Norfolk consults on charging for HWRC recycling


Norfolk County Council could charge residents £2 to use nine of the county’s recycling points from April 2015, charge for the disposal of waste tyres, and renegotiate its waste disposal contract with Cory Wheelabrator (the incinerator proposals of which have already seen legal wrangling) as part of its proposals to reduce costs.

The Putting People First consultation, first opened in September, asks local residents their thoughts on the proposals that aim to plug a predicted £189 million gap in funding for services under the council’s budget for 2014-17. The proposals put forward, however, only bridge the year one gap of £66 million. The budget gap for years two and three have not been ‘fully closed’.

Proposals put forward

Regarding waste, the proposals include:

  • charging visitors £2 per visit to use nine of the council’s recycling centres across the county. The other recycling centres would remain free;
  • reducing the opening hours so that the following recycling centres operate on a ‘part-time basis’ from April 2015: Ashill, Heacham, Morningthorpe, Strumpshaw, and Worstead;
  • changing and renegotiating the contract for waste disposal;
  • creating new agreements for services running county council recycling centres;
  • making new ‘approaches to recycling street sweepings to reduce landfill’;
  • working with district councils to deliver ‘specialised joint minerals and waste services’, and improving the management of ‘statutory recycling credit payments’;
  • removing the free advice service for those applying for planning permission for quarries or waste processing sites;
  • charging for copies of inspection reports prepared by county council officers, following an inspection of sites where waste management or non-extractive mineral operations are underway;
  • introducing a charge for disposing of tyres, and restricting the number of recycling centres that will accept them; and
  • stopping its paint reuse scheme and only accepting paint tins with liquid paint still in them at recycling centres during an annual amnesty (rather than year round)

Other areas that will see cuts include: community services; corporate resources; environment, transport, and development; fire and rescue and children's services.

The council itself is not immune to the cuts, however, as it estimates its workforce will ‘shrink by about 260 more jobs next year, rising further over the following two years’. The county council has said it will manage the process through a mixture of ‘redundancies and natural wastage’.

The county council has promised that council tax will be frozen at the current level for the next year.

‘More pain ahead’

Steve Morphew, Norfolk County Council Cabinet Member for Finance, said: “Quite simply we don't think it is possible to protect all the services many people rely on in the face of such reductions in funding and increases in demand.

“We are ready to look at radical ways of mitigating the damage and we need to know how far the people of Norfolk are ready to go, what ideas there are amongst those closest to the consequences of the cuts and where our priorities should be.

“It remains our ambition to find ways of avoiding as many of the cuts as possible through efficient and creative use of the resources we have. But we have to be truthful and tell Norfolk there is more pain ahead.”

Morphew added that ‘every response will be considered carefully whether it comes as a shout or a whisper’.

“We had to look at the ‘unthinkable’”

As well as responding to the consultation, residents can also watch and listen to a series of short films in which cabinet members explain the approach and suggestions for tackling the budget shortfall for the services they are responsible for.

In a video about the cuts to waste, David Harrison, Cabinet Member for Environment, Transport, Development and Waste, commented: “It’s difficult to hit social services, it’s difficult to hit education… so in effect, this department will be taking a large hit…

“Regarding the incinerator which has been in the publicity barrage recently, if it goes ahead, it will still save £1.6 million a year on the budget – it will save [what] it’s planned to save for 25 years, which is the life of the contract. If it doesn’t go ahead, then the hit, the economic hit, will be extremely severe.”

He added: “Recycling is a highly important process… we really don’t want to dissuade people from doing so, in fact keep the sites going and not close any sites if possible, but we are where we are, and we had to look at what you might call the ‘unthinkable’ and say ‘can we actually get some money back’, instead of the cuts. So we are proposing to charge £2 per visit for a site… and restrict the use of other sites on hours – but not close any down.”

Speaking to Resource, Councillor Nick Daubney, Leader of King’s Lynn Borough Council (which is set to host the incinerator, but has refused to send its waste to it) and Portfolio Holder for Resources, said: “I think we’ve got a duty to encourage recycling and make recycling an easy and possible thing to do, and barriers such as charging will only frustrate that ambition. We want to stop landfilling, and protect our resources, and the public will co-operate if they have methods they understand and have access to – but they won’t if life is made difficult for them, and charging will do that…

“You know what will happen as a result of this… people will either throw things in the bin, or throw them down the back of the garden, or worse.

“We’ve all had to face up to the fact that councils can’t do what they did perhaps 15 years ago, and this constant trying to fix and trim costs doesn’t work. All you do is end up with under-standard, poor service… If I were leader of that council, I would tear that place apart. They have huge buildings, huge numbers of staff, services that frankly nobody seems to have a total grip on, and everything needs a good root and branch look at.”

Once the consultation process is finished, the feedback will be considered by county councillors at meetings during January before the full council agrees a budget for 2014-15 on 17 February. Following a public inquiry, the Secretary of State for Local Government, Eric Pickles, is expected to rule on whether to allow the controversial incinerator to go ahead by 14 January, which will have a large impact on the council’s budget plans.

Read more about how Norfolk County Council is proposing to balance its books.