A LABOUR councillor has blasted the local authority’s wildflower meadow scheme as “an unmitigated disaster”.
Coun John McCabe is calling for fields near Hexham Avenue and Fountains Crescent, Hebburn, where wildflowers were planted last year, to be returned to open green areas, where children can again play.
The call follows a series of complaints about how the cost-cutting scheme has taken over various green areas across South Tyneside, with many residents claiming it has left much of the borough looking untidy.
Coun McCabe, the vice-chairman of Hebburn community area forum, said: “Children have played on fields near Hexham Avenue and Fountains Crescent for generations.
Youngsters would play football, cricket and various sports on the fields, but since last year, the areas are now covered with wildflowers.
“So it means about half-a-mile of green space is now out-of-bounds to children in the area.
“I know South Tyneside Council is under great financial pressures, and has to cut millions from its budget by looking at all avenues, but this scheme has been an unmitigated disaster.”
Coun McCabe, who is chairman of the people’s committee, which oversees health and wellbeing issues in the borough, is also concerned about the effects of the loss of the Hebburn play areas on the health of local schoolchildren.
He said: “At a time when one in five children are classified as obese before they even start school, and fat kids are getting fatter, we are losing our national playing areas.
“We need to be encouraging our children to stay healthy, and this policy seems to be going against this.”
Coun McCabe said he was supportive of the wildflower meadow scheme last year, when the programme was more selective, but has grown “unhappy” with the way it has been rolled out across the borough.
Residents in Low Simonside, Jarrow, recently warned of traffic dangers for their children, who were playing on roads because a local field was unusable, after being planted with wildflowers. Last week, the Gazette reported how residents living along the route of the Great North Run in John Reid Road, South Shields, were annoyed about the height of wildflowers outside their homes.
Some people claimed the overgrown greenery would be a poor advertisement for South Tyneside during the Great North Run, which will be screened to millions of TV viewers throughout the country on Sunday, September 7.
A spokesman for South Tyneside Council said: “The wildflower meadows scheme was introduced last year as one of the ways of managing our green spaces for the benefit of residents and wildlife.
“It is part of a move towards a more environmentally-friendly ma-intenance regime, which provides a vital nectar source for threatened bees and butterflies as well as strengthens the food chain for birds and mammals.
“It is also helping to make efficiency savings from the annual cost of maintaining seven million square metres of grassland.
“As originally planned, the wildflower vegetation will be cut down and removed in the late autumn and a review will take place to inform next year’s approach.”