Calls rejected for immediate ban on use of weedkiller glysophate in East Sussex

East Sussex county councillors have rejected a motion calling for a controversial weedkiller to be banned.

Thursday, 9th December 2021, 2:28 pm
Right, Green district councillor Milly Manley hands a petition to Green county councillor Wendy Maples and county council chairman Peter Pragnell

On Tuesday (December 7),  considered a notice of motion from Green councillors Wendy Maples and Julia Hilton, which called on the council to ban the use of glyphosate and other toxic herbicides on land it owns or manages from January 1, 2022.

The motion was recommended for refusal by cabinet member for environment Claire Dowling (who had considered it at a meeting last month), largely on the grounds that there were no ‘economically viable’ alternatives currently available.

The Green Party councillors criticised this recommendation, however, arguing that it failed to take into account their background information, which they argued made a compelling case for immediately ceasing use of the substance. 

Cllr Maples said: “It is admitted in the report that glyphosate is a problem and that this council would wish to stop using glyphosate and yet the argument is that instead of stopping using glyphosate, we simply slow down its use.

“My request to this group is to not be tribal about this, but to recognise that there are good clear arguments for stopping the use of glyphosate, for finding an alternative swiftly and applying that as quickly as possible. 

“I ask that the members here put down the hammer and vote to ban glyphosate.”

Other Green councillors went on to argue the weedkiller was both ineffective and  ecologically damaging due to its impact on pollinators and also poses a public health danger.

While the motion saw some support, it also came in for criticism over its short time frame for change when alternative solutions were not in place. This was a particular concern when it came to maintaining safe pavements. 

Seaford North councillor Sam Adeniji (Con) said: “Let’s get practical about this; we’ve two options in front of us.

“There is an option in this motion that says ‘let’s ban glyphosate from the first of January next year’, in literally three weeks’ time. But there are no alternatives. We will just have to hope and pray that we can maintain our pavements.

“There is [also] a practical suggestion from the cabinet member that says ‘we are concerned with the use of glyphosate and we want to do something about it, but we need to take time to do it properly. We need to look at what the options are’.

“I think that is not being tribal, that is actually being realistic.”

Concerns around pavement safety were a common criticism among councillors, with several pointing to the impact of a similar policy in Brighton and Hove. 

Green councillors criticised this argument, however, arguing that the current use of glyphosate didn’t ensure pavements were safe either.

Among those to criticise the situation in Brighton was Labour councillor Godfrey Daniel, who said it had been a ‘complete disaster’.

He said: “I would like to see the actual weed killing improved, because I don’t think we are doing it efficiently. I think there are big gaps being missed. 

“I think there is a role for the highway stewards, perhaps saying you need to go back and do it again, or maybe we need to change our policy and rather than doing it once a year with a very dilute solution we may need to do it more often.

“I just have this strong feeling for our area and what it looks like and if you haven’t been to Brighton and seen the weeds in the gutters I think you should do it as a site visit.”

The motion received a mixed response among other political groups as well, with both criticism and support.

Several Liberal Democrats, for example, argued they would support the motion as they agreed with its direction of travel and the need for action, but had issues with its wording and short time frame.

Among those to make this argument was Newhaven and Bishopstone councillor James MacCleary, who is also deputy leader of Lewes District Council.

He said: “We’ve had a few mentions of phasing out glyphosate completely. Lewes District Council has in fact successfully done that and it is a good example of where a fairly large authority can with the willpower, over time, phase glyphosate out completely.

“Obviously we have to appreciate there is a significant difference in terms of what the district council needs to maintain and what the county council does.

“But I think that we should see that as something, which with sufficient political will [can be achieved] over time. 

“I say that in an entirely non-tribal sense because as Cllr Adeniji will know that process was started under the Conservative administration which used to run Lewes District Council and completed under the current Alliance administration.”

Cllr MacCleary went on to welcome plans for non-glyphosate trials — including opt-out schemes — the county council plans to run next year, but urged swift action to make these a reality.

Several Lib Dems also argued that more needed to be done to convince residents of the need for change, with several councillors speaking of complaints about weeds in their wards and some giving anecdotal evidence of residents taking matters into their own hands and spraying weeds or mowing wildflower verges.

Ultimately, following debate, the motion was rejected on a majority vote.