Midlothian Council's weed killer ban overturned
Midlothian councillors were asked to formally approve the reintroduction of glyphosate weed killer in the county at “restricted spots” two years after they originally banned its use.
Councillors heard that a cross-party of group leaders had agreed to lift the restrictions during the Covid-19 pandemic.
However, a virtual meeting of elected members heard claims that staff had sprayed wildflower beds and private gardens after the ban was lifted.
Councillor Colin Cassidy who led the call for the ban in 2019, told the meeting that when group leaders agreed to lift the ban “we went on a killing mission spraying people’s gardens and wildflower areas”.
Urging fellow councillors to reject the call to reintroduce the herbicide, he said: “I’d like to apologise on behalf of the SNP Group to the people of Midlothian and put on record for my children and my grandchildren that I tried to have this banned.”
Councillors were asked to approve the use of glyphosate in restricted spot applications while working to reduce its use in open spaces and parks.
Exemptions already in place for dealing with giant hogweed and other invasive species would continue.
Councillor Andrew Hardie urged members to accept that it was not practical to introduce an overall ban in the present and commit to working towards one in the future.
He said: “It is important we try to come together to find a compromise where we can have an aspiration in the future to have zero glyphosate but we are not in that position now.”
Glyphosate is a herbicide which has been banned across several European countries and states in America amid concerns about its effect on wildlife and health.
Two US court cases have seen juries rule it caused cancer in recent years, although America’s Environmental Protection Agency has insisted it is not a carcinogen.
Last year, council officials pleaded with elected members to lift the ban, claiming it had led to an increase in complaints from members of the public about weeds and claims people had slipped and fallen on overgrown paths.
At this week’s meeting, the council’s landscape and countryside manager Justin Vernon said that while he had no formal information on recorded complaints, he had dealt with one mother whose son had tripped on weeds and suffered a head injury, adding that she had not lodged a claim against the local authority.
He also said that records were kept of streets where the weed killer was used but that it was not publicly available on the council website, although he would welcome a move to digitalise the information.
Councillor Stephen Curran backed officers’ recommendations to introduce the weed killer under restricted measures, adding additional restraints to highways and lay-bys.
Mr Curran told the meeting: “The Scottish Public Health Minister has said glyphosate is safe.”
Comparing it to the AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine, he said the country trusted the chief medical officer’s advice it was safe, despite other nations’ reactions, because he followed the science and so the same followed with the Public Health Minister, adding that otherwise the minister was “misleading Parliament”.
However, Councillor Dianne Alexander pointed out that similar advice to glyphosate had been given in the past about tobacco by authorities who insisted it was safe until someone provided evidence it was not.
Councillors voted by nine votes to seven to back officers’ recommendations to allow restricted use of glyphosate weed killers.
In favour were councillors Stephen Curran, John Hackett, Andrew Hardie, Russell Imrie, Janet Lay-Douglas, Derek Milligan, Jim Muirhead, Margot Russell and Pauline Winchester.
Voting against were councillors Dianne Alexander, Colin Cassidy, Catherine Johnstone, Debbi McCall, Kieran Munro, Kelly Parry and Joe Wallace.
Councillor Peter Smaill abstained.