YOUNGSTERS are dicing with danger because a controversial council long grass policy is forcing them to play on roads in South Tyneside, worried parents claim.
As part of a town hall plan to introduce more wildflower meadows, grass is now left to grow uncut across various sites in the borough.
One of those areas is Low Simonside, Jarrow, much to the concern of one worried mother.
Mum-of-two Jane Kirkham spotted one of her sons playing football with friends on the road opposite the family home in Salcombe Avenue, because the grass is now too long on the nearby field they had always previously used.
Mrs Kirkham, 28, says the policy will have an adverse effect on children’s health because there will be fewer green spaces on which they can play.
She said: “This is definitely a hazard for the children. Because the grass has not been cut and is so tall, the kids are playing on the road instead.
“But playing football out in the street isn’t safe and I fear one of the children is going to be hurt unless the council cuts the grass and allows them back on to the field, where they’ve always played in safety.”
Mrs Kirkham said she and her husband Jamie, 28, fear for the safety of their boys, four-year-old Kyle and Rhys, aged eight, who are both keen footballers.
She added: “I have e-mailed the council lots of times about this, but no one ever gets back to me.
“The grass has been really long for about the last two months and this has forced local children on to the road in Salcombe Avenue and nearby Newlyn Drive.
“Rhys and Kyle cannot play on the field and will have to use the back garden. But I thought we were trying to encourage our children to be fit?
“I think this is a bad policy by the council and is creating a danger for children, who are playing football on local streets, when they have always used large grassed areas in the past.”
Last year, the council adopted a policy of creating 17 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.
This year, that was expanded to 60 sites after identifying areas that were agreed with ward councillors.
And the Mayor of South Tyneside, Coun Fay Cunningham, who also represents the Bede ward, said the process could be reversed if there were complaints.
She said: “This is just an experiment for this year. It is a cost-cutting exercise and we have been assured by grounds maintenance that this policy can be reversed, if there are complaints from residents.”
A council spokeswoman said: “The Wildflower Meadows programme is part of a move towards a more wildlife and environmentally-friendly maintenance regime with selected grasslands replaced by wildflowers.
“This not only provides benefits for endangered bees and butterflies and strengthens the food chain for birds and animals, but is helping us to save a substantial amount of money from the annual cost of maintaining seven million square metres of grassland.
“In many locations, the wildflower meadows have been very popular among residents and visitors. As a result of the extremely positive feedback we received last year, we expanded the programme from 17 to 60 sites this year.
“We understand that some issues will arise along the way and some of the new locations may require small amendments during the year due to safety concerns or to create play areas where children were not previously known to play. Additionally, we will be reviewing the whole programme later in the year to see what changes need to be made next year.
“We would like to remind residents that once the displays conclude in late autumn, the wildflower vegetation will be cut down and removed from site.”
Gazette readers have also contacted us to complain about the state of the grass in other areas, including around Temple Park.
A council spokeswoman said greenery and flowers should begin to bloom in that area following the next rain and that the authority had arranged for street cleaning teams to remove the litter.
There is also unrest about the state of uncut grass around Biddick Hall Drive.
One concerned resident said: “I think the council should listen to the people of the borough. After all, it is us who are paying the council taxes, not the wildlife. We deserve to live in a safe and lovely environment, not over-run with vermin, tall grasses and wild flowers.
“Keep the wildflowers and meadow grasses for the parks and rural areas and leave the housing estates alone.”
A council spokeswoman insisted that, in areas not designated as wildflower meadows, it was continuing to operate 14 grass cuts a year, taking place between late March and October, on an approximate fortnightly basis. A wet spring followed by a dry early summer has been put forward as the reason for heavy grass growth in the borough.”
She added: “In areas not identified as wildflower meadow sites, we have maintained the frequency of grass cutting operations.
“These are in line with industry standards and are comparable with neighbouring authorities. Certain weather conditions will mean grass grows more quickly than usual and can look overgrown in a short space of time.”