Busy lakes mean council staff are diverted from other work

The increased usage of the Westmeath lakes is affecting the way Westmeath County Council deploy outdoor staff, a senior staff member has revealed.

“I have never seen the lakes as busy in my life,” district engineer, Pat Kavanagh, told councillors at the September meeting of the Municipal District of Mullingar Kinnegad.

Because of the level of activity, there has been a lot more maintenance of lake amenities required, he said.

“We’re having to divert more and more staff to our lakes, particularly for clean-ups, litter clean-ups – all kinds of stuff.

“So our parks and open spaces staff are being redirected at times. Every week we’re inundated with clean-ups and it’s costly.”

Cllr Andrew Duncan remarked that a few years ago, he called to have the barriers at the lakes opened because he believed “the lakes are for everybody”.

Now, his view on the barriers has changed: “As somebody who’s on those lakes an awful lot – probably a lot more than nearly anybody in the room – I’ve changed, and I find it very hard to say that,” Cllr Duncan said.

“I had residents in Ladestown a couple of years ago ringing me about keeping that barrier open. I thought it was the right thing to do. I now think that barrier needs to be permanently closed. We are not going to be able to control the numbers.

“The reality is we have a large number of foreign nationals now using those areas that just have no concept of any sort: they’re going in, they’re ‘testing the waters’; they get no resistance and they’re taking over those places at weekends.”

Cllr Duncan said that while the people are “respectful”, they have taken over those areas. For that reason, he believes the barrier should go back up.

Cllr Aoife Davitt said the council has tried to maintain Ladestown and has done much work there – she had photographic proof, however, of people using their own toilets there and leaving the contents behind.

“The local people are paying for these services to clean up after people who just come in and wreck and then drive out on a Sunday evening and drive back in on a Thursday evening, or on a Friday.

"And all you see is line after line and line of cars going down; and the speed of the cars and the activities that are happening the burning of the environmentally protected area… you’ve heard it all off me for so long.”

She appealed for implementation of the by-laws for Ladestown. Cllr Ken Glynn said a lot of local people like to go to Ladestown to read a newspaper or walk their dog: one elderly person was left in tears over what they had seen there at the weekend, he said, and he too felt the by-laws had to be properly implemented.

Cllr Emily Wallace suggested that a management plan be set up for the lake and that a meeting arranged to deal with the issues before next year’s summer season starts.

Grass cutting

Mr Kavanagh made the statements on the pressure on staff as he responded to a query from Cllr Mick Dollard on whether the council had reduced its grass-cutting schedule – a question prompted by concerns among residents that for the first time ever, the grass appeared not to have been cut at the entrance to the Bellview, Glenview estate.

“We certainly have not cut back on grass verges I can assure you: we’ve spent an absolute fortune this year. We have two different contractors with a number of machines as well as our own direct labour,” Mr Kavanagh stated.

He said the past two years were dry, so grass wasn’t such an issue: “This year was an exceptional year between heat and wet and so we had a very busy year,” he stated, going on to explain that at the same time, more estates have been taken in charge, and there were the ongoing lake clean-ups.

“And it all comes from the same pot,” he said of the costs.