Brighton and Hove City Council has hit the national and international headlines this week over the explosion of weeds on the pavement seen in every corner of the city.

The level of media attention has been reminiscent of the bin strikes of 2015, with reports about Brighton’s weeds – which have reached up to 6ft in some streets – published as far afield as the Croatian press.

There have been many problems reported, with several elderly residents having had falls after tripping on the weeds that have sent them to hospital.

Many streets are now inaccessible to wheelchairs and mobility scooters and mums are having to push their prams into the road to avoid some spots.

Dog owners have reported hefty vet bills after barley grass growing through the pavements has become embedded in their pets’ paws.

The issue has also shocked tourists, with one visitor calling into Vanessa Feltz show on Radio 2 this week to relay her recent experience while on holiday in Hove.

The visitor, who was staying on Pembroke Crescent in Hove, said she couldn’t believe the state of the pavements and that it was difficult to walk on the Hove streets due to the weeds.

To top off a bad trip to the city, the caller said she tripped on an exposed tree stump on the pavement and cut her leg.

She said to Vanessa: “I did consider whether I should go to the council but I figured that they must be short of money of something because there were so many weeds there.”

Money of course is not the issue here, as the council has just recorded a multi-million pound budget underspend and has been discussing ways to spend it.

Instead this saga is a familiar tale of poor policy making by the Labour/Green council, featuring lack of oversight and unheeded warnings.

This saga has its roots five years ago at council meeting in March 2016, when a petition accompanied by a motion from the Greens, called for Brighton and Hove to become the first pesticide free city.

The petition and motion went to the environment committee for discussion the following month but the idea was quickly dismissed by the chairwoman of that committee Gill Mitchell.

She said the committee needed to remember the council has a legal duty to ensure footpaths are clear from trip hazards, which weeds can be a contributing factor toward.

It was also noted that the budget for weed killer in the city was £30,000 a year to control the spread on hard surfaces which was effective way of meeting this statutory duty.

The matter was closed and nothing further happened for the remainder of that council term.

One month after the 2019 election, the tide turned, when the new Labour chairman of the environment committee made a declaration that Brighton and Hove would be pesticide free.

Within six months of this declaration, the decision was taken to remove the use of glyphosate with “immediate effect” and to move to manual removal of weeds in Brighton and Hove. Our Conservative councillors raised immediate concerns at this decision.

Councillor Vanessa Brown said while the reduction in the use of pesticides was something to be welcomed, the potential for a dramatic increase in weeds was an issue of concern.

She said the biggest risk was in the outlying areas on the city where there was less routine maintenance and footfall.

Councillor Lee Wares said the hasty decision made to begin a pesticide reduction in the city had led to a haphazard implementation.

In March 2021 councillors were issued a warning that manual weeding was failing. The report said that the council’s weed clearing team of eight people had not found a good enough method for the manual removal of weeds, staff could not be expected to work all day clearing weeds for health and safety reasons and warned of a potential financial liability to the council to come, from the break-up of pavements and falls. This warning was ignored and no action taken.

When Conservative Councillors Alistair McNair and Dawn Barnett have raised the issues of weeds at council meetings, they were told by the Greens that people like weeds on the pavement and complain when they are removed.

The Greens have now changed tack and promised to fix the issue by bringing in subcontractors to manually clear the weeds that have taken over the city. Whether this is remotely feasible remains to be seen.

The city taxpayer will count the cost of this saga in the weeks to come, with many pavements now broken up and needing repair. I dare say the cost will be much greater than the £30,000 the city used to spend on weed killer every year.