Amenity Forum chairman John Moverley said many councils across the UK have received FoI requests regarding the use of chemicals such as glyphosate and neonicotinoids in their parks and streetscapes.
Delegates at October's Amenity Forum annual conference in Leicester heard that they must be ready to quickly prove they are using chemicals safely and minimising risk to the public and that they have integrated pest management (IPM) plans in place, or risk councillors being swayed by campaigners and banning pesticides completely. This includes contractors, which often find the FoI request is passed along to them.
Mark Dempsey, Streetscene support services manager at Calderdale Council in West Yorkshire, said the local authority has received five FoI requests this year, mostly related to bees. "Our councillors were initially reactive, saying: 'What's all this about?'" he said. "They were a bit apprehensive about lobbying from NGOs and there was a lot of confusion about the risks to bees of glyphosate, for example."
Dempsey was summoned to defend his department's chemical use to the council. "What stood me in good stead was we felt we had been following best practice and we could answer the councillors well," he said. He was also able to argue that losing glyphosate would increase council costs and would lead to further complaints from members of the public about weeds, which would reflect badly on councillors.
However, some delegates pointed out that with local authority clients driving down contract prices, it can be impossible to incorporate an IPM strategy or to use alternatives, many of which also take much longer to follow.
By law, FoI requests should receive a response within 20 working days, which has proven problematic for some. Bristol City Council recently failed to respond to requests about its pesticide use within the 20-day time limit (see p11), leading to recriminations in the media from anti-pesticide campaigners who said the public has "a right to know" what chemicals are sprayed in their city.