Residents weeding the streets in borough towns

DfI criticised by one of Britiain’s best kept towns 

By Annie Stewart

RESIDENTS of a multi-awarding local town are taking things into their owns hands to keep it looking spic and span.

Donaghadee residents have given up on the Department for Infrastructure (DfI) and have been spending evenings weeding along the shore front and in the town centre.

The town has achieved headlines in recent years with awards in the Ulster in Bloom competition, and last year won a gold medal representing Northern Ireland in the prestigious Britain in Bloom competition.

But in recent months there has been concern that DfI maintenance has been less than hoped for so residents have spent time carrying out the kind of work normally carried out by DfI workmen.

And it’s not just in Donaghadee that concerns have been raised about the lack of maintenance. In Comber it is felt that maintenance isn’t being done correctly and, just as in Donaghadee, local people are taking to the streets to carry out the work.

John Caldwell, secretary of Donaghadee Community Development Association, said the group and local residents are increasingly frustrated by the DfI’s lack of maintenance.

“We are striving to make the most of our town, spending in excess of £10,000 each year on our floral decorations,” said Mr Caldwell.

“Alongside this our team of 150 or so volunteers work tirelessly across the summer to maintain floral displays. We have developed a very strong partnership with Ards and North Down Council who play a very significant part not only with their own displays but also with advice, guidance and practical support. 

“It is therefore very frustrating that the government department with responsibility for weed control seems unable to play its part presumably because of budgetary constraints.”

Mr Caldwell said the community understands there are budget constraints throughout the government departments.  

“But Donghadee’s efforts to promote the public face of the town for the benefit of the local economy are being seriously undermined,” he said.

“But our efforts to do well in the annual Tidy Town competition run by the Amenity Council are being noticeably hindered by the Department. Even from the Department’s perspective, the delay in essential maintenance of footpaths and road verges cannot be postponed indefinitely without leading to even more serious financial implications.

“The council certainly has our support in making the case to DfI that compared to other councils we are not getting a fair and reasonable slice of the DfI annual road service budget.”

Roy Murray, from the Comber Community Garden, said that the department is prioritising potholes, which is understandable.

But he said the contractors who are responsible for weeding are not doing it properly, and are frequently rushing to finish rather than doing a good job.

“Our problem with the weeds would be they used to spray weedkiller along the footpaths two or sometimes three times a year, but I haven’t seen anyone do that for a couple of years,” said Mr Murray.

He said in Comber, a local volunteer is cutting the weeds surrounding the bypass, schools and on roads where the weeds block the view.

Mr Murray said that local towns are doing it for Ulster in Bloom competitions but aren’t getting the support they need from the DfI.

“I understand the potholes, but even they are just being patched up and not done properly. I think the DfI needs to go back to doing these jobs themselves rather than outsourcing to contractors,” he added.

A DfI spokeswoman said the department has ’no specific statutory obligation to remove weeds’.

Weed treatment within the Donaghadee and Comber area is currently ongoing,” said the spokeswoman.

It should be noted that it could take approximately 14-21 days for visible evidence of weed dieback from the date of treatment.

“The Department has no specific statutory obligation to remove weeds, other than to control noxious weeds. Policies and procedures in place are aimed at ensuring the safety of road users and preventing the deterioration of the road pavement.”