Plea for grass-cutting rethink rejected, but Borders council chiefs pledge to do best they can

Councillor Stuart Marshall on an overgrown embankment in Hawick.
Councillor Stuart Marshall on an overgrown embankment in Hawick.

A plea for a change of tack to ensure lawnmowers are deployed more often in the Borders’ cemeteries has been kicked into the long grass, but council chiefs have pledged to do their best to keep graveyards as tidy as they can.

At last Thursday’s full meeting of Scottish Borders Council, administration leaders were again taken to task by opposition councillors relaying the complaints they’ve had since the authority moved its grass-cutting regime from a 10-day cutting cycle to a 20-day one.

Despite vehement criticism, the council has repeatedly refused to backtrack on that change, saying that a consultation carried out in December 2017 was supportive of the cutbacks and that the budget had been agreed by the full council in February.

Now, opposition councillors are suggesting that areas such as cemeteries and village greens be designated as high-amenity sites, putting them in the same category as playing fields and entitling them to more frequent grass-cutting.

Tweeddale West councillor Heather Anderson told executive member for neighbourhoods and locality services Sandy Aitchison: “In July this year, I wrote to our chief executive asking if cemeteries could be redesignated as high-amenity sites and thereby benefit from a more frequent grass-cutting regime, without having to overturn a budget decision.

“I had hoped this would give the council the opportunity to respond appropriately to the distress caused to individuals and families deeply offended by the lack of maintenance in cemeteries across the Borders.

“I was advised by the chief executive that this would not be possible as it would require additional manpower resources.

“Can I ask councillor Aitchison if he agrees that cemeteries are no less important than football pitches and agrees that they should be redesignated as high-amenity sites in time for next year’s maintenance programme?”

Galashiels councillor Mr Aitchison replied: “In managing our budget situation, this administration agreed changes to grass maintenance, which included cemeteries.

“This administration has listened, and continues to listen, to feedback from communities around these changes.

“The importance of our 154 cemeteries and burial grounds to the community is well established. Officers understand that an acceptable level of service is to be provided in cemeteries, given our financial constraints as a council.

“We are happy to discuss future service arrangements, and we’d encourage people to continue to engage with council officers, who will offer advice and guidance in helping communities to achieve their aspirations.”

The issue of cutting grass on embankments also arose, with Hawick and Denholm councillor Stuart Marshall asking for an update on what he described as “untidy and out-of-control areas”.

Mr Aitchison replied: “The issue of working on steep embankments as part of delivering grass maintenance operations has been reviewed in light of our approach to health and safety in neighbourhood services, the outcome of which has meant alternative approaches to grass maintenance.

“Specifically in the Hawick area, I’m advised that 15 separate sites have yet to be maintained this year.

“Plans are already in place for nine of those sites, which we’re expecting to deliver by October of this year.”

“Of the remaining six, officers continue to consider options for maintenance, which may include not undertaking grass-cutting.”

“Members will be aware of the duty to promote and enhance biodiversity in the Borders.

“Officers will continue to engage with communities on potential changes to maintenance.

“I encourage members to come forward with their suggestions of areas where less intensive management regimes can be supported.”