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Bin this idea

January 6, 2009

column-picture2By the time this piece gets published on the Observer website, there will be five days remaining in which to make your submission about communal bins.

It’s not the sexiest of subjects, but refuse collection and recycling are part of the daily stuff of our lives, and getting the service right is important to our community.

I have to say that Hastings Borough Council’s track record in this area is not good. Some might even go as far as to say that there has been one public relations disaster after another.

And the current consultation on communal bins for those areas of Hastings and St Leonards that do not have Twin Bins, complete with multiple mistakes, has hardly covered the Council in glory.

Even today I spoke to someone who had not yet had their survey form and was in the middle of negotiations to get hold of one before 12 January.

So even before the views of local residents are to be collated, we start from a point where we cannot have a huge amount of confidence that the Council has managed to get consultation documents to all the right places, and that the results will be fair and representative.

I personally will be watching the reporting of local residents’ views very carefully. Of the people I have spoken to personally on the doorstep, and from the emails I have received from all over the consultation area, it seems clear to me that the vast majority of residents have grave reservations about the scheme.

The main reservations seem to be founded on fears about anti-social behaviour, fly-tipping and the reduction in car parking spaces. Other people have written to me with practical concerns about particular streets, for example the impact that the bins might have on motorists’ vision outside of nursery schools. Other people have written about the siting of the bins, and the possible effect on house prices.

Still others have done research on the response to these bins in other areas of the country. Communal bins have been received very negatively along the coast in Brighton. And yet they are effective for City of Westminster, where I used to work, and where they are only used in multiple-occupancy large scale accommodation situations.

I have a great deal of sympathy with those local people who say that the situation in the roads that get weekly collection ain’t broke, so doesn’t need fixing in this way.

That is not to say however that there aren’t significant problems in areas that now have Twin Bins and bi-weekly collections. There are.

I think the Council should rethink its collection policy and should have a democratic mechanism for residents to request weekly collection if they want that.

I do not believe that HBC has made a compelling case for communal bins in Hastings and St Leonards, which has a far different geography and housing mix than somewhere like Westminster.

I absolutely agree that we must do more to improve our recycling rates and play our part in creating a society which is serious about combating climate change.

But, as Lib Dem-run Richmond Council has learnt, you will not encourage people to recycle more by imposing schemes on them against their will.

Hastings Borough Council has room for improvement in demonstrating that it can listen effectively to its residents.

It should start by binning this idea.

[What do you think about the communal bins proposals?  Use the form below to send in your views]

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