£300k to weed out dangerous plants in Wigan

Residents are urged to report incidents of Japanese knotweed through the councils Report It app
Residents are urged to report incidents of Japanese knotweed through the councils Report It app

A council team tasked with rooting out Wigan’s destructive plants face tackling an area the equivalent of 157 football pitches, a committee has heard.

The town hall is earmarking more than £300k over the next three years to combat Japanese knotweed, Himalayan balsam and giant hogweed.

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Bosses say the "invest to save" scheme will help protect the borough’s bio-diversity but also guard against costly legal claims.

Scrutiny committee members this week gave their approval to the ‘pro-active’ approach to invasive, non-native species (INNS).

Officer Karen Hewitt said more than 700 locations across the borough are known to be affected – covering roughly the equivalent of 157 football pitches.

A team of four officers will be working their way through a ‘prioritised list’ of these sites and will react to reports coming in from the general public.

The committee also heard residents have been encouraged to report any sightings of INNS through the council’s Report It app. Coun Nathan Murray suggested efforts should be made through an upcoming public relations campaign to differentiate between what the council can do on private and public land.

The Labour representative for Bryn said: “I think we need to make that distinction as part of this process to make the public aware.”

Local authorities can treat the destructive plants on public land but can only notify the land owner on private sites to remind them of their legal obligations to stop the plants from spreading.

Assistant director Penny McGinty reassured committee members that the environment team regularly assesses latest trends to ensure they have the most effective treatment available to tackle INNS.

And – following a question from Coun Marie Morgan – the officers said checks are made on council premises ahead of community asset transfers, to ensure any problems are not passed on.

The plans have been developed by the council’s corporate land management team along with counterparts from outside groups such as Lancashire Wildlife Trust and the Canal and Rivers Trust.

Officers warned that Network Rail was successfully sued last year by two neighbours and ordered to pay treatment costs in addition to compensation for the loss of value to the properties, because of the spread of INNS.

In giving the committee’s stamp of approval to the plans, chairperson Eunice Smethurst said it was an issue the council had not ‘got to the bottom of’ in recent years and there would be financial consequences if action is not taken.