GALLERY: Fenland’s open spaces are well maintained, according to customer feedback

Fenland maintenance contractors at work.

Fenland maintenance contractors at work. - Credit: Archant

Nearly nine in 10 people are happy with the way Fenland looks after the area’s open spaces, according to a report which reviewed the council’s £655,000 grass cutting contract.

Fenland maintenace contractors at St Peter's Church.

Fenland maintenace contractors at St Peter's Church. - Credit: Archant

Fenland District Council’s overview and scrutiny panel was told that the satisfaction rate with The Landscape Group (TLG) was 87 per cent.

Satisfaction figures are gathered on a quarterly basis, with the next update in January.

Committee members were so impressed by the report presented to them at their meeting, held on Monday last week, that they have called off a planned question and answer session with the operators in January. In October, committee chairman Jan French lambasted officials and portfolio holders for reports presenting a lack of facts and figures and warned they would not tolerate similar vague documents in the future.

At last week’s meeting, officers were praised for the quality of the in-depth report which reviewed grass cutting and grounds maintenance across the district.

Cllr French said: “It was an excellent report. It really went into all the details, it was full of information and is exactly what we have been asking for from officers and their reports for months.

“Councillor Peter Murphy (portfolio holder for the environment) has taken on board the comments made by the overview and scrutiny committee and produced an excellent report.

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“It explains not only the good, but also highlights problems and that’s what we want to see.

“It means that we don’t now need to spend time questioning the contractors, which was what had been planned for January. Instead they can get on with what they are supposed to do and look after the grass.” In addition to customer feedback, the open spaces in Fenland are assessed by judges in the Anglia in Bloom competition.

This year was Fenland’s most successful year for Anglia in Bloom with more than 30 awards gained, including Wisbech winning the gold award and St Peter’s Church Gardens being recognised as part of the best park in East Anglia for its size.

St Peter’s Church Gardens and Wisbech Park also won Green Flag awards. The report stated: “This recognition reflects the work that Fenland District Council’s open spaces and StreetScene Teams, The Landscape Group and community volunteers have put into the open spaces in Fenland.”

• Grass areas across Fenland could be returned to a more natural state to help cut costs.

A report to Fenland District Council’s overview and scrutiny panel pointed out other local authorities have made the move to allow some grass amenity areas that are currently cut to become overgrown and “more natural”.

The aim is to not only cut the cost of grass cutting, but to help the bee population and pollination.

Councillor Jan French, the panel chairman, said members agreed the idea should be explored by officers but emphasised no areas have been identified to become a “wilderness” type area and no decisions would be made without public consultation.

Cllr French said: “The idea of leaving small pieces of land uncut was considered good, especially as it will help nature such as butterflies and bees and save money.

“There will have to be consultation before any decisions are made – we haven’t got any specific pieces of land in mind – and we will have to see what the officers come back with.”

• Long grass is one of the biggest complaints received by Fenland District Council and its grass cutting contractors.

However, the report to the council’s overview and scrutiny panel, on its grass cutting contract, pointed out that most of these complaints come in just as the next cut is due.

Grass in public open spaces across Fenland is cut fortnightly throughout the 32-week growing period but that means it can become overly long in the right weather conditions.

It is not possible for contractors The Landscape Group (TLG) to address this problem on every area of grass if it grows more quickly because of the weather.

Grass in cemeteries is another issue. Cemeteries are cut 18 times during the 32-week growing period.

TLG’s contract allows it to blow grass clippings off memorials and pathways, however there is a problem if the grass is wet as the clippings can stick to headstones and the blowers are unable to remove the grass.

This has caused complaints from people who feel the grass in cemeteries is not being cut with the care it requires. To ensure that customers are aware wet grass cannot be removed from memorials, there will be new clear signage put up to all cemetery notice boards.

From next season TLG will have special “wet weather cutting” boards to attach to the base of notice boards to re-emphasise the problem and hopefully alleviate complaints.

Council officers are also looking at introducing wooden borders around cremation plots with stone chippings to prevent grass growth, as cutting grass in these areas can be difficult.

Collecting clippings in cemeteries was considered but it would cost an extra £70,000 a year.