Opinion by County Councillor Eber Kington: The decision by the Conservative ruling group at Surrey County Council to take back from April the cutting of highway verges from Epsom and Ewell Borough Council was heralded as means of securing consistency across the County. Whether that was meant to be a consistent levelling down of the service (but not the height of the grass!) I am not so sure. But so far it has been a very public display of how not to launch a new service to the public.
It’s nine weeks into the new regime and still many verges in Epsom and Ewell have not been cut, and the latest website information shows that many roads in Epsom and Woodcote will have to wait another week before the mowers move in.
There is grass so high that street name plates, bollards and signs cannot be seen, and sight lines that are dangerously obscured, making driving hazardous. Clovers, trefoils and daisies in verges that are of most nectar value and will best cater for our wildlife, are swamped by tall growing grass and weeds. And a policy of blowing back grass cuttings on to the verge, whilst sensible and manageable when the grass is cut at a reasonable level, is not workable when the grass has been left to grow so high. The blow back just spreads the grass on to the footpaths and has the potential to block the drains.
And when the machines have actually done their work, residents in our urban streets are far too often looking out at poorly mown verges peppered with clumps grass, as though our verges were experiencing a bad hair day!
SCC puts it down to “operational issues at the start of the new contract and the wet weather we had in April and at the start of May”. Is that politicians way of saying a failure to plan effectively and ensure sufficient resources were deployed from the start. And if a period of rain delays the schedule by nine weeks, that does not augur well for the future given our unpredictable climate.
Sadly, the problem has been compounded by poor communication from SCC. A website page with the scheduled dates for cuts regularly missed and not updated, and just general locations listed (Epsom, Ewell, Stoneleigh) so that residents of Cuddington and Langley Vale, for example, have no idea when their verges will meet up with a SCC grass mower.
At least the Leader of SCC has acknowledged this is not his finest hour and set up Task and Finish Groups to find what went wrong and how it can be fixed. Residents’ Association and Independent County Councillors have put in a joint submission highlighting the failings and offering solutions. Those solutions include a commitment to return to the 6 to 8 cuts previously provided by Epsom and Ewell Borough Council – the verges in residential roads are too narrow to support the meadow look.
It is going to take some time for our verges (and residents) to recover from this. Sadly there may be more to come…………..from April SCC has also taken back responsibility for weeds, alleyway clearance and highway roundabouts!
County Councillor Eber Kington (RA Ewell Court, Auriol & Cuddington)