Auckland Council is proposing to use controversial herbicide glyphosate on all streets in the region - angering several chemical-free local boards who call it a "cost-cutting measure".
A recommendation is this week being sent to 19 of Auckland's 21 local boards to spray glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup, along the footpaths of more than 5000km roads in the region.
The new "standardised approach" will be combined with a plant-based herbicide, and the council claims less glyphosate will actually be used than previously across the region.
Boards on the North Shore and some in Auckland Central can spray weeds with hot water or plant-based herbicide at no extra cost to their budget.
Several countries including Vietnam, Austria and Germany have banned glyphosate, and it has been the subject of billion-dollar US lawsuits over claims it causes cancer.
Christchurch City Council rejected a cost-saving proposal in July to increase its use of Roundup in public areas because of safety concerns.
Auckland Council's Project Streetscapes proposal would put substantial extra cost on nine North Shore and Auckland Central local boards if they wanted to avoid glyphosate.
North Shore boards wanting to continue with steam and hot water would pay an extra $1293 per kilometre of footpath berm sprayed.
Kaipātiki Local Board chairman John Gillon said he was "not very happy" about the proposal and the board had today voted unanimously to reject it.
"Essentially this is a cost-cutting measure, and if it goes ahead, councillors will be unfairly overriding local concerns and forcing our hand to accept widespread and routine chemical spraying in the road corridor, thereby abandoning our chemical-free status," Gillon said.
"The proposal is to lower our level of service to a new regional level of service."
Gillon said it was "not a realistic option" for Kaipātiki to pay the extra to maintain their hot water weed control.
Auckland councillor John Watson says the proposal "seeks to lock in the use of glyphosate for the long-term while eliminating innovation and the use of alternatives".
"In my view, it's a ruse to increase glyphosate with a bit of this plant-based option as a sweetener. This is a pro-glyphosate agenda.
"In our experience the costs of alternatives to chemical weed control, such as hot water, have been grossly exaggerated to make their use appear prohibitive and as a means of sustaining the chemical status quo.
"In an era of increased environmental awareness and concern for public health this proposal is turning back the clock. Auckland will become the glyphosate capital of Australasia."
Matt Kirby operates Auckland hot water and steam weed control business, Weedingtech, and says council's price estimates for thermal weed killing options are definitely inflated.
"It they wanted me to supply on a per kilometre basis I could do it a huge amount cheaper than what they have there," Kirby said.
"I'm not going to say we're the same as the glyphosate cost, but I'd definitely say we would be around or cheaper than the fatty acid [plant-based herbicide] option from my experience."
The council proposal outlines four options for local boards:
• Glyphosate (6x per year) = $783 per km
• Combination of plant-based/glyphosate (10x per year) = $1293 per km (council's recommended option)
• Plant-based herbicide (12x per year) = $2265 per km
• Thermal technologies – steam and hot water (12x per year) = $3485 per km
The Project Streetscapes agenda states: "The recommendation of this review is for a combination of plant-based herbicide with spot spraying of glyphosate for difficult-to-manage weeds. This is estimated to lead to a reduction in glyphosate."
Auckland Council general manager community facilities Rod Sheridan said the weed management review aims to find a "more efficient, regional approach" that reduces the use of glyphosate.
"Over the past few months we presented a range of information to all local boards as a means of providing background and considerations into the review. We are now in the process of working with local boards to seek feedback."
"The recommendation is expected to be cost-neutral, reflecting the additional investment required for the 10 local boards that are currently only using glyphosate."
However, Watson disputed that less glyphosate being sprayed in the Auckland region could be guaranteed because it would be down to contractors' discretion street-to-street.
Of the nine Auckland local boards who spray thermal or plant-based herbicides, five indicated they would not support the proposal: Albert-Eden, Puketāpapa, Upper Harbour, Devonport-Takapuna and Kaipātiki.
The others either did not reply, or said they would not provide an indication until they discussed it at their next board meeting - but none said they supported the proposal.
These included: Hibiscus and Bays, Waitematā , Waiheke and Ellerslie in Ōrākei.
Auckland Council said its proposal was guided by the New Zealand Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which has approved glyphosate-containing substances.
"We are aware that some reports linking glyphosate to health impacts are causing concern. We are in alignment with the vast majority of regulatory bodies around the world – including in the European Union, United States, Australia and Canada - which agree that glyphosate is unlikely to cause cancer," the EPA stated in October last year.
Auckland Council said some levels of glyphosate are used in road corridors in almost all local board areas.
Only three local board areas – Albert-Eden, Puketapapa and part of Waitematā – don't use any glyphosate at all, even small spot spraying for difficult weeds.
The council stressed the Project Streetscapes proposal is only at the stage of getting feedback and could change before it is presented to the Environment and Climate Change Committee on November 12.
The committee and Auckland Council's governing body will then make a decision, likely taking into consideration public submissions and feedback.