LibDem councillor Nick Sandford questions the economic benefits claimed for Peterborough City Council’s policy of replacing trees and shrubs with grass, and both he and Gardening Guru Geoff Stebbings question the policy itself on ecological and aesthetic grounds. Broadcast at 07:27 and 08:51 respectively on Wednesday July 7th in the Peterborough Breakfast Show hosted by Paul Stainton on BBC Radio Peterborough.
PAUL: No hedges here. It’s one of the big stories breaking on the show this morning. The Council has removed sixteen thousand square metres of hedges, of shrubs and hedges, in Peterborough over the last year, over twice the size of the London Road pitch. The figures come from the Freedom of Information request by the city’s Liberal Democrat group. The Council said it would try and save over a hundred and fifty thousand this year by reducing the number of shrubs. Councillor Nick Sandford from the LibDems joins me now. Morning Nick.
NICK: Morning Paul.
PAUL: She shrubs you, yeah, yeah, yeah.
NICK: That’s a really good song you seem to have got there.
PAUL: Don’t big up Steve producer man. He’ll get carried away. But they are literally cutting back here, aren’t they?
NICK: I think actually you can make fun of it but I think it’s actually quite a serious issue. I think also the scale of it is probably greater than the sixteen thousand. I actually asked what area of shrubs had been removed over the twelve month period, but I know this is part of a systematic programme that’s been going on for eighteen months or two years. So we could be talking about thirty thousand square metres of shrubs being taken out.
PAUL: And it alters the look of the city, doesn’t it. Because what are they replacing it with? A bit of grass presumably.
NICK: Yes. Grass. I came to Peterborough in nineteen eighty four, and one of the things I thought was really attractive about Peterborough was the greenery, the trees and the shrubs. There’s a whole series of reasons why they shouldn’t be doing this. There’s the biodiversity argument, the animals and plants that survive in those habitats, but there’s also the carbon argument. The trees and the shrubs and the hedges absorb large amounts of carbon from the atmosphere, and they actually store it, so it’s an extremely effective way of tackling climate change. But the really overwhelming argument is they claim that they’re doing this partly for financial reasons. But what they’re doing is they’re tearing out shrubs that they prune about once every twelve months, and they’re replacing them with grass that they cut fifteen times a year or twenty times a year. I’ve actually presented them with scientific reports which actually show that this is a more expensive way of managing the green areas.
PAUL: Well the Council say it costs them one pound twenty seven to maintain each square metre of shrubbery per year, that’s twice the cost of keeping the Queen, as opposed to fifteen pence to maintain the same level of grass.
NICK: When officers give me those figures I have to seriously question where they’re getting them from, because i’ve shown them a report by the National Urban Forestry Unit which is a respectable conservation organisation, that shows that it’s actually cheaper to manage shrubs rather than intensively mown grass. And you don’t actually need a financial report, you just need to think about it. If you’re carrying out management work twenty times a year rather than doing it only once or twice a year it has to cost more.
PAUL: Well thank you for bringing it to our attention Nick. Appreciate that. Because we don’t really want to see the whole of Peterborough grassed over and the rest of it concreted. We like our shrubs. We want to keep them around Peterborough. Mike Heath, Peterborough City Council’s Commercial Services Director sent us a statement this morning.
He says: “Shrubbery is lovely, and is removed in places where it’s dying and there are concerns over poor visibility for motorists. The main cause of shrubbery removal is where plants such as elder and buddleia have grown as a result of birds dropping seeds. However in the last year we have planted around two and a half thousand evergreen shrubs, nineteen hundred and sixty English oak trees, a hundred and sixty five other trees, and a thousand hedging plants to replace the shrubs which have been removed. We are aware of the data research that Councillor Sandford refers to regarding the cost of replacing shrubbery but local evidence shows us that it costs one pound twenty seven to maintain each square metre of shrubbery per year as opposed to fifteen pence to maintain the same level of grass.”
PAUL: In all seriousness getting rid of shrubs, getting rid of plants, however much it costs, it can’t be saving that much can it? The wildlife suffers, doesn’t it? And the look of Peterborough suffers.
GEOFF: Exactly. And I think all these figures, I know we’re in an era where everything has got to be cut back to the bone, but you’ve got to think of the wider picture. Bedding on roundabouts, things like that, you strip it out and just put grass down. But plants make people happy. They cheer people up. If you go past nice hanging baskets and containers it makes people happier. Plants are the best anti-depressant there are. I’m not just saying that from my point of view, but it’s well known. If you come into Peterborough and there’s lots of greenery and shrubs it makes people happier. And so in the long term you save money.
PAUL: We don’t want to see concrete everywhere across Peterborough. We don’t want to see grass everywhere do we?
GEOFF: No exactly. And grass is pretty sterile. Things don’t live in it unless you leave long grass for insects and that to live in, and then people moan because it collects litter and whatever. So I think it’s wrong.
PAUL: And what’s happened to all these shrubs that are probably quite mature a lot of them. I’d have bought them off them. and put them in my garden. Where have they all gone?
GEOFF: Well they’ve been shredded up and taken to the recycling plant to be made into compost haven’t they?
PAUL: What a waste.
GEOFF: Yes well I think so yes. When I first moved to Peterborough, which was twenty odd years ago, the thing that really struck me was all the parkways, all the cotoneasters all beautifully kept, really well planted, it looked really really neat. Now you go down the parkways and apart from the fact that they’re all being dug up it looks terrible.
PAUL: Yes and you’ve got grass in the middle of Longthorpe Parkway virtually all the year round now.
GEOFF: I think it’s a real shame. When I moved to Peterborough I was really impressed by how green and well kept everything in Peterborough was, and now I think a lot of it doesn’t look very good.