Call for Southend’s ‘jungle’ grass verges to be cut back

Southend’s overgrown grass verges have been compared to a “jungle” as residents grow frustrated with an alleged lack of action.

Last year Southend’s former Tory administration vowed to increase grass cutting on verges across but large parts of the city remain “swathed in long grass”.

Mark Flewitt, a former councillor, has demanded answers from the new Labour-led administration adding “foot high” grass is angering residents.

Former leader Tony Cox compared parts of Shoebury to “a jungle” because grass is so high.

Southend Council confirmed last month that four members of the council’s parks service – responsible for maintaining grass verges – took voluntary redundancy earlier this year.

Two members of the council’s parks team were injured in a crash in Royal Artillery Way but short term cover has been recruited.

Mr Flewitt said: “The new leader of the council should have come out or told officers to put a statement together on what they found. However people voted in the local elections they didn’t vote for grass verges not to be cut.

“To not tell people who are getting agitated about verges not being cut is not good enough. I can speak for the Astronaut Estate and it’s just been left and it’s over foot high. Residents shouldn’t have to go to a chief executive to say we’re paying our council tax and you’re not doing one of the fundamental things that we’ve usually relied on happening regardless of the administration.”

The two members of the park team injured in the crash have now left hospital and are recovering at home.

Mr Flewitt said: “Those poor chaps who were really badly injured, I expected there to be some time drag but the council still didn’t put anything out to say they were going to have to revise things. They’re hoping not many people will say anything and they’re just ignoring the issue until the 35 days are up.”

Cllr Cox said “a lot of the backlog” is down to the serious crash.

He said: “I do have some sympathy with the situation. A lot of the backlog has been down to that horrific situation.

“The only thing is that it’s down to keeping people informed in terms of when they can expect the grass to be cut. Most parts of Shoebury look like a jungle.”

Lydia Hyde, councillor responsible for the climate, environment and waste, said: “The main reason that we have been delayed is because of the tragic accident that happened to our verge cutting team in Royal Artillery Way which not only hospitalised staff it also wrote off the equipment. In the first few days of being in administration there was focus on hiring replacement people and getting in staff, which we have now done, but that introduced a two week delay to the grass cutting schedule. It takes about 35 days to cut the whole city and that’s what we’re doing.

“On the whole it is the consequence of a really severe cut to the parks team by the last Conservative administration. We tried to do as much as we could to amend some of the cuts but unfortunately because they had already arranged to reduce the grass cutting team from 12 down to five we couldn’t amend that. That’s a really savage cut.”

Cllr Hyde added: “Obviously the situation isn’t sustainable as it is. We need to urgently look at repairing the damage that’s been left by not having people cut the grass. I’m in urgent talks with senior officers about this and coming up with a new plan. We’re cutting as quickly as we can but given the circumstances it’s challenging.”

A council spokesperson said: “As many residents will have experienced in their own gardens, the current periods of warm, wet and sunny spring weather have prompted very strong growth or grass and vegetation across the country, but our grass cutting programme has been underway since early April and will continue until October.

“The awful accident involving our parks teams has also had an impact on the speed that we have been able to complete a full round, with two of our staff seriously injured and two of our vehicles affected. We recently recruited to cover these positions in the short-term.

“It was also agreed as part of the challenging budget setting process for 2024/25 that there would be a review of the parks service, which has seen a reduction in seasonal contract staff and some members of staff deciding to take voluntary redundancy as part of this.

“However, despite this, our staff are working hard to get round the city. Grass verges are being cut on average every 35 days. Areas around trees, lampposts, fence lines, and railings are strimmed every third time we cut the grass.

“Please also note that when it is very wet, as has been the case for much of April and May, it is not always practical to cut and the finish is not so good with grass clippings, arisings and clumps of grass being dropped by the mowers as they move along and between verges. Should any verges and grassed areas become too wet and or waterlogged these areas may have to be left uncut until they are dry, this is to prevent verge damage.

“The parks team continue to work closely with the highways team to ensure that sight lines are clear for drivers and pedestrians.”

Christine Sexton

Local Democracy Reporter