The two parts of Birmingham that will pilot a wheelie bin refuse collection scheme have been named, and it will come as little surprise that Harborne is one of the wards chosen for the controversial initiative, alongside Brandwood.
Once a rock-solid Tory seat, Harborne has been drifting to Labour over the past three years to such an extent that former council leader Mike Whitby remains the Tories’ sole survivor in this part of the city – and his future is looking decidedly dodgy at the 2014 civic elections.
One of Harborne’s three councilors is James McKay, the Labour cabinet member for a Green, Safe and Smart City, who is in charge of rolling out wheelie bins across Birmingham, finally doing away with the black plastic bag refuse collection system.
The proposal, which relies on £29 million of Government funding, is being fought with a rare amount of fanaticism by most Tory councilors and their Liberal Democrat former coalition partners.
Claims about the unsuitability of Birmingham for wheelie bins – too many hills, too many narrow terraced roads, difficult for elderly people – have dominated the past three city council meetings, with Cllr McKay finding himself the subject of a relentless verbal onslaught.
But the Labour-controlled council is determined to push on, arguing that wheelie bins will improve the city’s recycling rate and save money in the long run.
Unfortunately, Cllr McKay is yet to give any assurances about the collection of excess waste, whether householders will be permitted to keep their bins on the pavement, and a host of other questions about bin minutiae. His excuse for lack of clarity, that consultation is still taking place, serves only to further infuriate opposition councillors.
Labour’s hunch is that the wheeled bins will prove to be popular and certainly easier for most residents than filling plastic bags with rubbish. Wheelie bins have been introduced in many other Midland cities without any great problems and there would seem to be little reason why Birmingham should be any different.
Brandwood, like Harborne, is a swing ward which the Tories would expect to win in good times. All eyes, therefore, will be on the 2014 council elections by which time wheelie bins will have been a familiar sight in both wards.
The two areas were selected following a detailed assessment, which looked at which of the city’s 40 wards would give the council the best feedback for shaping the wider project.
Factors such as the location of refuse depots, current recycling rates and the type of housing stock in every area was considered. The pilot is due to begin in late spring, and the council will work with residents to get the best possible solution for everyone.
Cllr McKay said: “The current system of black bags and small recycling boxes is costing us money we can no longer afford. Recycling rates have flat-lined, so the city is left picking up a huge bill for disposing of waste and paying landfill taxes. In these austere times, we can’t just carry on burning money.
“The naming of Brandwood and Harborne as the pilot wards is a major milestone on our journey fixing that problem.
“The pilot will help us refine and shape the plan to roll out wheelie bins across Birmingham in the coming years, delivering a better deal for taxpayers, along with cleaner streets for us all, as bags will no longer get ripped open by vermin.”
Birmingham’s new scheme will see the current system of sacks and recycling boxes replaced by two wheelie bins per household, plus an optional bin for green waste, with exemptions where wheelie bins are not appropriate.
Cllr McKay has said he expects about 90 per cent of Birmingham dwellings to be suitable for wheelie bins.