Council admits to failings over weeds once again

By | August 11, 2015

At the July meeting of the Full Council, the Labour Cabinet Member for the Environment offered apologies on behalf of her Department and admitted to being personally upset by the situation with regard to weeds in answer to a direct question from me on the subject.

I want to be clear that I think this apology (although not quite from her personally) is welcome, however, it seems that annually I have to ask the same question about why the Royal Borough of Greenwich is covered in weeds.  Despite millions being pumped into Cleansweep it seems clear that this Council cannot organise the basic cleaning of our streets which residents have every right to expect.  While removing one member of staff this year (as the Cabinet Member intimated in her answer to me she had done) is holding a Council Officer to account, the fact that the weather is so frequently blamed for the weeds (which was the excuse used in two out of the last three years) suggests that the whole process of sweeping gutters, spraying weeds and removing them cannot be organised by our current Council.

Is the Council just turning green weeds brown?

One problem this year is that the spraying is now so late (3 applications were done last year by the time one was started in 2015) that many weeds are fully developed plants (or trees as Adam Thomas put it on Twitter this week).

Weeds in bloom AT Aug 2015

So moving on from the philosophical point about when weeds become trees, I think the core question is where the Council has actually succeeded in spraying weeds, is it simply just turning green weeds brown?  If Cleansweep do not remove the dead weeds, which are now firmly established then they will simply remain there until next year, when presumably this fiasco will happen all over again.

Given so many residents have written to me about this, I thought I might put some relevant answers I have received this year at the end of this blog.  I don’t think they will give people too much comfort, but they will at least show that my fellow Conservative Councillors and I are keeping pressure on the Council over their failings on this issue.

Question about weeds (July 2015)

Written section reads as follows:

12. Question from Councillor Drury, to Councillor Smith (J), Cabinet Member for Community Safety and Environment

The Council’s performance this year in removing weeds from the streets of Eltham North ward has been woeful. I am informed that the situation is not very different in many other wards across the Royal Borough.

Last year (and in 2012) the Cabinet Member suggested to me that the problem was the weather but this year I have been informed that no contractor had been appointed until June and the first spraying of weeds would not be until late July. Can the Cabinet Member explain why the appointment of a contractor was left so late this year and why the situation with weeds has been so dire?

Further can the Cabinet Member reassure me that there is a clear programme for weeding each street across the borough as the net effect of spraying weeds at this time of year may well be simply to turn green plants brown as they are already mature?

Reply – I thank Councillor Drury for his question.

The Community Safety and Environment Directorate apologises for the delay in commencing the highway weed treatment programme which started on the 20th July. Ahead of that date, weed treatment services on housing estates and along riverside paths have been undertaken in accordance with the annual programmes and some of the worst areas of the highway dealt with by the Council.

In addition to the current programme, staff within DCSE are undertaking manual removal of weeds where these are significant. There is a clear programme of weed treatment which means that once the weeds die back street cleansing operatives will remove them as part of the normal street sweeping schedule. To prevent the weeds growing back it is necessary for the plants to absorb the treatment before they turn brown and are removed. There will be a second borough-wide weed spraying exercise in September to deal with any new growth.

Any particular areas of concern should be reported to the Council via the Contact Centre on 020 8921 4661in the usual way.

Supplementary (oral question asked during Council meeting – this is a transcript of the question and reply)

Cllr Drury:    Thank you Mr Mayor, if I could thank Councillor Smith for her reply.  I have very respect for Cllr Smith but surely she’s got to be embarrassed by the way the weeding has gone this year.  I think her answer underestimates the difficulty, the extra difficulty, of removing the large weeds that have grown over the course of this year after the treatment.  Could I ask her to be clear in her response about why it was that the contractor was appointed so late this year and the weeding has started so very very late and as a result we have got this excessive growth across the whole of the Borough. Thanks Mr Mayor.

Cllr Smith:     Thank you Mr Mayor.  To be perfectly honest Cllr Drury no one is more upset about this than I am.  A member of staff who was meant to be working on this is now not working for the Council.  Do I need to say anymore?

Weeds spraying schedule

An email sent from Officers to Spencer on 28th July.

Dear Councillor

Please see below the ‘Weed Spraying’ schedule for the next few weeks. Please note this is a guide only.

You may be aware that we have experienced some delays this year and as such have received a number of enquiries.

Please do not hesitate to contact me if you have any further enquiries.


Wardscheduled start datefinish date
1Thamesmead Moorings22/07/201527/07/2015
2Abbey Wood20/07/201523/07/2015
4Shooters Hill27/07/201530/07/2015
5Eltham North29/07/201531/07/2015
6Eltham South29/07/201531/07/2015
7Coldharbour & New Eltham29/07/201531/07/2015
8Middle Park & Sutcliffe03/08/201505/08/2015
9Eltham West03/08/201505/08/2015
10Kidbrooke with Hornfair03/08/201505/08/2015
11Blackheath &Westcombe06/08/201511/08/2015
12Greenwich West06/08/201511/08/2015
15Woolwich Riverside12/08/201514/08/2015
16Woolwich Common12/08/201514/08/2015

Response from Officers to Cllr Spencer Drury on 9th July

“I can now advise that a contractor has been appointed. The provisional start date for the first weed spraying treatment borough wide is the 20th July. The council has been using their own staff to undertake weed killing on the river path, housing estates and some roads that are causing particular concern.  Our staff will continue to do this until the programme is fully implemented and treatment is effectively killing the weeds that have been sprayed.

If residents have particular concerns in the meantime, please bring this to our attention and we will arrange for staff to attend these areas as a priority.”

Response from Officers to Cllr Spencer Drury on 29th June

“The weed spraying contract is currently subject to a tendering / procurement process which (though close) is not yet complete. We are currently in a standstill period during which the unsuccessful bidders are entitled to challenge the award. As soon as we have confirmation that the contract has been awarded I will be able to give you the information you require. We hope to have this information to you by Wednesday 8th July.”

Response to Cllr Spencer Drury in October 2014 regarding a specific enquiry about Grangehill Road

“We have four applications a year for weed spraying in the borough. Grangehill  Road received spraying on the following dates:

1st Application – 26th April
2nd Application – 8th July
3rd Application – 29th July
4th Application – 22nd & 23rd September”

This post was initially published on Spencer Drury’s Your Councillor site in August 2015

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About Spencer Drury

Spencer was one of the three Councillors for Eltham North Ward between 2002 and 2022. He lost his Council seat in the May 2022 elections and now occasionally contributes to debates on local issues.

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