This report sets out a response to an issue raised by Councillor Curry, concerning the use of herbicides to clear vegetation.
The Committee considered a Member’s item placed on the agenda at the request of Councillor Curry requesting the cessation of the use of herbicides to clear vegetation.
Councillor Curry thanked officers for processing the report quickly to enable it to be included on the agenda for this meeting.
Councillor Curry outlined the reasons why he was asking for the spraying of herbicides to cease along path edges, pavements and around posts and trees and referred to a legal case in the USA involving the use of glyphosate. He also outlined possible alternative solutions such as strimming, hand weeding and taking no action to eradicate weeds and advised that the Kent Wildlife Trust, RSPB and Kew Gardens no longer used herbicides to control weed growth.
With the agreement of the Committee, Mrs Rachael Noxon addressed the Committee in support of Councillor Curry’s Member’s item and expressed concern as to the potential harm resulting from the use of glyphosate to the public and, in particular, young children, animals and wildlife.
She advised the Committee that a number of local authorities including Bromley, Croydon and Brighton and Hove had ceased the use of glyphosate and she suggested that Medway Council approach these local authorities for further information as to how they control weeds.
The Committee discussed this issue having regard to the Director’s response and noted that officers regularly reviewed chemical spraying in line with regulations and safety guidelines and monitored any other techniques available to ensure that the Council was working safely, compliant with regulations and ensuring best practice.
It was noted that a glyphosate based weedkiller, approved for use in public spaces, was currently used across Medway and was absorbed through green leaves, killing only the plant upon which it was sprayed and was neutralised on contact with the soil. When applied in a diluted form as used by the Council, the chemical had an extremely low toxicity to animals and posed minimal risk to humans or pets who may accidentally come into contact with the substance.
A number of Members confirmed that they had been approached by residents who were concerned about the spraying of chemicals but noted that it was necessary for the Council to consider all the evidence available, and undertake necessary risk assessments before making a decision on the way forward.
The Operations Manager – Grounds – Medway Norse advised the Committee that spraying was carried out in early Spring (March/April) but she stated that the chemical did not stay in the soil as weed growth returned by the Summer. She confirmed that prior to spraying, a risk assessment would be carried out. However, spraying activity was not actively publicised but this could be introduced.
The Head of Environmental Services informed the Committee that the Council had a legal duty to prevent the spread of some weeds. She advised that in the light of the limited time available to provide a response to Councillor Curry’s Member’s item, the costings set out in the financial implications had been produced on a like for like basis. To undertake a more in depth financial assessment would involve more time and research.
The Chairman thanked Councillor Curry for his Member’s item and thanked Mrs Noxon for her presentation to the Committee and he invited Mrs Noxon to respond to the comments put forward by Members of the Committee.
The Head of Environmental Services advised that there would be no further spraying until Spring 2020 and therefore it was possible for a more detailed report to be submitted to a future meeting outlining a response to the points raised including the Council’s legal obligations, financial implications and the outcome of consultations with other Local Authorities who had ceased the spraying of herbicides.
The Committee thanked Councillor Curry for his Member’s item and Mrs Noxon for attending the meeting and agreed that:
a) it be recommended that an alternative to spraying in parks, play area fence lines and other features and tree bases not be taken forward at this time.
b) it be recommended that support be given to the mini meadows project and other similar ideas proposed for the highway verges and in parks, where the Council will be working with Plant Life and Kent Wildlife Trust to continue to increase and enhance biodiversity of plants and wildlife around Medway.
c) a further report be submitted to this Committee in December 2019 setting out:
· the experiences of other local authorities that have ceased using herbicides for weed control;
· documentary evidence as to the potential harm of continued use of herbicides for weed control;
· details of any policy changes which may be required should the Council decide to cease using herbicides to control weed growth;
· full information on the financial and legal implications of any decision by the Council to cease use of herbicides for weed control to enable the Committee to make an informed recommendation to Cabinet for consideration before the spraying season commences in March/April 2020.