Assembly debates different type of cuts

By Niall Glynn
BBC News


It had been thought that cuts to Northern Ireland's budget would be discussed at Stormont on Tuesday - instead a different type of cuts will be on the agenda.

Rather than a draft budget being presented to the Assembly, MLAs will debate the issue of grass cutting.

The debate, proposed by DUP Strangford assembly member Simon Hamilton, calls for co-ordinating grass cutting services between the Housing Executive and the Roads Service.

It may not have the same resonance with many people as future government spending, but Mr Hamilton said it was still worthwhile.

He said because of mixed ownership of land, particularly in large estates, some grass is cut by the Roads Service for health and safety reasons and some by the Housing Executive for aesthetic reasons.

Mr Hamilton said it was an issue that was often raised by his constituents.

"We debate high-brow issues up here like the budget, but what really bugs the life out of people are things like this," he said.

"I'm bringing this on the back of complaints I've heard from different parts of my constituency.

"They're tearing their hair out because they see guys from whatever contractor coming out to mow their grass, mowing part of it and leaving the rest of it and then it maybe sits for a couple of weeks before the other organisation gets round to cutting it."

He said money could be saved if the two services co-operated.

"My point is, it costs about £8m in total a year to cut all of this," he said.

"They're cutting it separately, they're cutting at different times and there's potential for an efficiency to be made by them doing it together.

"There are areas where, if you take a big square of grass, half the grass is owned by the Housing Executive, half by the Roads Service and only half is cut at one time, leaving a well-cut bit beside one which is just out of control."

The Strangford MLA said although the issue may not have the same impact as a draft budget, he thought there would be a good turnout for the debate.

"If you look through Assembly records there's a substantial amount of questions asked by members about this subject," he said.

"Anybody who's is doing their constituency work properly will have heard complaints about it and I think there may be a lot of interest."