Pitch battle rages over mowing plan

Coun Bob Brierley on his lawn mower
Coun Bob Brierley on his lawn mower

A councillor has been carpeted - for voluntarily cutting grass on a sports pitch.

Now team bosses at the junior football club which use it are asking if the town hall’s much vaunted The Deal pledge “is worth the paper it is written on.”

They do occasionally cut the grass but not frequently enough to allow competitive football to be played, which is where I came in some years ago and began mowing the grass.

Coun Bob Brierley

Hindley Green controversial independent Coun Bob Brierley brought himself a £1,500 sit-on mower specifically to help maintain playing surfaces for sports clubs in his ward.

He put his hand in his pocket after complaints from organisers that the under-pressure council had reduced the frequency of regular grass cutting which was affecting the quality of their games.

And so Coun Brierley has been giving up to 10 extra mows per year to the pitches at Thomas Street Rec - next door to his home.

Now the football club, which has more than 200 young players in eight age group teams, has hit out after hearing that Coun Brierley is to face yet-another town hall standards investigation because of it.

In a letter, council legal officer Janet Davies told Coun Brierley he faces a new tribunal after complaints because he hasn’t been given permission to mow the field.

Nor has the football club had the right to appoint or approve him to carry out the work on their behalf. Only the council can complete the work.

Incredulous club chairman Tom Causey said: “Bob is absolute gold dust - we just can’t believe this nonsense at all.”

Coun Brierley, who has “never charged a single penny” for any of the grass cuts, says he does the work because of the satisfaction of helping out in his community.

And he insists he carries out the work as a supporter of the club, not a councillor.

A spokesman for the council said it had taken action to deny Coun Brierley further access to the pitch after receiving complaints from members of the public.

Director of economy Karl Battersby said: “The land is restricted to recreational use and our Greenspaces team cut the grass on a regular basis.”

The authority also says it has received complaints about Coun Brierley dumping his clippings.

Coun Brierley had been the subject of a growing number of standards inquiries up to his re-election victory in May - all of which found him guilty.

He continues to allege this is a council campaign to “get me at all costs”.

Mr Causey said the supplementary cuts by Coun Brierley were a real boost to the youngest players who can struggle to control the ball when the grass gets longer.

He believes that Coun Brierley’s “selfless” volunteer actions were a true example of The Deal - which aims to peg council tax bills and mitigate the effect of the cuts by using community volunteer labour instead.

And he is “personally amazed” that the council are banning him from returning.

Mr Causey said: “When the council come up and do a cut you would think they were in the Le Mans race they do it so quick, they go over it like mad and don’t do a proper job and low enough.

“In the summer time we have teams of four, five and six-year-olds playing and they need a short cut pitch to help them shift the ball round easily without getting discouraged.

“Bob makes this possible by supplementing the council’s grass cuts in his own time, as a volunteer and not a councillor.

“He has been a godsend to us and the community - he has a heart of gold.”

Coun Brierley - who has also bought a mini powered plough for clearing snow - was today “completely bemused by all this fuss”.

He added: “The council’s legal department doesn’t seem to have received copies of the latest council edict which is to reduce costs and involve local residents in efforts to clean up and maintain local facilities.

“They do occasionally cut the grass but not frequently enough to allow competitive football to be played, which is where I came in some years ago and began mowing the grass.

“Trying to play in knee-high grass or in a field strewn with cuttings does nothing to encourage the children to take part.

“If the council don’t cut the grass frequently enough, how do the council propose the club can continue?”