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Herbicide Reduction Plan

Meeting: 21/03/2024 - Environment and Community Scrutiny Committee (Item 24)

24 Herbicide Reduction Plan pdf icon PDF 1 MB


Matter for Decision

The Council’s declaration of a Biodiversity Emergency (18th July 2019) included a commitment to reducing and removing the need to use herbicides on highway verges, roads, and pavements, and to find viable and effective alternatives. This was reflected in the development and application of the Herbicide Reduction Plan (HRP).


The Council’s passing of a Herbicide Motion (ref. 21/32/CNLc (22nd July 2021)), included a commitment to undertake a range of tasks and actions to reduce the reliance on herbicides, as a means of managing unwanted vegetation on public property asset within the city.


On the 27th January 2022, the Executive Councillor for Open Spaces, Sustainable Food & Community Wellbeing, after scrutiny, approved a Herbicide Reduction Plan, which included Newnham and Arbury as the two herbicide free wards, and the introduction of up to 12 herbicide free streets outside of these wards. A further decision on the 23rd March 2023 extended the trial areas to include West Chesterton and Trumpington.


The Officer’s report updated on the work completed on the HRP, including an evaluation of the four herbicide free wards and the herbicide free street scheme; and makes recommendations to discontinue the use of herbicides1 in the city’s public realm.


The report considered the recent decision by the County Council to review its Highway Operational Standards for Weeds and where this presents an opportunity for the City Council to champion its ambitions to be herbicide free, and for the City Council to contribute during the consultation period for the formulation of the new policy that would include non-use of herbicides and how this would be practically and financially implemented.


The Trial had allowed the City Council to consider a range of alternatives and the use of specialist street cleansing mechanical equipment was deemed to be the most effective and sustainable weed control method available which removes the need to use herbicides on highway verges, roads, and pavements.


The HRP and its Trial were now recommended for closure, and that a new methodology was approved wherein herbicide use was significantly reduced and limited to scenarios where viable alternatives were exhausted or no other alternative was available.


Decision of Executive Councillor for Open Spaces and City Services

      i.          Approved the closure of the Herbicide Free Plan and its Trials.

     ii.          Approved the new weed control methodology, including the discontinuation of herbicide use in routine operations, for the City Council as outlined in this report.

   iii.          Approved the continuation and further development of the ‘Happy Bee Street Scheme’.

   iv.          Noted the decision of the County Council on their use of herbicides and to assist them with developing a new approach for the city.

    v.          Supported the development of a collaborative communication plan as detailed in Section 5 of the Officer’s report.


Reason for the Decision

As set out in the Officer’s report.


Any Alternative Options Considered and Rejected

Not applicable.


Scrutiny Considerations

The Committee received a report from the Strategic Delivery Manager.


The Committee made the following comments in response to the report:

      i.          ‘No Mow May’ led to areas looking untidy and anti-social behaviour such as fly tipping. Residents asked for equipment to tidy up streets (which some residents viewed as looking  untidy due to a build-up of leaf mould and plants) after the Herbicide Reduction Plan trial started.

     ii.          There were path and highway issues associated with the Herbicide Reduction Plan.

   iii.          Cars parked on the highway prevented streets being deep cleaned. Queried how to engage with residents and commuters who parked in roads to request they move vehicles when deep cleans were timetabled to occur.

   iv.          Referenced public question 6 from earlier in the agenda: It was important to inform residents why the Herbicide Free Trial was happening.


The Strategic Delivery Manager said the following in response to Members’ questions:

      i.          The Herbicide Reduction Plan did not cause problems per se. When the carriageway were in poor repair then leaf mould could grow through the cracks etc. Alternatives to herbicides such as a heat gun were available, the latter was time/resource inefficient.

     ii.          If the Officer’s report was approved, the weed control equipment listed could be ordered.

   iii.          When deep cleans were timetabled to occur in streets Officers would appreciate if Ward Councillors could engage with residents etc who parked in streets to request vehicles were moved. Areas with high weed growth would be targeted instead of a general deep clean around the city.

   iv.          The City Council would work with partner organisations to close roads when deep cleans were timetabled. The intention was for multi-agency action at the same time eg County Council repairing potholes whilst the City Council cleaned streets. If cars blocked the road, it may be possible to come back another time or use alternative tools.

    v.          Herbicides were only used in exceptional circumstances when weeds (eg Japanese Knotweed) did not respond to other methods.

   vi.          The City Council and Pesticide Free Cambridge were working on a communication strategy to inform residents why the Herbicide Reduction Plan was being trialled. A herbicide free scheme should look clean and tidy. The scheme was not implemented correctly if verges and the highway looked untidy.


The Committee unanimously resolved to endorse the recommendations.


The Executive Councillor approved the recommendations.


Conflicts of Interest Declared by the Executive Councillor (and any Dispensations Granted)

No conflicts of interest were declared by the Executive Councillor.