City leaders deny Sunderland has a rat problem - and accuse opponents of 'shamefully stoking up fears'
City leaders have maintained Sunderland does not have a “rat problem” – despite opposition calls for increased funding for vermin control.
This included a call for each area committee to pledge £10,000 for pest control, a dedicated website address for sightings and a monthly list showing councillors treatment plans so they could drill down into hotspot areas.
However, deputy leader of the council, Labour’s Cllr Paul Stewart, stressed that the authority had the situation under control.
He branded the Conservative motion as an attempt to “stoke up residents’ fears about infestations even when it flies in the face of evidence that is available.”
When pest control fees were introduced in 2016, councillors were told, the council had received more than 3,000 reported incidents involving rats.
This figure had fallen year on year and by 2019 it was less than half of this level, with 2020 figures looking to be “comparable.”
The latest snapshot figure for July 2020 showed 78 rat incidents had been reported, compared to 99 in July 2019.
“Nobody wants to see rats on the street or infesting their own home but the reality is that rats are part of everyday living in any society,” Cllr Stewart said.
“We’re all living at home at the moment in social isolation and working from home where we can and the reality is, that within a couple of hundred yards of where we’re all living there will be some rats.
“What the council needs to do and has been doing, is to try and ensure that those rat populations are kept under control.
“Some of the points of this motion I don’t really have an issue with, but what I do have an issue with is the suggestion that somehow the council’s response has been unsatisfactory and I take offence at that because that is clearly not the case.”
Cllr Stewart was speaking at a full council meeting on September 23, which was held via videolink and broadcast on YouTube.
He went on to say: “The idea that we’re being overrun by rats, images of disease, images of gnawing through electrical cables, just about every horror film that has ever been made has a rat or two in its credits.
“It’s still a primal fear and what the Conservative Party are doing and shamefully the other opposition parties, is again to try and stoke up that primal fear of disease that is associated with a rat population.”
The council boss added that “there is no rat problem in this city”, thanked council staff and called for opposition councillors to “act responsibly and to act on facts.”
City has a ‘lively rat population’
Conservative group leader, Cllr Antony Mullen, said the motion was not a criticism of public health officers and aimed to “reflect the genuine public sentiment towards the council’s response as a whole.”
He added it followed resident reports of rat sightings across the city, from Barnes Park, Ryhope, Pallion and Doxford to Hendon, Herrington and Washington.
“I’m fully aware of the various reasons why we have such a lively rat population,” Cllr Mullen said.
“I understand that we have had a number of consecutive mild winters, that Northumbrian Water needs to undertake urgent sewage network treatment, that the lockdown has meant that the rats have been able to venture out further to find food without human disturbance.
“All of those are valid reasons but they’re not solutions and residents don’t like to hear the reasons why there are rats on their streets and in the parks and on the seafront.
“They want instead to know what we’re going to do about it.”
Cllr Mullen also stated that the low numbers of reports of rat problems were due to difficulties using the council’s website, which “assumes the problem is domestic and not to do with public spaces.”
‘Some areas worse affected than others’
An amendment to the motion was proposed by Liberal Democrat group leader, Cllr Niall Hodson, to remove the £10,000 ask of area committees and replace it with the wording “an appropriate amount.”
“City centre areas and areas with large parks have a greater pest control problem than the suburbs and more rural areas of the city council area,” he said.
“So it’s something that would be different area to area, it may be for example that area committees need to spend more than £10,000 or some may choose to spend less.
“But I think that amount should be decided by area committees and they should have the authority on that.”
Meanwhile, UKIP group leader, Cllr Pam Mann, supported the amendment, noting many of her residents found it difficult to afford pest control charges.
This includes £51.25 for pest control for rats, which includes two treatment visits and a revisit, either inside or outside.
In addition, a mice and rat ‘self-treat’ option is also available for £20, with the council delivering a ‘complete treatment bundle.”
Following debate, the amendment and the original motion were both defeated by majority votes.
Sunderland City Council recently confirmed it had called in Northumbrian Water to help it bait the sewers near Barnes Park to crack down on the outbreak of rats.
The council also pointed the finger at people who don’t clear up dog dirt and bird feeders – including one person it believes is regularly leaving food around the park.
Sunderland City Council says rat sightings can be reported via via [email protected].