Verge cutbacks may end up costing lives
Northern Ireland's road network is in danger of becoming a blot on the landscape as maintenance work continues to be put on the long finger due to budgetary cuts.
Infrastructure Minister Chris Hazzard has announced that roadside grass verges will be cut only once this year, leading some politicians to complain that the network is already looking like a jungle and can only get worse.
In a temperate climate like ours, with sunshine and plentiful rain, grass growth can be abundant, and to cut it only once a year inevitably will make the roadsides unsightly.
Just what any visiting tourist or would-be investor travelling along our rural by-ways would think of the province is worrying. They might well surmise that this is a place on its uppers that cannot even keep the roadsides tidy.
There are more potential hazards in this policy. Anyone driving around the province will readily testify that overgrown hedges and verges pose problems with sightlines at junctions and roundabouts.
Infrastructure Minister Chris Hazzard says that grass-cutting will take place more often at such potential danger spots, but that does not alleviate fears. What if there are more budgetary pressures?
Already it has been revealed that there are an astonishing 110,000 potholes, another danger to motorists, on our roads. If there is not the money to keep the road surfaces in pristine condition, can we be assured that the roadsides will be kept neatly trimmed?
Has the minister also considered the effect that overgrown verges will have on pedestrians, especially in rural areas where there are no footpaths? During wet weather, walkers will not want to tramp through long grass, getting soaked. Instead, they will be forced further on to the road, and that poses an obvious danger.
The long grass will also be a tempting sight for fly-tippers and litter louts, making it even more of an unsightly mess.
While it has to be conceded that there is a tight squeeze on the public purse, the minister must ensure that what funding he has is spent wisely, with road safety for both drivers and pedestrians one of his priorities.
The warnings are already clear, and the concerns of other MLAs, especially those from rural constituencies, must not be ignored. The minister should make a strong case for extra funding for this work in the regular share-out of unspent department budgets. Lives could be at risk.