Council under pressure to cut long grass left to grow at sites across Stoke-on-Trent
WIDOWER Frederick Cotton has been forced to buy his own strimmer to cut back knee-high grass around relatives' graves – after nearly £50,000 was wiped from a maintenance budget for public spaces.
Mr Cotton, aged 81, has spent hours tidying up the resting place of both his wife and son at Longton Cemetery.
He is among scores of residents putting mounting pressure on the cash-strapped city council to tend to the 'forgotten' site and many more across the Potteries.
Dozens of cemeteries, playgrounds, roadsides and parks in Stoke-on-Trent have been left unchecked for months due to council austerity measures – turning public areas into what residents have dubbed 'urban jungles'.
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Retired builder Mr Cotton, of Martindale Close, Meir, said: "It's a disgrace – I had no choice but to take matters into my own hands. The grass has been left to grow and grow over the last few years. It's as though the council has just forgotten about the cemetery.
"It is so disrespectful to the dead and their families who visit them."
Mr Cotton's wife Joyce was buried in the cemetery 30 years ago and his son Paul was laid to rest two years ago after he died aged 55.
He added: "We can't continue the work forever and, at the end of the day, it's the council's responsibility.
"It has been really upsetting because we have a lot of family members buried there."
Stoke-on-Trent City Council's budgets for green space and waste collection have been cut by £3 million in recent years.
And the authority slashed its £202,000 budget for grass cutting and open space maintenance by £46,000 this year with the loss of two jobs.
Peter Dartford, Chief Officer at Staffordshire Fire and Rescue Service, said there was a real danger of a small grassland fire spreading dangerously quickly if the grass was left to grow.
He said he was monitoring the situation before deciding whether or not the matter should be taken up with the council.
Mr Dartford, below, added: "There is no doubt that there is a risk there. If worst came to worst we could raise that issue directly with them as a particular area of concern."
Hardial Bhogal, the council's director of city renewal, said: "The council has worked very hard to strike a balance between maintaining grass cutting arrangements, against very tough budget cuts imposed centrally, by government.
"Council staff continue to cut grass at play areas, sports pitches, grass verges, strategic and neighbourhood parks, council bungalows and flats on a regular basis."
Angry families tell council: 'Enough is enough': Page 6