructure, said: “Local authorities across the country are facing unprecedented financial pressures and West Sussex is no exception. Due to increasing demand on social care services and a continued reduction in central government funding, we have been forced to make very difficult decisions to balance our budget.
“Safety remains our top priority but we also have to find ways to do more with income we get from council tax and provide value for money.”
Groups of volunteers as well as parish and town councils have worked in partnership with West Sussex Highways to help look after local areas.
Mr Elkins said: “Grass cutting and winter planning are two examples of this. Some parish councils already work with us to arrange extra grass cuts at their expense and, last year, we had more than 150 community winter plans in place, with 50 volunteer farmers on standby to help with snow clearance. Parish and town councils work with farmers or contractors if the need arises.
“This is an opportunity for me to thank everyone who has been working with us in this way over the years. In the coming months, we will be engaging with communities to see if even more people would like to help, if they can.”
Groups or organisations interested in finding out more about how they can help look after their local areas can email firstname.lastname@example.org
Other initiatives in the pipeline include improvements to the Love West Sussex online reporting tool which will make it even easier to report problems with a road or pavement.