£18,000 spent by York Council on ineffective weed control contract

It emerged today that the York Council has already handed over £18,498.70 this year to the contractor charged with controlling weed growth in the City.

The figure conflicts with assurances given at a public review meeting held earlier in the week when the impression was given that payments were being withheld because of poor performance.

The contract states that treated areas must be “98%” free of weed growth. Clearly this isn’t the case in most of the City. In additional several major roads and areas were omitted by the Council – in error – from the contract. These areas, including parts of the A59 and A1237, are still not showing any “die back” as a result of the promised “third treatment”

The meeting on Monday was largely indecisive. A further review is promised but it appears that the existing contract isn’t being terminated.

There are no plans to undertake weed control activities in at least a “trial” sector of the City using the Councils own workforce. This would have allowed work quality claims to be tested.

The latest revelations are likely to lead to renewed calls for greater transparency on the activities of the Councils’ partners. One Councillor (Mark Warters) has already asked for copies of weed control activity worksheets for his ward to be published. In addition, many residents believe that the results of contract supervisory checks should be made public. These issues may be subject to a Freedom of Information request.

A list of suggested initiatives was presented by residents to the meeting (above right).  A response is awaited.

More missed bins

Council needs to “come clean” about the extent of its resourcing problems

Another day and another raft of missed bin collections.

Mostly the failures are down to inadequate staffing, unreliable vehicles and full lorries.

Yet the Council has so far failed to say when replacement vehicles will arrive in the city.

…and there is a growing suspicion that other services are being depleted in a desperate attempt to plug the gaps in the waste collection service. One estate still has litter strewn around from collections which took place weeks ago.

No post recycling litter pick today (or for some time)
Many litter bins are overflowing

York Council advertises for graffiti removers

Some signs today that the York Council has finally woken up to the decline in street environment standards. Two new staff will be employed to remove graffiti form public areas. The cost will be over £40,000.

This is “failure cost” of course.

Taxpayers will be annoyed that they are having to fund a reaction to an unlawful activity. There has been precious little evidence that any attempt has been made to identify, prosecute and seek compensation from those responsible.

Nevertheless, we cannot tolerate graffiti, which blights the environment so it is a positive move by the Council.

Hopefully we will soon also see effective action now to deal with other issues like weed blight, over grown hedges/trees and litter.

Litter problems in sub urban areas – and particularly Council estates – are getting worse. A combination of poor management and cuts to staffing levels have created a “perfect storm”.

Residents Associations, who have raised concerns about the situation on our Council estates, have received no response from those responsible.

If action is not taken quickly then formal complaints about the insensitivity of some officials and Councillors will not doubt, follow.

Bad news for City centre traders

Grim in Acomb

The latest footfall figures, reproduced by the BID team, reveal that there has been a 4% drop in visitor numbers so far this year. It is even worse on a year on year basis and is below the county average

That is a poor platform on which to approach the, normally busy, run up to Christmas.

In Acomb, the picture is slightly different with some traders reporting steady business trends. This is despite the lamentable performance recently of the Council in keeping open spaces, gutters and the areas around trees and street furniture free of weeds and litter.

Weeds still choke trees and seats on Front Street

The picture in residential areas is also disappointing with weeds disfiguring many streets

Weed growth damaging York’s appearance

Meeting on Monday to consider possble solutions.

It looks like the improvements to the weed killing programme on hard surfaces have failed to materialise.

A “third” application of weed killer was to have been applied to drainage gullies, footpaths, forecourts and other areas during the last 4 weeks.

While there have been improvements to some traffic islands (the build up of silt on Longfield Lane, Foxwood Lane and Gale Lane has been removed) the vast majority of the A1237 is remains overgrown.

The A59, Water Lane and Jockey Lane – all reported months ago – remain untreated.

There will be some serious questions to be answered at the meeting.

Litter a growing problem on some Council estates

Litter is left for weeks without being swept.

Keeping estates clean and tidy until recently was the responsibility of estate workers. There was one in each major neighbourhood. They were sometimes styled as estate “handymen” and part of their duties was to repair minor items of street furniture. They were funded from rents.

They helped to keep neighbourhoods in good condition and would often be seen in the area proactively dealing with issues.

The Council recently decided to get rid of the role with responsibilities transferred to a mobile team.  Since the change, there has been a noticeable drop in standards. This seems mainly to be due to the fact that, rather than routinely patrol areas looking to address issues before they were widely noticed, the new approach is mainly “reactive”.

That is the staff respond to complaints.

Many will remember fondly the last decade when the Council, for a time, employed “lengthsmen” to give local roads that extra bit of care. They achieved more in improving standards than mechanical sweeping alone could provide.

That sadly also is a now thing of the past.

The drop in standards has been an increasing concern for residents associations. The issue has been drawn to the attention of Executive Councillors who have responsibility for service quality. There has been little response so far.

Unless the Council publishes an acceptable service standard contract for activities like these – the core of its work as a public authority – then it is likely that volunteer efforts will tail off.

That would be a great shame as whole communities would suffer.

Litter levels increasing

How will York tackle weed growth in the future?

The long awaited report, into the collapse of weed control activities in the City this summer, has now been published.
Key routes into the City were disfigured

The report lists several actions which might be undertaken to prevent a repetition of the problems.

It was clear as long ago as June that something was seriously amiss with the Council contract.

A contract has been let which had omitted several key roads like the A59, as well as many back lanes and paths. Gutters and paths rapidly become overgrown. In some cases, because of restricted sight lines or trip hazards, there was an unnecessary risk to public safety.

Amongst the worst affected were major entry points into the City which gave visitors an early impression of neglect (It became clear later, that former trunk roads were amongst these omitted from the contract)

The Councils reaction to the problems was highly complacent. It was two months before they admitted that the list of streets to be treated by the contractor was out of date. They blamed the weather (too much rain) and turned a blind eye to the fact that the “quad bike” contractors were missing out large areas altogether. Treatment, where undertaken, proved to be ineffective.

It was Septembers before the failings were finally acknowledged. Contractors were asked to add a blue dye to the chemical so it would be clear which areas they had treated.

To this day, residents continue to search for the illusive blue dye trail.

Another problem was the choice of weed killer. Glyphosate, which is a contact weed killer, has no residual effect, so it only kills weeds present at the time of application. It is an industry standard product, but it failed to act on deep rooted weeds. Alternatives were available but not used.

The Council claims to have “deployed additional resource to focus on removing detritus which collects in kerb lines, particularly on the offside of traffic islands where sweeping is more difficult and less effective. The detritus build up is greater when weeds are present”.

The report doesn’t analyse how the Council came to issue an incorrect contract specification, doesn’t reveal the results of supervisory checks on the contractor, offers no update on the September recovery programme and fails to review “difficult to reach” locations such as bridge parapets, snickets, back lanes and garage forecourts.

The contract required certain outputs to be achieved. These included a 98% weed free appearance on treated areas.

No KPIs are quoted.

The Council has however listed 10 initiatives (see right) that it could take to improve the appearance and safety of the City.

 All, and more, will be required next year if the reputation of the City is not to be further damaged.

Missed bin collections – latest

Slightly better performance today although several streets in Rawcliffe, Fulford and Clifton didn’t have their grey bins emptied.

Garden waste collections were missed in parts of Rawcliffe and Fishergate. They, and the still outstanding collections in Haxby, Wigginton and Strensall, will be collected tomorrow (Saturday) according to the Council.

Many of the delays over the last few weeks have been due to vehicle breakdowns on a fleet which includes some plant which is 10 years old. A message to a York Councillor from a senior official earlier today suggests that replacement vehicles haven’t even been ordered yet. More on that to come.

York cycle paths still obstructed

The Council’s PR department is saying that mechanical means may be used in future to remove weeds from footpaths and gullies in the City.

That can’t happen soon enough for most residents following the collapse of his years – chemical – treatment programme.

More of the cycle network is now subject to obstruction from overgrowing vegetation. It is a problem on Bishopthorpe Road near the Racecourse while the Naburn Lane path is impeded by nettles.

Naburn Lane path impeded by nettles