A campaign by youngsters to ban council use of a toxic weed killer in Redcar and Cleveland has received broad backing by councillors.

Exposure to glyphosate has been linked to an increased risk of cancer in humans, while it can also damage the nervous system of insects, threatening ecosystems.

The chemical has already been banned, or its use restricted, by more than 40 UK councils and in some countries abroad.

Councillors received a presentation from Martha Brayshaw, a 14-year-old from Saltburn, in the civic chamber in Redcar, who asked that glyphosate be banned.

She said: “I don’t want to hang out in my local park anymore because I am scared of getting ill.”

The campaign by Teesside-based environmental youth club Generation Climate Action, which is funded by the National Lottery, has received support from the Tees Valley Wildlife Trust and the charity Pesticide Action UK.

It meets twice a week in Saltburn and is run by The Cut Back, a community interest company.

Earlier in the day representatives from the campaign handed over a near-800 page petition to the council calling for an end to use of the chemical.

Meanwhile, a protest was held in October at the Saltburn Valley Gardens play park by youngsters concerned over the issue, who dressed as zombies.

In response to the campaign, a motion moved by Liberal Democrat councillor Jemma Joy, who chairs Redcar and Cleveland Council’s climate and environment scrutiny committee, said there was growing scientific evidence of the harm caused by glyphosate.

It also said there were more cost effective, creative and natural solutions available as an alternative.

The motion, seconded by fellow Lib Dem councillor Tristan Learoyd, called on the council to bring forward an action plan and timetable for reducing glyphosate use down to zero and stop its use by all council employed staff and contractors on public and council-owned land by December 2024.

The motion was backed by several other councillors who spoke in support, although some also called for more information.

Councillor Justin Thompson said the council used 3,000 litres of the chemical every year, although it is understood that figure could well be higher.

Another council member described how there was a “lot of discrepancy” in the scientific information available with the EU recently approving its use for another ten years.

Meanwhile, Councillor Philip Thomson criticised the council over what he said was “two years of talking” over drawing up a biodiversity strategy, which he said was not even yet in draft form.

‘Sensible and practical way forward’

Councillor Adam Brook, the cabinet member for neighbourhoods and housing, said: “It is my understanding that this is an operational matter and ultimately the decision lies with cabinet.

“If this motion is approved it is not the final decision.

“But I agree we need to look at a sensible and practical way forward.”

After this was queried by veteran councillor Steve Kay, Steve Newton, the council’s monitoring officer and effectively its chief legal officer, said: “Most operational matters are executive functions so they are matters for the cabinet to decide.”

He suggested it was not an uncommon position and was part of legislation.

Councillor Wayne Davies said: “Whether it is an executive decision or not, it is morally only right that the council takes this on board.

“Full council has spoken and full council should be listened to.”

The motion was agreed with a show of hands.

Edith Reeve, from The Cut Back and project manager for Generation Climate Change, told the Local Democracy Reporting Service: “A grandparent of one of the young people we work with had a situation where their dog had become seriously ill after eating grass at the local park when it had been sprayed by council workers with glyphosate, a toxic weed killer that is used throughout the borough. 

“Young people in our group wanted to start a campaign to ask the council to stop using this chemical and to raise awareness within the borough about the dangers of glyphosate. 

“After weeks of research and investigations into reports and studies on this product, and looking at what alternatives that other councils have used in place of it, we started a petition requesting a ban of glyphosate within the borough. 

“We attended markets and other events around the region over the last four months, having hundreds of discussions with members of the public. 

“An overwhelming majority of people were horrified that this chemical is still being used in our public spaces and were angry that the council were putting our lives in danger and having such a negative impact on animals and biodiversity, especially during this climate crisis that we are in.”

Mrs Reeve claimed there had been “needless spraying in places such as around trees, bins and lamp posts”.

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She said there were lots of alternatives available, which would cause less harm to the environment, adding: “We need to understand the bigger picture and the effects of these actions on our planet.

“Insects are critical for the survival of our planet and by killing off plants with chemical weed killers, we have had a catastrophic effect on insect populations, pollinators and the biodiversity in our area. 

“Changes have to be made and hard decisions taken before it is too late.”