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Southend councillors have thrown out plans to introduce wheelie bins and fortnightly rubbish collections in favour of a £1.5 million search to find a waste contractor.
Labour, Lib Dem and Independent leaders have ignored officers’ recommendations to renew the council’s waste contract with Veolia, which include plans for bins for recycling and waste collected on alternate weeks.
Instead, they opted to put the contract out to tender to explore what other options might come forward, with instructions for candidates to “recognise the popularity with residents of the current scheme, and explore the viability of maintaining it”.
Carole Mulroney, Lib Dem councillor responsible for environment, culture, tourism and planning, hit back at criticism levelled at the council for initially planning to hold all of the meeting in private.
She said this was due to the legal advice the council had been given and rules on confidential information, which she said had subsequently been broken.
Slamming social media posts and “inflammatory headlines”, she said: “This is potentially damaging for this and any future administration and for future discussions with any contractor and in my view brings this council into disrepute.
“We could be seen by all with whom we do business not to be trusted with their information or confidential advice we are given.
“It’s a legacy that will follow into any administration in this council.
“What a great legacy for a new city. It may also have seriously jeopardised the position of the council in future negotiations on this particular topic but perhaps that was the intention.
“How short-sighted can you be.
For what purpose? To try to score cheap political points at the expense of the whole council’s future credibility.”
Cllr Mulroney, who represents Leigh on Southend Council, added: “We’ve seen a sharp increase in domestic refuse as people work from home and increases in fly-tipping exacerbated by home deliveries which become more and more prevalent.
“We need the legislation to improve the situation so that everyone knows where they stand and it’s been sadly lacking and disappointing.
“However, we now have a new Environment Act which will change the way we view, react and are obliged to handle waste and its collection and disposal.
“Our biggest challenge environmentally and financially is to put an end to residual waste, the black bag rubbish, going to landfill.”
Cllr Mulroney stressed: “Change is coming whether we like it or not.
“Southend Council issues 11 million pink sacks a year – that’s the equivalent of taking 4,000 cars off the road.”
Officers have been instructed to temporarily extend Veolia’s contract beyond October 2023 if required.
Cabinet also agreed that any new contract should support the move to carbon neutrality by 2030.
The new proposal to go out to tender will now go through the council’s scrutiny process.
Wheelie bins and fortnightly collections would lead to flytipping and “would not work in areas like Westcliff”, residents fear.
Under plans to change the waste collection service to achieve better recycling rates, an option to introduce wheelie bins to be collected on alternate weeks was recommended by council officers as the best way forward.
In an effort to encourage more recycling, families would get one bin for recycling and one for rubbish and when full residents would be unable to leave excess bags next to the bin as they would not be collected and a fine for littering could follow.
Where space is limited weekly black and pink sack collections would continue weekly but only about 5,000 of the of the borough’s 84,000 homes would come into this category.
Narrow Westcliff streets with rows of terraced houses and small front gardens would be included in the wheelie bin scheme if it is adopted.
Although the council has opted to put the waste contract out to tender, applicants would be less likely to come forward with plans to maintain costly weekly collections and limiting the amount of rubbish that can be collected would remain the most cost-effective way of encouraging people to recycle more.
David Webb, 46, of Fairmead Avenue, Westcliff, said: “Westborough ward is one of the most densely populated wards. It is already difficult with weekly collections. It’s difficult to store all the black bags now. We do need to educate people to recycle more. That’s the key to the whole problem.
“We need weekly collections. People in flats will find it difficult to store all the wheelie bins and lost of people use their front gardens for off street parking. If you compare us with Rochford look at the amount of space they have compared to Southend.”
Mr Webb added: “I don’t think it would be a good idea. It will lead to fly tipping or people will start putting rubbish in the with the recycling. I think people will also get confused about which bin is being collected each week. I don’t think it will work at all.”
Councils have been set targets by the Government which commit the UK to achieve a recycling rate of 65 per cent by 2035.
The current recycling rate in Southend is 44 per cent.
The council is hoping to achieve carbon net-zero status by 2030 and meet a budget gap of up to £24m by 2027 due to falling Government funding.
Every 1 per cent of waste that doesn’t go to landfill and is recycled instead saves council taxpayers approximately £120,000 a year. A 10 per cent improvement in recycling rates would save £1.2m a year.
Cllr Mulroney said: “Our current waste collection contract ends in October 2023 and as a council we must consider our future arrangements and have today discussed a very complex set of issues.
“Nationally, we have rightly been set challenging targets to improve recycling rates across the board and we must meet that challenge head on. We have set out our commitment of creating a greener future and meeting net zero carbon by 2030, and we face rising waste disposal costs combined with continued financial challenges due to years of central Government cuts.”
Speaking after cabinet decided to put the waste contract out to tender, Cllr Mulroney added: “Whatever happens as part of that process, we must have a collection contract that allows us to meet the 65 per cent recycling target, supports our ambitions to create a greener future and is affordable for local taxpayers.”