Political Viewpoint by Southend Council’s Labour Group Leader and Councillor for St Laurence ward Coun Daniel Cowan
RIGHT now, across our city from Leigh to Westcliff, Eastwood to Shoebury, acts of environmental vandalism are being committed by our council at the behest of the Tories and it is being done by choice!
Politics is a matter of choices and sometimes political choices are easy to understand and sometimes they leave residents thinking “what on Earth is the council doing?” when they aren’t adequately communicated.
The Grassland Management Strategy is one such choice that perhaps the last administration did not adequately explain.
The last Labour-led administration brought in a Grassland Management strategy that was designed to leave unused verges and unpedestrianised areas to grow throughout the year to support biodiversity and pollinators – residential verges would have continued to be cut as normal.
The choice to be made was: support our environment and leave Southend in a good state for the next generation or to allow our natural environment to further decline. We made the choice to protect and enhance biodiversity.
This did lead to a change in aesthetics, but once the wildflowers started to come through, the new aesthetics would grew (excuse the pun) on most people. A byproduct of this strategy was a modest saving in maintenance costs as some grassed areas were cut less frequently.
What was reported in the media was that this was a cost-cutting exercise that would see grass verges, including residential areas, cut only once per year.
It wasn’t the case, but as a council we failed to communicate the choice that was being made and the wrong end of the stick ended up being the only part the public could pick up.
Well that Grassland Management Strategy is the latest victim of local Tory populism with maturing grasses and wildflowers unceremoniously hacked down across the city, destroying habitats and food sources for countless invertebrates, bees, butterflies and birds.
This environmental vandalism served no purpose, but to provide photo opportunities for Tory councillors along the chase from Fairfax Drive to Belfairs woods. It’s bad for the city, but good for the Conservative Party and when it comes to political choices, the current administration is demonstrating time after time that any cost is worth paying if it benefits Conservative HQ.
Meanwhile, across our fair city, footpaths are blocked by overgrown bushes and trees that council officers say can’t be cut back because they have no budget. People in wheelchairs, on mobility scooters, and with pushchairs are forced onto the road because the council doesn’t have the budget to tackle overgrowth, yet they’ve money to drive industrial mowers over every bit of grass they can see?
The Tories had a choice, pedestrian safety or brutally short grass where no-one actually walks. They chose the short grass. This appalling act follows the Conservatives bringing in a policy that took £18500 out of the parks maintenance budget.
When we challenged them on what reduction in services this would cause they assured us that there would be no drop in service whatsoever. They claimed to have found a magical way to spend less without doing less.
Well, that hasn’t been the case. Instead we see dog bins overflowing in our parks, litter bins unemptied, graffiti not cleaned off equipment, and grass not cut – the irony! Residents are being treated like fools by this administration.
They took money out of the public parks budgets to give free all day parking (previously 3 hours free) in parks, claiming it would encourage more people to go to the park and then they leave the parks covered in mounds of poo bags and litter.
Now they are trying to hoodwink residents into thinking that desolate verges is worth trading off highway safety. As if that wasn’t enough, they are also pushing an agenda that puts air quality improvements in the bin.
Our natural environment is important to local people and they want to see it preserved.
Our area should be a vibrant, colourful place where nature is respected and allowed to flourish. Under the Conservatives it is heading towards decay, sterility, and drabness, a place where nature is given a buzz cut, replaced with concrete, or left to suffocate under a mountain of plastic poo bags and detritus.
Nature is resilient though, and Labour has a plan to recover and enhance our environment that we are ready to enact when we are back in administration. Southend’s colours can be green all over with a 7-mile golden stripe, but not until the Civic Centre stops being blue.
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