Ministers criticise 'excessively tight' restrictions at HWRCs

Government ministers have criticised ‘excessively tight’ Covid-19 safety restrictions at Household Waste Recycling Centres (HWRCs) following their re-opening in a letter to local authorities, sparking disappointment over the letter’s ‘tone’ from local authority associations.

Releasing a letter addressed to local authorities nationwide on Sunday (28 June), Minister for Regional Growth and Local Government Simon Clarke and Environment Minister Rebecca Pow, commented that ‘while the majority of councils have opened tips, there is evidence that some have applied excessively tight restrictions on public access’.

The ministers urged councils to ‘avoid unnecessarily tight restrictions like a limited number of pre-booked slots and ‘extend access where this can be done safely’.

Clarke and Pow stated while it is ‘important to maintain social distancing measures and ensure the health and safety of both the workforce and householders… councils must also consider the harm to public health and local amenity from fly-tipping which is unfortunately fuelled by lack of access to responsible disposal of waste, and the harm from rubbish piling up in or near people’s homes’.

HWRCs have experienced extensive disruption during the Covid-19 pandemic, with almost all local authorities sites having closed at the height of the crisis. Due to concerns over fly-tipping and the build-up of waste in people’s homes, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) urged local authorities to reopen their HWRCs in mid-April , with this call echoed by Local Government Secretary Robert Jenrick towards the end of April when pressed local authorities to “plan the organised opening” of HWRCs towards the end of April.

Amidst continued closures, Defra insisted there was ‘no reason in law’ why HWRCs should be closed during the Covid-19 pandemic, leading to local authority associations releasing their own guidance for HWRC re-opening at the start of May.

Currently only 23 per cent of councils report their HWRCs to be operating normally, according to the latest Association of Directors of Environment, Economy, Planning and Transport (ADEPT) survey covering the week beginning the 22 June.An image of a HWRC

Around three in five local authorities responding to the ADEPT survey report greater than usual volumes of collected fly-tipped waste for the week beginning 22 June, which is higher than the two previous weeks.

Fly tipping has been a continued problem throughout the coronavirus pandemic, prompting waste management company Biffa to launch a fly-tipping app and the Environment Agency to press for waste crime vigilance during the coronavirus crisis.

‘Disappointed by the tone’

The letter from the government on the topic of HWRC restrictions has not been greeted warmly by local authority associations. Lee Marshal, CEO of the Local Authority Recycling Advisory Committee (LARAC) said: “LARAC was disappointed by the tone of the letter given how hard councils have worked to maintain services through the Covid-19 situation.

“Councils are doing what is best according to their local risk assessments, resources available and current lockdown rules and are having to take into account the availability of onward end markets.

“Councils are operating HWRCs as fully as the current situation allows and as the virus risk subsides so HWRCs will be able to operate as they did prior to the pandemic. Any restrictions that are in place at the moment are needed and appropriate for the circumstances of the site they apply to.”

You can read the full government letter here.