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Weeds, roads, and issues with HGVs under discussion at County Council

18 October 2023

Concerns about how the council’s policy on weeds appropriately balances safety, access and environmental concerns came under the spotlight at Cambridgeshire County Council yesterday (17 October) – with a commitment to review the current policy as part of a wider engagement exercise.

In a change made as part of the council’s current budget and business plan, approved in February 2023, the council ceased the cycle of chemical removal of weeds, concentrating on the removal of harmful or poisonous weeds, those causing a safety hazard or as part of preparation before other works were carried out.

Following concerns raised by residents about this approach, which many Members told the meeting had flooded their inboxes this year, these have been fed into a broader engagement exercise with town and parish councils including a survey to gather feedback, due to be reported back to Committee in January.

As well as listening carefully to concerns raised in a public petition, the Council agreed an amended motion, which confirmed that it would review the council’s current approach at January’s Highways and Transport committee.

In moving his amendment, Cllr Neil Shailer highlighted how a wetter than average summer had led to increased weed growth, which helped the review. “The data and feedback will be used to support biodiversity where we can, support communities where volunteers remove weeds without herbicide, while proactively controlling weeds and protecting the highways asset where that is needed.”.

“But we didn’t get this right,” acknowledged Cllr Alex Beckett. “Some of the issues raised by Members shouldn’t have happened even under this trial – the policy still allowed for the removal of poisonous weeds such as ragwort, or those which posed a hazard. Going forward this shouldn’t be a one size fits all policy, we should be tailoring the offering to each area.”

Alongside agreeing to review the policy in light of the engagement exercise, the Council agreed it should allocate sufficient resource to deliver an appropriate spraying regime to manage weeds effectively, and to publish information on the products used and their effects on pollenating insects to provide evidence for debate.

Also at the Full Council meeting, Members unanimously supported a motion concerning peat soil affected roads across parts of rural Cambridgeshire, originally proposed by Cllr Steve Criswell, but with an agreed amendment proposed by Cllr Alex Beckett. It committed the council to continue to lobby Government for sums potentially in the region of £300m, needed to deliver essential road rebuilding work for those roads currently identified as being affected, as well as taking any and all emergency action that it can do within existing budgets.

Council heard that all Members have already received a list of all roads affected and the remedial short-term actions being taken, and that as the roads were failing due to their subsoil, they need rebuilding not resurfacing, which makes the situation worse.

The Council agreed its Highways and Transport Committee should also publish a plan following consultation with parish councils which is already in progress, detailing the delivery of emergency repair work where this can be done within existing Council highways budgets, such as lowering speed limits or imposing weight limits.

Cllr Steve Criswell welcomed the work to fully assess the road network but told the meeting he was disappointed it was taking so long.

Another motion to receive support from the Full Council today included further work to reduce speed and volume of traffic on the A1421 between Haddenham crossroads to Witcham Toll, highlighted both by a Haddenham parish councillor in public question time, and in a motion put by Cllr Bill Hunt, which following an agreed amendment from Cllr Lorna Dupre, received unanimous support.

The motion recognised the effect that high traffic levels have on the built-up areas of Cambridgeshire villages, towns and cities across the county. In particular villages such as Wicken, Stretham, Wilburton and Haddenham suffer from ‘rat running’ heavy goods vehicles.

“There has been massive public and local parish council support for a reduction in the number of heavy goods vehicles on this road,” said Cllr Hunt. “It’s a safety issue. People’s lives are affected, and they want their lives back.”

“Haddenham parish council are to be commended for their actions in this, including building positive relationships with local road hauliers, “added Cllr Dupre. “But they’ve come to the limit of what they can do, and now it is up to us to do what we can do.”

As part of the council’s Vision Zero road safety project all A roads in the county are due to be assessed and graded for safety via the International Road Assessment Programme (IRAP) system, and today Members agreed accelerate this in the case of the A1421 and include it in the first tranche of work.

The motion also asked that the Council’s Executive Director of Place and Sustainability present a report to a future meeting of Highways and Transport Committee which will evaluate options to reduce traffic and traffic speeds, improve road safety, and increase options for active travel on the A1421 including, but not limited to, the reclassification of the A1421 from "A" to "B".

You can view the recording of Cambridgeshire’s Full Meeting of Council and follow the debates on all five motions discussed at the meeting and other papers discussed on the Cambridgeshire County Council YouTube page.