Harrogate Borough Council apologises over plastic grass after Extinction Rebellion protest

Harrogate Borough Council has said it is "sorry" for the way it handled communications on its latest project to install artificial grass in flower beds in the town centre.

Friday, 21st May 2021, 11:09 am

The authority spent £800 on placing the plastic grass over tree roots in raised flower beds on both Cambridge Street and Oxford Street last week, but the move was met with outrage from residents on social media.

And this week, members of Extinction Rebellion took to the streets to remove some of the fake grass, replacing it with real soil and leaving a note which read: “Grow plants, not plastic”.

The artificial grass in Harrogate town centre. Picture: Gerard Binks.

One of the actions coordinators for Extinction Rebellion Harrogate said: “We were really shocked, confused and disappointed by the sudden appearance of the fake plastic grass the council had laid.

Harrogate Borough Council is sending the message that ‘neat and tidy’ is more important than biodiversity.

“And XR Harrogate strongly disagrees. As there was no public consultation we felt it was best to quickly bring back nature.”

The council has defended its position and says the artificial grass has been laid as a base for brand new planters to be placed on.

It says the previous plants regularly died as the trees soaked up all the nutrients from the soil - and that this could have been explained to Extinction Rebellion if the group had approached the council before taking action.

A council spokesman said: “While we recognise Extinction Rebellion Harrogate’s reasons for removing the artificial grass and installing plants we would have preferred them speaking to us first so that we could have explained the full scheme and how it enables even more plants right in to our town centre.

“Traditionally, we’ve put plants in the beds beneath the trees, but these rarely last very long because the trees soak up all the moisture and nutrients in the soil, leading to the plants looking rather sorry for themselves.

“Inevitably, this means the beds end up being visually dull and nothing more than a magnet for cigarette butts, empty coffee cups and fast-food takeaway packaging. They look a mess and prompt almost as many complaints as we’ve had about the artificial grass.

“The artificial grass is a base for planters that will sit on top of the beds.

“These planters – that have already started to be installed – will have their own water source, separate from the tree roots, so that the bedding plants can thrive on their own. This will result in a vibrant display of colour all year round. Using the artificial grass as a base means we can have more and more plants in our town centre and make the area more attractive.

“We’ve been asked why we didn’t put down stone or bark. We ruled this out because, regrettably, it will be most likely end up being used as an ashtray or messed-up because it is loose. Surfacing with stone, or something more substantial, would also compromise the tree root system."

The council has clarified that this project is currently in a trial period and says it should have focused on making its plans clearer to the public.

The spokesman added: “If, when the beds are fully installed, they don’t make the town look better and bring more plants into the town centre then we will remove them and try something else.

“We share the passion people have for Harrogate’s award winning floral displays and is something we will continue to support.

“We also have further plans to reduce carbon emissions having recently identified three new council-owned sites, covering some 17 hectares, for new tree planting schemes.

“We haven’t explained this well and we are sorry about that. We concentrated too much on getting the trial in place and not enough time explaining the totality of what we were doing.”