Steve Scott, Head of Waste Management at Lancashire County Council, was responding to criticism of a proposal for household waste recycling centres to open later and close earlier – and for nearly half of the county’s sites to shut altogether on two days per week.
He told a meeting of the authority’s internal scrutiny committee that residents may be inconvenienced, but said there was “no evidence” to suggest the changes would cause an increase in illegal dumping.
“The majority of fly-tipping is commercial waste [and] it is a growing national problem,” Mr. Scott said. “We recently found coach seats tipped outside one of our sites – that’s not waste that we would accept [anyway].
“In a couple of areas where we have closed recycling centres [in the past], fly-tipping went down.
“Householders who might have to wait an extra day to get rid of their rubbish aren’t going to fly tip,” he added.
The county council is considering closing seven of its fifteen sites on two weekdays, with all of its facilities reducing their opening hours to 9am-5pm. Currently, the recycling centres are open 11 hours a day during the summer months. The proposed changes will save Â£734,000 per year.
But several committee members said that any money saved by county hall would have to be spent by district councils clearing up any rubbish thrown into the street as a result.
Committee member David Whipp said he was “utterly aghast” at the plan and added that it would be a boon for the black market in waste disposal.
“I don’t expect the law-abiding residents of Lancashire to turn to fly-tipping, but I anticipate there will be more rogue traders – fly-by-nights, literally, fly-tipping by night,” County Cllr Whip said.
Deputy leader of the opposition Labour group, John Fillis, accepted that the majority of people who use recycling facilities “want to do the right thing”, but warned: “Some people will have it in their boot and just dump it.”
Staffing levels at some of the sites will be reduced, but the meeting heard that a policy of having the maximum number of staff on duty at the busiest periods would continue.
But some members remained to be convinced. County Cllr Mohammed Iqbal suggested that the only reason there was no evidence of a link with fly-tipping was because “nobody stops fly-tippers and says, ‘Excuse me, why are you fly-tipping – is it linked to the household waste recycling centres?’”
However, several members welcomed the fact that none of the sites were to close down completely and deputy leader of the Conservative-run authority, Albert Atkinson, dismissed the comments of opposition councillors.
“Those people who fly-tip will do it anyway. What would you like, for us to open 24 hours a day and have a night watchman? It’s impractical,” he said.
Residents wanting to dispose of rubbish which Lancashire County Council is not obliged to accept will still be able to offload it free of charge.
Councillors heard that it would be too complex to administer a system of fees and that any savings would be swallowed up by the bureaucracy.
Non-household waste – including tyres, gas bottles and fluorescent tubes – is currently accepted at the county’s recycling centres, even though local authorities have the option of refusing it.
Around 23,000 tyres are left at Lancashire’s waste recycling centres every year, with each one costing just under Â£1 to dispose of.
More than 7,000 gas bottles are also taken to the tip – but the council only has to pay for the disposal of certain types of them.
WHAT’S THAT COMING OVER THE HILL?
Recycling centres on the edge of the county council’s boundaries regularly receive rubbish which should have been dumped in the local authority area where it originated.
More than 10 percent of waste arriving at the site in Chorley has originated from elsewhere – much of it thought to be coming from Wigan, which has reduced its own recycling centre opening hours.
Similarly, Fleetwood sees a spike in demand on days when the recycling facilities in the standalone council area of Blackpool are closed.
But councillors heard that the problem of cross-border waste is “notoriously cumbersome” to deal with, because it would require production of a proof of address or even the use of number plate recognition schemes.
A county council report says such measures are known to be “deeply unpopular” with residents and that the issue needed further consideration before a solution could be put forward.
Out-of-area waste disposal is also a two-way process, with local authorities in Merseyside and the separate council area of Blackburn with Darwen getting their share of waste form Lancashire County Council residents.
ROW OVER RUBBISH
A public consultation on the proposal to reduce the hours of waste recycling will begin shortly. But Labour’s Erica Lewis said it was “perverse” that the potential savings had been identified before residents had been asked their opinion.
However, deputy leader of Lancashire County Council, Albert Atkinson rejected the criticism. “I won’t be convinced about [Labour’s] consultations, because when you were in power, you did things and then consulted,” he said.
But when County Cllr Lewis responded that “petty political point-scoring” was not supposed to be part of the scrutiny process, County Cllr Atkinson asked: “Well why do you [do it] then, dear?”
“I didn’t bring parties into it, you are the person who came back with a partisan response to a process question,” County Cllr Lewis said. “The scrutiny process doesn’t work as well as it can, because people like you won’t follow the rules.”