26 July 2018

What a difference a month makes

The current heatwave is creating challenges for many of us. Councillor Gill Mitchell, Chair of the Environment, Transport & Sustainability Committee, explains the unusual challenges it brings to looking after the city.

Most people say Brighton & Hove is at its best in the summer months. The weather is usually warm-ish, a cooling breeze normally blows, the beaches and parks are busy, and life is blissfully normal.

But not this year!

An unexpected heatwave has engulfed the UK and, especially, the south east. Temperatures not witnessed for decades have transformed our normally bustling city into the busiest tourist destination in the country - and life for the majority of people has become anything but normal.

We all need to make sure we drink plenty of water, be extra careful in the blistering heat and ensure our kids, elderly folk and pets are doing the same.

But the relentless, searing heatwave brings a new set of challenges and choices for the council as well as other companies like Southern Water, and our fire and health services.

For instance, the lack of rain gives us a real dilemma. Do we ensure our parks and open spaces remain green, healthy and beautiful by watering them frequently. Or do we, as the water companies rightly ask, conserve as much water as we can by using it sparingly? This of course leads to our parks and open spaces becoming parched and dry, with our flowers sadly wilting and dying.

The same dilemma surrounds our streets and pavements – all 700 miles of them, that’s almost the length of the UK. Our hardworking street cleaners are out every day as normal, sweeping, tidying and jet washing. They work from 5am until 10pm.

They’re usually helped by the odd summer downpour, where nature chips in to wash our streets and pathways. But again, the lack of rain means they aren’t getting their usual dousing. The pavements themselves are so warm that anything spilt on them – including beer, coffee, tea, soft drinks, ice cream and tree sap - stains and become sticky almost immediately.

During the kind of weather we’re having now, we target the worst affected streets. But no sooner do we jet wash a busy pavement like North Street or St James’ Street than it’s dirty again.

And the cleaning has to be done when there’s hardly anyone around as jet washing during busy footfall isn’t an option.

We know our streets and pavements aren’t as clean as they should be – or how you and the rest of our residents and tourists expect them to be. And what’s written above isn’t intended to be excuse, but an explanation of how this unexpected heatwave – like this year’s unexpected winter snow – has created different challenges.

Please be assured we are taking extra measures. On 6 August we’ll be trialling a new continental style jet washer where a cleaner drives the machine along a pavement and blasts it clean. It’ll blitz an area like North Street in a day whereas at present it takes a week.

As well as our own tireless cleaning work, we’ve been asking businesses like pubs, bars and cafes to help keep the pavements outside their premises clean. Some have taken up the challenge and are doing their bit, and to them we’ve already said a massive thank you.

We’re now asking others to do the same in the hope they’ll respond.

Obviously this heatwave is no one’s doing and no one’s fault, and in many ways it’s fantastic for the city in terms of tourism and bringing in much needed spending for our businesses.

But one thing is for sure. The weather will change and soon it’ll all be a distant memory. Until then, we should all do our best to keep life as normal as we can.