Continued public opposition to charging for Garden Waste Collections leads to withering attack from all sides

Yesterday, the City Council Scrutiny Panel considered the details proposed from the Liberal-Democrat Administration for the implementation of charges for the kerbside collection of garden waste.

The attack on the scheme was led by Highwoods resident, Paul Smith, speaking from the public gallery,  (not Lib Dem Councillor Paul Smith) who criticised the Council for ineptly introducing charges for Garden Waste collection at the time of a cost-of living crisis for many residents. His views were strongly supported by many of the Councillors present at the meeting.

Highwoods resident Paul Smith continued: “Furthermore, no consideration has been given to damage to the environment. Currently the City Council reports that 55% of all waste it collects is recycled. This is already considerably less than the best performing Councils in Essex who achieve over 70% recycling. The impact of the City’s Garden waste charging scheme will further reduce the Council’s overall recycling delivery to below 53%, which I suggest is shameful and unacceptable, and the Council needs to re-think its recycling polices."

The scheme started to unravel when questioning by Cllr Paul Dundas, (Tiptree Ward) Leader of the Conservative Group, revealed that the Council could not afford to purchase the wheelie bins needed for the scheme, and would have to borrow the money to buy them. Although the Council had announced that the mandatory wheelie bins would be on sale for £30 to subscribers, they could not actually be sold until the Council’s loan had been repaid over a 10-year period.

The position was made further complex when it was further questioning revealed that the Council was proposed to charge for the replacement of all recycling kit from April 2024, including wheelie bins and recycling bags.

Cllr Dennis Willetts, (Lexden & Braiswick Ward) described the business case and financial data presented to the Scrutiny Panel as incomplete and unconvincing. It reported only the net income from introducing charges, and did not give a profitability forecast, by combining income with the actual cost of staff, vehicles and maintenance needed to run the chargeable kerbside collection.

The current cost of collecting Garden waste from residents is £1.8m. In the second year of the charging scheme, subscriptions were forecast to rise to 28% of houses, and in the third year to 50% of houses. Yet the cost of delivering the chargeable service remained at an undisclosed level close to the £1.8m, despite making chargeable collections in future years from only 28% or 50% of houses. No private sector firm would permit such inefficient use of resources.

More worryingly, no assurances were forthcoming that the £55 annual charge for collecting garden waste would not be increased during the second and third year of the charging scheme.

Cllr Darius Laws (Rural North Ward) Deputy Leader of the Conservative Group & Chairman of the Scrutiny Panel, suggested that there was no clear consensus on whether the proposed implementation details of the charging scheme were realistic. On the partial information available, the members of the Panel decided against making any recommendations as none were likely to make the scheme more palatable to residents.