PCA interview with Daniel Docking
By Jennifer Holmes

PCA interview with Daniel Docking

Daniel Docking, Technical Manager, Property care Association (PCA)

An interview with Daniel Docking, Technical Manager, Property care Association (PCA)

Japanese Knotweed Ltd has had a long standing relationship with the PCA. We caught up with Daniel, who was appointed as Technical Manager for the PCA earlier this year, to find out how his new role is going, and to get his take on the direction of invasive weed management. Here’s what he had to say:

Welcome Daniel, thanks for your time, can you tell me a bit about your role with the PCA since you joined, what your goals are and what a typical day looks like for the Technical Manager?

Thank you for having me. The role of a Technical Manager for the PCA can be quite varied and often responsive to the needs of its members. Providing support for members is always considered a priority, which ranges from further training to on-site technical support, and everything in between. With my “hands on” background, it has allowed me to support our members in more ways than ever before. As part of membership, we undertake company audits which allows me to meet our members throughout the UK. I’m currently reviewing our training courses, including the “Management of Japanese knotweed for Surveyors” and updating various guidance documents which ensures I’m always busy. A personal goal for me is to help further educate the practical management of INNS including herbicide, removal, and potential new methodologies. I actively encourage further education either through training with the PCA, or internal training with senior, skilled staff. I want to encourage better control and regulation of herbicides throughout our industry, demonstrating targeted, sustainable approaches to INNS management.

Does PCA see any changes in regulations around Japanese knotweed happening over the next 2-3 years? If so what would you expect to see and why?

I personally don’t see any significant change in regulations for Japanese knotweed in the near future, especially whilst Japanese knotweed is still causing significant problems within the built and wider environment, as demonstrated within the recent CABI study and various legal proceedings. Therefore, there should be no reason to reduce the importance of controlling such a problem plant.

There are concerns that glyphosate could be banned in the future, and this could have some impact on the management of Japanese knotweed. However, as Japanese knotweed is likely to still be considered a problem, there would still be a need for remediation, which only reinforces the need for the PCA and its extremely knowledgeable and resourceful members to demonstrate other successful methods of control.

Do you think there should be tighter regulations around Japanese knotweed to avoid legal issues as seen in the news – in particular the legal cases published this year that have cost companies and homeowners £thousands?

The solution is not to tighten regulations and scare homeowners. Often people are completely unaware what Japanese Knotweed is, or they know but its portrayed as such a taboo subject that they become embarrassed and scared to deal with the problem. Many homeowners still don’t know what Japanese knotweed is, or the legal repercussions for failing to declare it on the TA6 Form. Regulations for Japanese knotweed are plentiful, and depending on the type of claim or nuisance, will depend what regulation can be referenced. Additionally, with new case law appearing, there are even more opportunities to ensure that people are aware of the potential problems which surround Japanese knotweed. However, without further education around INNS and Japanese knotweed, there will always be an opportunity to plead unawareness. The education provided  to homeowners must empower them to seek out specialist companies rather than seeing Japanese Knotweed as a taboo subject, forcing them to hide the problem or often worse, undertake poor DIY attempts at removing the plant, making it worse.

There’s a lot of information available about managing knotweed on residential properties, do you think there is enough public awareness of the legal implications of commercial businesses not managing knotweed? Issues such as encroachment from commercial sites/utilities onto residential land for instance?

Once Japanese knotweed is identified on a site – whether residential or commercial – it is the responsibility of the landowner to ensure it doesn’t spread. Often, Japanese knotweed is automatically associated with residential financial institution lending restrictions. However, this is not the only area which Japanese knotweed can affect. With a rise in case law, there is a growing understanding that commercial properties are still held accountable for their actions or lack of action in managing Japanese knotweed. Davies Vs Bridgend County Borough Council is an extremely interesting case to follow and further highlights that even councils are required to manage infestations. Whilst we actively encourage out of court mediation, it’s often these court cases which shine the brightest light onto areas that are often forgotten about.

Of course, it’s not just knotweed that has its own legislation, Common ragwort for instance has its own CoP, and some species come under UK and EU Acts, but do you think INNS such as toxic species Giant hogweed, Hemlock, Ragwort and other highly invasive species such as Himalayan balsam should be governed by tighter legislation similar to Japanese knotweed and the RICS guidance?

Some INNS like Himalayan Balsam and Giant Hogweed are governed by the same legislation as Japanese knotweed within England, however the awareness to ensure these plants are managed is simply not at the same level as Japanese knotweed. Further education in this area is much needed, ensuring that clients are aware that removing Japanese knotweed but leaving Himalayan Balsam is ill-advised. Within England we use the “Countryside & Wildlife Act 1981” as our main reference for legislation, and this ties our hands with a list of plants which require management, but amending or updating this list is a monumental task. However, within Scotland, they have the Wildlife & Natural Environment Act 2011, which identifies that landowners have a responsibility to manage all non-native plants, ensuring protection to Scotland’s natural environment.

The RICS Professional Standard for Japanese knotweed is a fantastic risk assessment which could easily be adapted for any invasive plant within the built environment. Physical damage and amenity value loss are two key identifying features, and it doesn’t matter if it’s Japanese knotweed, Bamboo, Horsetail, Buddleia or Wisteria, if these plants are present and causing a detrimental effect, then we have a proven risk assessment at our fingertips.

The PCA provides extensive advice for homeowners on property issues such as damp, dry rot and flooding, do you have plans to include any new areas of advice in the future, and if so what may be covered?

The PCA are currently investigating and piecing together a training programme for Sprayed Polyurethane Foam Insulation and exploring the possibility of creating a new sector in waterproofing for sump pump maintenance. These are processes which take time and approval, and we look forward to updating members in the near future.

Integrated Weed Management (IWM) is an approach adopted by many weed control specialists, particularly when helping local authorities with their weed management strategy, as it can help their budget go further, and is often a better environmental option. What is the PCA’s view on IWM?

Integrated Weed Management strategies are essential for companies to adopt and should be highlighted within reports with enforcement under the Official Controls (PPP) Regulations 2020. Not only does the PCA recognise its importance, but this is also a formal requirement under the Amenity Forum. We have provided guidance on the PCA website about IWM and is highlighted to companies during our auditing processes.

IWM should be much more than justifying the use of herbicides and should become a company ethos, as the benefits of IWM strategies can be itemised and outlined to clients. The days of “throwing a bit of herbicide down” and free hand pouring mixtures are long gone, forcing individuals and companies to actively reduce their dependency on herbicides, creating a minimalistic, effective, and sustainable approach which is beneficial to the company, client, and wider environment.

And finally, what plans does the PCA have for its members or in general for 2024 and beyond?

With the departure of CEO, Stephen Hodgson and Company Secretary, Sue Uttridge, the PCA will be looking towards the new CEO for its future. Training has become a large part of the PCA, and with more training courses in development, we endeavour to continue providing industry standards and training excellence, ensuring the PCA can act on behalf of its members as a voice of authority in all sectors we cover.

Thank you for your time today Daniel, it was good to catch up with the PCA.