'Green' city wages bush war

THE BRITISH city that is due to host next year's global forum - the follow-up conference to the Rio environment summit - is fighting an extraordinary war against the garden shrub.

Manchester city council has introduced a virtual ban on new planting and begun an elaborate programme of clearing away shrubs.

Thousands of plants have been removed from the city centre. Hawthorn bushes have been cut from an urban clearway leading to the M56, leaving weeds to grow in their place. The peace park near the town hall, created in the 1970s as a 'nuclear-free zone', has been stripped of shrubs and awaits coverage with turf and trees.

Graham Stringer, leader of the Labour-controlled city council, says the shrubs trap litter, including syringes and needles discarded by drug users, and offer cover for criminals. He said: 'I've been ripping up a lot - but not enough. They're all over the place, creating health hazards and doing nothing. I hope we'll rip out a lot more.'

Mr Stringer, 43, wants to wrest control from landscape architects who he says failed to appreciate the maintenance costs of their schemes.

He accuses Manchester's own Landscape Section of a desire to 'suburbanise' the city centre with shrubs. By removing them, he believes he is reducing the risk to council workers of injury.

Ian Fisher, a city architect now lecturing at Manchester Metropolitan University, said: 'Some of the planting dating from the 1960s and 70s wasn't well chosen and there was a maintenance problem. But a city of Manchester's stature deserves a more sophisticated approach than ripping out all the planting.'

A council spokesman said that people had expressed concern at the shrubs' disappearance but now they seemed reassured. 'We did have inquiries from people who thought that the whole of the area was going to become barren. But others said they were delighted.'