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Crash fears as minister says roadside grass will be cut just once this year

By Noel McAdam

Published 23/06/2016

Infrastructure Minister Chris Hazzard
Infrastructure Minister Chris Hazzard

Grass along most of Northern Ireland's main roads will be cut only once this year, a Stormont minister has confirmed.

MLAs and councillors warned parts of the province were becoming a "jungle" as spending cuts led to fewer grass cuts.

They insisted that unseemly verges along key arterial routes were a turn-off for tourists and potential investors.

Elected representatives also voiced concerns that unrestricted growth could affect motorists' sightlines and cause accidents.

But Infrastructure Minister Chris Hazzard insisted road safety would not be compromised and revealed he was bidding for more money.

The Sinn Fein minister, whose portfolio includes responsibility for the roads, confirmed he was bidding for extra money in the regular share-out of unspent departmental cash.

He said any additional funding would be immediately used to clear a backlog of work, and he would ensure road safety was maintained.

In a series of written answers, the new minister pledged all roadside verges and grass affecting motorists' sightlines would be cut at least once by October.

One of his letters was in response to a question from the DUP's Carla Lockhart, who described the area around Armagh, Banbridge and Craigavon as approaching a "jungle".

Her party colleagues William Irwin and Alex Easton agreed and raised concerns about grass-cutting at major road junctions.

Mr Irwin said major road junctions were being left "in a very dangerous condition". He added: "Contractors are told that they get paid only for one swathe, and at major junctions that are accident black spots it is dangerous when grass is still growing. In some areas, local people have cut the grass back themselves."

The issue was raised at the Stormont committee that monitors the new department.

Senior departmental official Dr Andrew Murray said grass on junctions affecting sightlines should be cut and asked MLAs to bring examples where this had not happened to his attention.

Dr Murray told how "we have had to reduce the inspection frequency for potholes" due to budgetary constraints, but said money may become available in the June monitoring round.

Mr Hazzard said there was a need to "explore innovative solutions" and different approaches.

"My department is facing budgetary constraints which have had a significant impact on road maintenance services in recent times, and grass-cutting is one of the functions where budget cuts have had to be made," his written answers explained.

"Within the available budget, it is intended to carry out one full cut of grass across all areas, with visibility splays receiving additional cuts as required to ensure road safety is maintained."

His department added: "(We) will be bidding strongly for additional funding. Any additional funding received will immediately be used to enhance services and deal with any backlogs of work that have built up.

"A reduced routine maintenance service, including grass-cutting, is currently being provided in the main by the department's internal resources.

"However, to ensure public safety is not compromised, sightlines will be cut as required throughout the season."

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