Cynon Valley

Knotweed nightmare puts strain on council

- ANTHONY LEWIS Local Democracy Reporter

THE amount of money being spent to clear Japanese knotweed and deal with legal cases related to it in Rhondda Cynon Taf has been revealed.

A report for the council’s public service delivery committee, which met on Thursday, February 17, shows that the council’s countrysid­e department has £10,000 allocated to Japanese knotweed treatment.

For several years the department has also been able to gain additional grant funding of £10,000 from the Invasive Non-Native Species group (INNS), which was set up as part of the Heads of the Valleys project.

RCT Council has also allocated £873,735 of its reserves to the 34 active legal claims which it has faced in relation to Japanese knotweed since June 2018.

The report said that as a result of the increasing number of sites being added to the treatment programme year on year, it is becoming increasing­ly difficult to work within the allocated budget.

Of the 34 cases, 23 are still open and ongoing, with the majority of claims having reserves of more than £10,000 allocated to them, 10 with reserves of more than £50,000 and the highest being £90,000.

There were 442 sites treated for Japanese knotweed in RCT in 2021, 34 done by the council and 408 by Landtech UK.

The council began treatment of Japanese knotweed in about 2006 when treatment was required on the Porth Relief road project, with Landtech UK brought in to carry out spraying.

The treatment programme grew steadily as more sites were identified and also because of the “seven-metre rule” backed by the Royal Institute for Chartered Surveyors (RICS) which was adopted by mortgage lenders to determine the risk of Japanese knotweed affecting properties.

If the invasive plant was found to be within that distance of a property, mortgage lenders would usually require a formal treatment plan in place before mortgages were granted.

This meant the council needed to take on treatment of many more council sites close to domestic properties.

These guidelines have very recently been reviewed and the rule reduced back to three metres. This will come into force next month and the council hopes this will reduce the number of properties making legal claims.

The report said: “It is understood that the highest contributi­ng factor for the onset of the legal claims is the fact that several large law companies began to pursue councils, targeting properties close to council land where knotweed was known or thought to be present.

“This was coupled with increased publicity and advertisin­g by these legal firms.

“The Covid-19 pandemic which struck early in 2020 probably only made matters worse, with people restricted to their gardens and having increased spare time to research Japanese knotweed.”

After increased demand and rising numbers of legal cases, the countrysid­e department appointed a new full-time invasive species officer in September 2021, which the report said will create greater capacity to deal with the increased numbers of complaints and legal claims.

The countrysid­e team is also planning to update advice and training to other council department­s due to the changing nature of complaints and increased risk of legal claims.

The council also intends to add an online reporting system, including a tool for uploading photograph­s with the aim of improving the reporting facility and reducing time wasted on cases of mistaken identity.

The report said: “Staff and budgetary constraint­s still mean that the systems used are predominan­tly reactive. However with a new dedicated officer, it is hoped that we can move towards a more proactive approach.”

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