Council gardeners will have to trim back their workload as crews are now “stretched beyond capacity.”
Back in 2015 Kirklees Council cut £1.3 million from its grounds maintenance budget which meant grass cutting was stopped in some parks while grass verges were allowed to grow wild.
Now the Grounds Maintenance team has warned that it is under pressure again and service levels may have to be reduced still further.
The problem is outlined in a report to the council’s Economy and Neighbourhoods Scrutiny Panel next week.
It says that the Grounds Maintenance team, responsible for horticultural maintenance in all parks and recreation grounds across Kirklees, has an ageing workforce of 70 full-time staff. There is also a problem recruiting trained staff with vacancies running at 20%.
The team receives no central funding directly from council budgets and instead relies on contracts with other council departments such as Homes and Neighbourhoods, Highways and Bereavement Services and also academy schools and Kirklees Active Leisure, which runs the district’s sports centres.
Back in 2015 there was controversy when maintenance levels were cut and parks and public spaces were graded as Gold, Silver, Bronze or Natural. This determined how often grass would be trimmed – or even if it was to be left to return to nature.
Gold sites – such as Greenhead Park, Beaumont Park and Huddersfield Crematorium – had the most regular maintenance but Silver sites – including Castle Hill and recreation grounds such as Reinwood Rec or Almondbury Rec – had 14 cuts a year. Bronze sites, which include small areas of public space along with greenways and verges, were cut just six times a year.
The report says: “A gap has opened up between agreed standards and the expected standards since they were last agreed in 2015.
“At this time all sites were given a category of Gold, Silver, Bronze or Natural as part of a service budget reduction of £1.3 million.
“These standards were agreed but as time has gone on people expect or demand a higher service level so there has been creep and our resources do not allow for this increased service delivery and teams are now stretched beyond capacity.
“Alongside this we are being asked to maintain new areas of land or maintain areas in a new way, for example, wildflower verges.
“These requests and additions are added to our portfolio with no additional revenue to maintain them regardless of our capacity or tools available.”
The Grounds Maintenance team said that its workload had now risen by the equivalent of 33 full-time employees from March-October and with climate change there was now a longer growing season. Budget pressures also meant delays in purchasing new vehicles and machinery.
Officers are now proposing to combine the Silver and Bronze standards into one as an “interim” measure. This would mean grass would be cut every three or four weeks on average.
The team will also review how it operates in the future. It will also seek to encourage more volunteers from ‘In Bloom’ groups or ‘Friends of’ groups who look after their own parks or local areas and also encourage more sports clubs to take on maintenance of their pitches.