Today we are bringing a report to the city environment committee which proposes resetting the council’s approach to weeds management, making sure we keep our pavements safe while supporting biodiversity and a planned and managed reduction of glyphosate over the longer term, writes council leader Bella Sankey.

The council ended the use of glyphosate in 2019 with immediate effect, ironically contrary to the advice of Pesticide Action Network (PAN) who recommend a three-year managed phase-out. Since 2019, we have been reliant solely on manual weeding and the support of residents and community groups.

It was a reckless move which, without an alternative plan in place, has seen chaos in the city, especially in summer months, weeds out of control, making the pavements unsafe.

Last summer, this is one of a few things that gave me sleepless nights. I and my colleagues hear regularly from residents suffering nasty falls and trips, or afraid themselves, or on behalf of relatives, of the city’s pavements, choosing not to leave the house as a result and suffering increased social isolation and vulnerability. During certain months of the year many pavements are not accessible for wheelchair users, parents and carers with buggies and those with visual or mobility impairments.

We began looking at this issue straight after May’s election. We were determined to avoid the use of herbicides if at all possible and so we conducted an exhaustive assessment of alternative options – trying everything else that is currently available: foamsteaming, mechanical removal, hot water etc. We consulted with PAN and other groups and spoke with councils across the country.

We also did everything we could to extract maximum efficiency from our manual removal efforts, weeding almost double the number of streets than the Green administration managed the previous year. Despite this, we were still only able to weed 34 per cent of the city’s streets. Not enough to fulfil our duty of care to residents.

We know from our intensive efforts there is no effective alternative, particularly in our outer-lying areas where there is less footfall and more growth. As well as multiple resident injuries, our manual weeders have also had injuries and are now only able to weed for a maximum of three hours a day given the physical risk.

As a former human rights campaigner, human safety is paramount to me and as an administration we will always be led by the evidence. While concerns have been expressed over the impact of glyphosate, it is considered safe for use by the WHO, the EU and the UK Health and Safety Executive.

After extensive research we have found a method that is both safer and more environmentally sustainable than Brighton’s pre-2019 approach. Unlike conventional glyphosate application, which is a water-based solution sprayed in a fine, pressurised mist prone to drift, we are proposing to use a controlled droplet method. This contains a lower concentration of glyphosate, and is released in larger droplets under gravity alone. It is suspended in an oil that sticks to the plant. This means that risk of drift and run-off is greatly reduced and any impact on biodiversity will be minimal. Unlike a conventional application, this approach also produces no breathable droplets and so is far safer.

We are not returning to the use of glyphosate in parks and green spaces, and it will not be applied near direct access points to the chalk aquifer. We are continuing our work on biodiversity projects such as wildflower banks in parks and other suitable locations, and bringing biodiversity net gain into our planning framework to ensure every new development leads to a minimum of ten per cent increase in biodiversity. Our most ambitious biodiversity work is taking place on the South Downs where we are undertaking landscape-scale chalk grassland restoration and transitioning farming away from the intensive methods of the late 20th century toward a more sustainable, regenerative and biodiverse future. These things will have a far greater positive impact on biodiversity in the city than unchecked plant growth on our pavements.

This will be a “reset” year, with the aim being to have the weeds problem back to a manageable level. We will then seek to reduce and phase out the use of glyphosate in line with advice from PAN and others in subsequent years.

Treatment will only be applied to visible weeds on roads and pavements. As such, any areas that are well maintained by residents and community groups will require little/no treatment.

Bella Sankey is leader of Brighton and Hove City Council