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Get set for another rubbish city council debate

Get set for another rubbish city council debate

🕔27.Nov 2012

It is well known that Birmingham has an issue with rubbish.

The city council has struggled for years over the future of the black sack refuse collection service.

To modernise, or not? Continue with unsightly piles of plastic bags, or follow many other local authorities by introducing wheelie bins?

Birmingham’s Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition spent much of the period 2004-2012 fretting about the possibility of industrial action by binmen, which it was feared would result in vote-losing pictures in the media of bags of rotting rubbish spewed across pavements and streets.

During that period the coalition fought off attempts by Labour councillors, and also by some Liberal Democrats, to switch to wheelie bins in an effort to boost recycling rates.

In 2006, Ian Coghill, Director of Environmental Services, told a scrutiny committee that Birmingham’s black plastic sack refuse collection system was cheaper to run and less likely to be mis-used.

People would harm the  recycling initiative by throwing non-household refuse such as garden waste, tiles and building materials into wheeled bins, Mr Coghill claimed.

But Labour controls the council now and has persuaded the Government to part with £29 million in order to buy wheelie bins and distribute them to most households across the city.

So Birmingham will get wheelie bins, but don’t expect the transition from sacks to take place without problems.

Liberal Democrat councillors are already creating a stink, if you’ll excuse the pun, by claiming that the switch is taking place without consultation and was not mentioned in Labour’s 2012 council election manifesto.

And, as usual, the Lib Dems are treading a thin line between opposition for their own benefit and constructive criticism. They are not against the introduction of wheelie bins in principle, they are just concerned about imposing bins on elderly people or ‘unsuitable’ households where it would be difficult to wheel refuse up hill.

Bin wars are likely to kick off in earnest at the next full city council meeting where Lib Dem councillors Jon Hunt and Neil Eustace will propose a motion calling for extensive consultation over the introduction of wheelie bins and will also demand that councillors can request a door to door census to ensure that bins are “only given to people who can manage them”.

And as you might expect from the party that invented pavement politics, Lib Dem activists have been busy taking the temperature in the suburbs. They have conducted surveys in Perry Barr, Stechford & Yardley North, Sheldon, Acocks Green, South Yardley, Selly Oak and Springfield which all identified widespread opposition to wheelie bins.

Residents also highlighted concerns about not having sufficient space to accommodate three wheelie bins and the difficulty they would experience in moving the bins to the kerbside.

All of the areas surveyed, coincidentally, are the parts of Birmingham where the Liberal Democrats must pick up votes if their presence on the city council is not to diminish even further.

The Lib Dem council resolution, which is certain to be thrown out by the Labour majority, insists that black bag collections must be retained “where it is obvious that a substantial minority of households cannot manage the wheelie bin system”.

Coun Hunt stated: “If the method of collecting household waste is to be changed we need to ensure that it’s with the agreement of residents and that an unworkable and impracticable system is not forced onto residents without their consent.”

Labour council leaders are having none of it. They say Birmingham is moving to a modern refuse collection system in-keeping with most other large local authorities who have introduced wheelie bins without problems.

Coun James McKay, cabinet member for a Green, Safe and Smart City, said other cities had improved recycling rates by introducing wheelie bins, and added that Birmingham had a poor record in this respect. Birmingham currently recycles 31.5 per cent of rubbish, which is way below a 50 per cent target.

He did not, however, respond to Liberal Democrat criticism of Labour’s decision to drop a separate recycling service for food.

When the funding bid was submitted to the Government, Coun McKay said: “The proposal we are putting forward will ensure our waste management service is delivered in the most efficient and cost-effective way possible for the citizens of Birmingham.

“We are always looking at how to improve recycling and we believe Birmingham will become a cleaner and greener place if we are successful in our bid. We will maintain our weekly collection.

“Wheeled bins will not be used in a small number of cases where they are impractical, and assisted collections will continue.

“We want to enhance what we currently provide, to bring the way we do things into the modern age – we do all we can to keep the streets clean, however the current system of bags makes this an almost impossible job and introducing wheeled bins will improve our living environment.”

Coun McKay is promising extensive consultation to make sure the wheelie bin system is “appropriate to everybody’s needs and provides the best value for money for the city”.

And, finally, back to 2006 and the scrutiny committee report into wheelie bins.

Liberal Democrat councillor Martin Mullaney, who was making a name for himself as a wheelie bin champion, was chairman of the transportation scrutiny committee. He ordered an inquiry into the possibility of introducing wheelie bins in some parts of Birmingham, which led to Mr Coghill’s less than helpful denunciation.

Mullaney, no longer a councillor, pointed out in 2006 that many Midland local authorities had switched to wheelie bins and found the system to be efficient. He did, however, point out there were parts of Birmingham where wheeled bins would not be suitable.

So, there it is. The Liberal Democrats quite like wheelie bins, but not for everyone.


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