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Can I throw council-owned leaves over the garden fence, and other interesting wheelie bin questions

Can I throw council-owned leaves over the garden fence, and other interesting wheelie bin questions

🕔10.Oct 2013

The wheelie bin terror sweeping through the suburbs of Birmingham has taken an autumnal dip into territory that is even weirder than usual.

At stake are the type of questions that have flummoxed law students over the ages, such as: who owns the leaves in my garden?

Or, can I cut overhanging branches off my neighbour’s tree?

This is important because under city council plans to replace refuse sacks with wheelie bins, householders must pay £35 a year for a service that used to be free in order to obtain a ‘green’ bin so that their garden waste can be collected and disposed of.

Naturally, therefore, you wouldn’t want to pay to pick up and fill a bin with material that isn’t yours.

The matter was raised at a council meeting by Liberal Democrat Mike Ward, on behalf of a constituent living in Sheldon who every year has to pick up and dispose of “thousands of leaves” which have fallen into her garden from council-owned trees on the side of Sunnymead Road.

This was all very well when green waste collection was free, if a bit backbreaking, but now that a £35 charge is involved Cllr Ward’s constituent is far from happy. “She doesn’t think she should have to pay to dispose of leaves that fall into her garden from highway trees,” Ward explained.

James McKay, the cabinet member responsible for wheelie bins, who looked about 19 when this saga began a year ago but has since grown a beard, appears weary and a lot older, issued a stock reply along the lines that householders are advised to compost green waste as the “most environmentally friendly solution”, and if they cannot do that pay a very reasonable £35 a year to get a council wheelie bin.

McKay also made the point that no one could be certain that leaves in a garden came from council-owned trees. It could also be the case that leaves on the pavements had blown down from privately owned trees in nearby gardens, leaving the council to meet the bill for collection and disposal.

Opinion in the tea room was mixed, but this is certainly fertile territory for barrack room lawyers.

One councillor said he was confident that you could prune overhanging trees and throw the debris back into the neighbour’s garden as long as advance notice was given. The same applies to leaves, although it might be a tad tricky to prove that the leaves never belonged to you.

This raised the question of whether residents living next to tree-lined roads are entitled to sweep up ‘council leaves’ and jettison them over the garden fence back into the road from whence they came?

It’s all a bit tricky, and a little nerdy, but there is by now a certain desperation creeping into the joint Tory-Lib Dem campaign to convince the residents of Birmingham that wheelie bins are the devil incarnate. The thing is that pilot exercises in Brandwood and Harborne went extremely well, with relatively few complaints from householders who on the whole seemed pleased with their new bins.

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