'˜Relaxed mowing' of Leeds parks could save the public purse £500,000...but what does it mean for our prized beauty spots?

Leeds City Council is certainly not letting the grass grow under its feet when it comes to its austerity drive for next year.

A workman cutting the grass in a Leeds park.

But the same can’t be said for the city’s parks and open spaces.

The cash-strapped local authority is introducing a “relaxed mowing” policy, and reducing its grass cutting, hedge-trimming and flower bed maintenance, in a bid to save £500,000.

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And it could mean that less popular beauty spots and parks in outlying areas could lose out on resources in favour of those considered “high priory” for the city.

The move is part of a whole raft of “efficiencies” designed to shave millions from the city’s public services bill.

The council will raise £3.6m in additional income next year from a proposed four per cent council tax increase which is due to be rubber-stamped next month.

However it must offset that against a £25m cut to its core Government funding.

A council report outlining a range of savings plans across departments details a planned “reduction in the area of maintained flower beds, shrub beds and hedges along with some increased relaxed mowing as appropriate in parks/green spaces and at graveyards/closed church yards”.

The council will also “reduce grass verge maintenance on high speed roads and reduce hedge cuts from three times each year to two on highways assets”, the report adds.

Neil Evans, Leeds City Council’s director of environment and housing, told colleagues on a cross-party scrutiny panel that were it not for the need to make savings, the plan was “not somewhere we would have naturally gone”.

“We have talked about the level of maintenance we can do in particular parks, different mowing regimes, flowerbeds and shrubs and so forth,” he said.

“There will obviously be some choices made about what parks or areas members want to keep up to a very high spec, and where they might take a more relaxed view.”

“There can be some consultation around that, but these are things that we wouldn’t necessarily want to do.

“But I think within the context of where we are with the budget, [they can be accomplished] with the current levels of staff in post.”

He said that despite the obvious pressures, he was confident the parks and countryside team would still be able to provide “a good level of service” within the city.

Chair of the housing and environment panel councillor Alan Lamb joked that he was intrigued by the concept of “relaxed mowing”.

But on a more serious point, he asked if the city’s many parish councils and In Bloom groups could be asked to take on some extra responsibilities and help “maintain high standards”.

Mr Evans responded that the council gets “a huge amount” of help from volunteers across the city anyway, with unpaid work providing the equivalent manpower of 120 full time paid staff.

“Our parks would not look anywhere as good as they do without that,” he said.

He stressed there was “clearly a budget to be hit” and this would mean having to rethink some things, for example the level of service supplied to parks that are more “out of the way”.