SCOTTISH Borders Council has faced further criticism from communities over changes to grass cutting. 

At a meeting of the council last week, Jedburgh councillor Jim Brown said constituents have been up in arms since the authority moved its grass cutting regime from a 10-day cutting cycle to a 20-day cycle.

The changes came as part of Scottish Borders Council’s 2018-19 budget, sparking uproar from residents who felt their community spaces, particularly cemeteries, were now being neglected.

Despite the criticism, the council has repeatedly refused to backtrack on the changes, saying that a consultation carried out in December 2017  was supportive of the cutbacks and that the budget had been agreed by full council in February 2018.

Councillor Brown asked the chamber: “The grass cutting timetable of 21 days was agreed by this administration to save money. 

“Duns and Gavinton community councils now see grass which used to take two hours to cut now taking two to three times longer to do so, using more fuel. 

“How can this be saving money? More time, more fuel, more mess.”

Galashiels councillor Sandy Aitchison, who acts as the executive member for roads and infrastructure, said: “As part of the council budget setting for 2018/19, the council approved savings resulting in changes to the grass maintenance regime to some amenity areas, including cemeteries, from 10 working days to 20 working days. 

“Members’ briefings on the proposals were held at that time, during which it was explained that the savings would be principally met through a reduction in staff numbers, and that these reductions would be delivered by not recruiting into vacant posts.

“The council has an obligation not only financially to deliver services from within a defined budget envelope but also has a requirement to meet the environmental and social challenges in delivering those services, which includes responding to the biodiversity duty which the council holds. 

“The items raised in the question were considered as part of the overall saving and this also included significant investment in new equipment.

“There can be operational changes which on the face of it, may appear to be less efficient to the public. 

“Without knowing specific details about the instances to which the member refers, I would ask he shares the information reported from Duns Community Council to officers where they can take a more granular view of the issue and thereafter provide him with a detailed response.”

In a follow-up question, councillor Brown said: “Is the member aware that grass cutting is still very much unsatisfactory, with many people coming up to us and complaining about the state of the grass. 

“After two years of this administration, the Tories have cut everything in the Borders, except the grass.”

To which councillor Aitchison replied: “I would like to actually take councillor Brown to Edinburgh, where they have an SNP administration.

“If you drive along Princes Street, and you go down past the Oor Wullie statue, towards Haymarket station, you will pass Atholl Crescent. 

“Now Atholl Crescent has two great big flowerbeds, which you can’t see for long grass.

“Or, I could take you to Pilrig Park. And what you’ll find in Pilrig Park is pathways cut into very long grass and along the pathways there is an area of short, bowling green grass. Last time I was there it was like that all the way.

“What I’m trying to say to you is a serious point. If you walk out of the front door here you’ll see a wee sign, out there by a gentleman on a bicycle, asking us to leave it long for the bees. 

“There’s a lot of people out there who don’t want us to cut the grass, because they see biodiversity as going forward. There are school children in the Borders who are going to enormous lengths to promote biodiversity here.

“Now what that means here is very small things: we don’t have hippopotamuses, or giraffes or elephants, but what we do have a range of small wildlife that we need to preserve with biodiversity, so I am confident that we are in the right.”