By Bill Heaney
Mary, Mary, quite contrary
How does your garden grow?
With silver bells and cockleshells
And pretty maids all in a row …
However, what about your own garden? How does it grow? With the odd discarded mattress, an old sofa on the back green perhaps and maybe even that old kitchen you had pulled out a few years ago?
Sinks and bathroom suites are commonplace in some back greens and so too are baths, toilets and cisterns.
And old plastic toys which were a delight a few Christmases ago, but have lost their attraction and are now a complete and utter eyesore.
Some people don’t give a damn about their environment. They ignore their overgrown hedges and the height of the grass in their front and back garden, growing up to their backsides and have never made acquaintance with a lawnmower.
Councillor David McBride, the Labour member of West Dunbartonshire Council, who looks after the civic interests of Castlehill, Brucehill and Westcliff, plus the remainder of the West End hinterland, wants to remind you of your responsibility to keep the dandelions and dock leaves and nettles under control.
He doesn’t want to frighten you by using the kind of language Angela Rayner fired at Boris Johnston during the Labour Party conference in Brighton over the weekend.
West End gardens champion Cllr David McBride and Bankie member Cllr Gail Casey.
He is too nice a guy for that; too respectful of the people who voted for him to give them the rough edge of his tongue.
But that does not mean he is shirking the issue.
He has come up with a move for Thursday’s council meeting which is more softly, softly, catch the monkey than putting the boot in.
He starts out by acknowledging “the exceptionally hard work of our staff during the Covid pandemic.
“For many, working practices, additional duties and priorities have altered the way they work as they serve and respond to the communities of West Dunbartonshire.”
But … and there’s always a but, is there not?
Cllr McBride states: “As restrictions ease the Council must continue its focus on recovery of all council services and this includes Housing Operations of Estate Management.
“While the vast majority of tenants have continued to maintain their garden to high or acceptable levels, there has now been two summer growing seasons where for entirely practical reasons our housing estates have not had the regular inspections, individual tenant engagement and enforcement action to ensure gardens are maintained or clear of rubbish.”
There are no prizes then for guessing that a lot of gardens are in a terrible state.
He adds: ““While some tenants may need the assistance of our Care of Garden scheme, others may lack the skills or equipment and may need the assistance and encouragement of Estate Officers to provide a helping hand to get started.
“However, there may also be some tenants who require greater encouragement and even enforcement action to ensure they comply with the tenancy agreement which they have signed up to and help ensure our housing estates are maintained to acceptable standards.”
He urges the Council to applaud the action taken by community groups including the newly formed Dumbarton West Community Action Group, who arranged a special one off skip siting in conjunction with Greenspace and Waste Services to be deployed locally to allow local residents to clear some bulkier items stored in gardens.
However, he admits that more assistance may be required to clear the estates further.
The fact that the housing estates – and not just those in the West End – are in some state is clear from this – “there is a backlog of actions required to address the outstanding works and to tackle any complaints from local tenants.
“To ensure our tenants do not suffer a third summer growing season in a row of unacceptable standards, a rigorous action plan needs to be developed now and implemented during between now and next spring”.
Council Chief Executive Joyce White will be asked to put her mighty shoulder to the wheelbarrow and bring a report to the next Council meeting, including options for elected member consideration so that any necessary works can be progressed as a matter of urgency.
Cllr McBride says: “This report should identify costs, funding options including reserves and an audit of all council estates to include the full extent of the problem that exists.”
The problems are obviously not confined to frost getting to the Sweet Williams and marigolds.
The analysis of action required might include assistance with labour; additional waste collections; the Care of Garden Scheme or enforcement action.
It should give a breakdown of additional resources required, for example staff overtime; additional staff recruitment; relaxing the criteria of the Care of Garden Scheme; a temporary waiver of fees for Special Uplifts and the Care of Garden Scheme; consideration of skips being supplied to encourage tenants to clear gardens of larger household items, similar to the successful community action in Dumbarton West; an audit of common areas within estates to ensure acceptable levels are maintained.
Cllr McBride, supported by Cllr Gail Casey, the Labour group deputy leader, believes this report should be compiled in consultation with the WDTRO and seek their views on what measures and funding would be acceptable and welcome by them.
This Council must ensure that by next summer our estates are again well maintained and a pleasant environment for our tenants and residents, he said.
He urged the SNP administration leader Cllr Jonathan McColl, famed for his love or lack of it for trees, not to let the grass grow under his feet and was promised the officers would do their best to have the papers on the table for this Thursday’s meeting.