Grass Verge Cutting

Oral Answers to Questions — Infrastructure – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 2:00 pm on 11 June 2024.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of William Irwin William Irwin DUP 2:00, 11 June 2024

4. Mr Irwin asked the Minister for Infrastructure to outline what resources he will allocate to grass verge cutting to improve visibility when exiting junctions. (AQO 573/22-27)

Photo of John O'Dowd John O'Dowd Sinn Féin

It is my intention that my Department will deliver a full programme of grass cutting in accordance with the new approach to verge management across the road network that I announced in October 2022. That new approach increases the focus on protecting wildlife and promoting biodiversity without compromising road safety and will support the actions needed to comply with the Climate Change Act passed by the Assembly in 2022.

All my Department's operational areas implement a blended approach through the use of internal and external contractors for the delivery of verge management. Staff from my Department's internal contractor have been trained in various duties depending on need, such as grass cutting, patching, gully emptying and other responsive duties. Therefore, they are not dedicated solely to grass cutting but provide a uniquely flexible resource.

Grass-cutting schedules are prepared at a local level to ensure that two cuts are completed within the timescales laid out in policy. Schedules include additional cuts of areas such as sight lines at junctions, and further responsive treatment at junctions is also undertaken as resources permit.

External contractors are used to supplement my Department's internal resources and operate in a similar manner, completing grass cutting in accordance with instructed schedules.

Photo of William Irwin William Irwin DUP

I thank the Minister for his response. One of the main issues is sight lines at junctions. Contractors are inclined to take one swathe with a width of around 1 metre or 1·5 metres, which is totally unacceptable and still does not give a clear sight line. The Minister needs to look at that issue.

Photo of John O'Dowd John O'Dowd Sinn Féin

Whether the work is done by staff in my Department or by contractors, there must be a clear sight line at a junction. I am certainly not of the view that they are restricted to a 1-metre strip in any area. They are contracted to ensure safety at junctions. That is paramount. I will certainly review that with my officials to make sure that I am correct. I have reduced areas of grass cutting, but I certainly have not reduced sight lines. They are paramount for road safety.

Photo of Nicola Brogan Nicola Brogan Sinn Féin

Will the Minister consider a wildflower planting scheme for road verges to promote biodiversity?

Photo of John O'Dowd John O'Dowd Sinn Féin

Yes. We work with a number of councils and organisations to promote biodiversity along road verges and at major junctions and roundabouts. I have previously mentioned Causeway Coast and Glens Borough Council in the Chamber as an exemplar of how those things can be done. The Department for Infrastructure is a major landowner. A lot of that land is along roadsides, and we plan on using it more and more to increase biodiversity and wildflower distribution. Again, some of it comes back to resources, but, if we can work in partnership with others, it will be an exciting project that will enhance the aesthetic look of many areas.

Photo of Sian Mulholland Sian Mulholland Alliance

The Minister has just mentioned the Causeway coast and glens, part of my constituency. There is a divergent approach across my constituency, because it straddles two council areas. Will the Minister commit to writing to councils to try to get them to take one approach to biodiversity, wildflowers and grass cutting?

Photo of John O'Dowd John O'Dowd Sinn Féin

When I was in post previously, I corresponded with councils and other statutory landowners about that. I am more than happy to do so again.

Photo of John Stewart John Stewart UUP

I thank the Minister for clarifying the issue. Sadly, the reality is that, in East Antrim — in Carrickfergus, Larne and Newtownabbey — large areas at junctions remain uncut, which has led to a number of near misses. In the areas that have been cut to date, the quality of the cutting is less than satisfactory and has led to a number of complaints. What scrutiny is the Department doing to analyse the work of contractors to ensure that the cutting is up to standard and is being done on time, as it should be?

Photo of John O'Dowd John O'Dowd Sinn Féin

Members should contact their local section office first about such matters, as, I am sure, they do. If there are areas of specific concern, Members should contact my private office, and I will ensure that their concern is followed up.

The contract for grass cutting is ongoing. Contractors are out cutting grass at present, as is my team in the Department. It is a an operation on a huge scale. I emphasise time and time again, however, that sight lines are a priority and that verges should be cut properly.