Council officials are being urged to reverse their cutbacks to grass-cutting Hawick’s Wilton Lodge Park and the town’s cemeteries.
That plea from the town’s regional councillors follows a confrontation between disgruntled residents and council staff at Tuesday’s meeting of the authority’s Teviot and Liddesdale area partnership at Hawick High School.
Representatives of the council’s neighbourhood services team came in for criticism from community councillors and lresidents claiming their towns and villages are looking run down because of cost-cutting measures now taking effect.
Denholm community councillor Gwen Crew said: “I’d like to get some reassurance that our local cemeteries at Denholm will not be allowed to fall into such terrible condition again.
“I’ve received complaints from residents and visitors alike who cannot accept that a local authority would let these graveyards fall into such disrepair.
“The weed and the thistles and the grass, at one point, were 21in high. This shows total disrespect to people who have loved ones in the cemeteries, but it also shows that the whole area is run down.
“I’d like to know why this policy is deemed to be acceptable.”
Jason Hedley, the council’s manager for neighbourhood services, replied: “The council agreed, as part of its budget-setting, that significant savings could be made with this service, some of which derived from grass-cutting and maintenance but some also derived from the provision of annual floral displays and savings to come from the access team.
“They did so on the back of a successful trial which me and my team ran across the Borders last year, looking at changing the frequency of grass-cutting maintenance across 50 sites, which were changed from a 10-day working cycle to a 20-day working cycle.
“We also changed the type of equipment which we utilised. Clearly, though, if you don’t cut the grass as often, then between those cuts the grass will be longer.
“As service manager, I do have to concede that there have been some challenges for us, many of which stem from us learning to cope with the new equipment that we have.
“At this time, I don’t think there’ll be a change to the frequency of the cutting.
“We’ve got 154 cemeteries. They have an awful lot of obstacles. They are going to be our biggest challenge across the Borders.”
Derick Tait, chairman of Future Hawick, queried the council officers about the upkeep of Wilton Lodge Park, saying: “We’ve just spent £3.5m on Wilton Lodge Park, the jewel in our crown, and when the plans first came out, assurances were given that the park would be maintained in the style to which we were accustomed.
“Future Hawick has just taken on responsibility for the welcome hosts this year, and while I never thought about it, I have been pleasantly surprised by the level of visitors we get from as far afield as Cumbria and Durham.
“I understand it’s part of this new policy that the flowerbeds in this park are going to be grassed over.
“Is it your intention to just destroy £3.5m worth of work in one fell swoop?”
Mr Hedley replied: “Annual bedding displays aren’t sustainable. They cost an awful lot, and they aren’t really ticking that biodiversity box.
“The proposal that was put to council was built on the work which was undertaken in around 2010, when the council decided to halve the amount of annual beds and flowers it provided.
“Whilst it is difficult, and led to some short-term challenged in the community, actually we’re now seeing the benefits of that work with the likes of Hawick in Bloom setting up and doing an awful lot of good work in the town.
“We have had discussions with Hawick in Bloom about the annual displays, but they say they’re feeling quite limited. They need more volunteers. They feel they couldn’t take on the volume of work the council currently provides.
“Because of this, the proposals put forward do involve the grassing over of beds and the redesign of some beds.
“It doesn’t throw away £3.5m of development as it can be a different type of horticulture that replaces those beds. It doesn’t have to be grass.”
Hawick and Denholm councillor Stuart Marshall, chairing the meeting, added: “From the feedback I’m getting from residents, a lot of people feel that the death knell, the final straw, would be to take away the flowerbeds. I think this issue has to be resolved.”
Mr Marshall also chaired a meeting of four of Hawick’s six regional councillors on Wednesday, and they agreed to call on officers to reverse some of the cutbacks now in force.
“All of us were unanimous that priority grass-cutting should be given to all gateways in and out of our town, including Weensland Road and the A7 routes north and south,” he said.
“Other areas of priority included requesting a 10-working-day grass-cutting cycle for Wellogate and Wilton cemeteries.
“We also agreed that from now on, Wilton Lodge Park should be on a 10-working- day cutting cycle including high-traffic areas and land in and around the Boer War memorial .
“I have written to Martin Joyce, the council’s service director for assets and infrastructure, with the full outcome of our meeting and a request to meet with him further in order to address flower-bedding issues in our community and also maintenance issues around high bankings, hedges and trees.”