THE future of a cost-saving grass-cutting strategy in South Tyneside is in doubt today after councillors on an estate in the borough forced a dramatic U-turn.
The council has adopted a policy of creating wildflower meadows in the borough – saving up to £300,000 a year on its annual maintenance and grass-cutting bill and creating wildlife-friendly grassland.
But the project has raised the hackles of some residents, and after protests, the council has agreed to make a U-turn on the policy on the Fellgate and Hedworth estate in Jarrow.
The move follows the intervention of local councillors after they received complaints that the project is “over the top” and environmentally unattractive.
Grass-cutting is now to resume after it was argued that widespread wildflower planting there was “inappropriate” .
The U-turn could now lead to residents in other areas of the borough calling for grass cutting to be resumed.
Coun George Elsom, the leader of the opposition on South Tyneside Council, labelled the whole wild meadow policy “a nonsense” and said Fellgate and Hedworth should not be a “special case”.
He added: “Having wild meadows on the middle of roundabouts and on grass verges is a nonsense. It just looks a mess.
“Residents want neat, manicured roundabouts and grass verges and edging – which isn’t getting done.
“There shouldn’t be a special case for Fellgate and Hedworth. Everyone should be given that choice.”
Coun Alan Smith, who represents Fellgate and Hedworth for Labour, said: “This wild meadow was not appropriate for our estate.
“It is appropriate for more isolated areas of the borough but this was just too close to houses. It was right in people’s faces.
“We had reluctantly agreed for half of the area being covered but when we saw it in practice, we could see it was a non-starter.
“The wildflowers themselves can be very attractive but the wild meadow is just too much. Added to that, it was stopping the children from playing. We’re chuffed to bits at this decision.”
Fellow Labour ward councillor Geraldine Kilgour said she was “absolutely delighted” a compromise had been reached.
Coun Kilgour said: “We have been in constant talks with officers and Coun Smith and myself have been fully supportive of the residents.
“We have had constructive talks with the officers over why this ward is not an appropriate place to trial this programme.
“They have listened and respected our views, and I am delighted at the outcome.
“The ward has a complex pathway structure and this breaks that access up. There are no play facilities, and the fields from Durham Drive are used by children to play. This prevented that to some degree.”
Coun Linda Hemmer, who represents UKIP in Fellgate and Hedworth, welcomed the change of heart, but said she’d warned months ago that the plan was misguided.
She added: “Residents would get a warning letter from the council if they let their own garden to grow so wild. It was always an open invitation to fly-tippers.
“A trial run on small patches of land, yes, but not this extended to the whole area. Why should Fellgate and Hedworth suffer because of the cuts?”
A South Tyneside Council spokesman said: “Following extremely positive feedback from both residents and visitors last year, we extended our wildflower meadows environmental programme from 17 to 60 sites across the borough this year.
“These sites were carefully identified and planned over many months, and agreed in full consultation with ward councillors.
“However, we are now looking at other options for this particular area to help address some issues which have been raised by the local members.
“We continue to welcome feedback on the programme and will be reviewing the wildflower locations later this year to see if any changes need to made next year.”