By Local Democracy Reporter Simon Finlay
Two more county tips are under threat of closure with the recently announced government ban on local authorities from charging for non-domestic waste being blamed.
Kent County Council (KCC) has already announced plans to axe as many as four household waste recycling centres, at Maidstone (Tovil), Faversham, Dartford and Richborough.
The authority hoped the proposals could save £1.5 million.
But now KCC may have to find around another £1 million per year, after Environment Minister Rebecca Pow announced in June she was scrapping the charge for ‘DIY’ waste.
It means that Swanley and Deal’s tips could also now be in the firing line.
New proposals put forward by KCC now earmark four tips for closure. Maidstone and Faversham are included in all the options.
The 4 options:
Option 1: Closure of Faversham, Maidstone (Tovil), Dartford and Richborough
Option 2: Closure of Faversham, Maidstone (Tovil), Dartford and Deal
Option 3: Closure of Faversham, Maidstone (Tovil), Swanley and Deal
Option 4: Closure of Faversham, Maidstone (Tovil), Swanley and Richborough
Outspoken critic of the closures, Liberal Democrat member for Faversham, Antony Hook said: “It’s about 1% of the overall budget…these closures will cause a disproportionate amount of harm to the people of Kent.”
Cllr Hook suggested closing all suitable sites for a couple of days a week in order to save money. This option had been included in the original briefing to councillors in May but has now been removed with officers saying it would mean a greater loss in capacity than the full closure options.
Susan Carey, cabinet member for environment, said with the authority having to make £58m in savings to balance the books, there was little choice.
She told members at County Hall: “It’s a saving I would prefer not to make. I would not be looking to close household recycling centres if it were not for budgetary pressures.”
Members were told that on Sunday, June 18, without notice to local authorities, Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) issued a press release on behalf of Mrs Pow saying authorities would no longer be able to charge for non-household waste materials at tips. The ruling is due to come into force later this year.
KCC took the decision to charge for non-household waste in 2019.
The papers stated: “Government has also made it clear that local authorities will not receive ‘new burdens funding’ resulting from this decision.”
A ‘new burden’ is a fresh policy or initiative which increases the cost of providing local authority services and could lead to an increase in council tax if it was not additionally funded by central government.
The paper adds: “… it was explained that this will create further financial pressures of c.£1m per annum and an additional 10% increase in visits to the HWRCs. Whilst the service is of the view that sufficient capacity within a reduced network can be met, this creates an unbudgeted financial pressure to the county council.”
Cllr Carey explained: “With further consideration of usage levels, the consultation will seek views on the potential closure of either the Dartford or Swanley site in the west of the county, and either the Richborough or Deal site in the east.
“The proposal to close the sites at Maidstone and Faversham remains due to the close proximity of a site that is co-located with a transfer station.”
Cllr Nigel Collor, vice chairman of the committee, said: “I wish we didn’t have to close any of them but the government keeps cutting our funding and expects us to spend more and more.”
Cllr Carey said budget cuts have to be made because KCC has taken the decision “to favour social care protection of vulnerable children and dealing with vulnerable adults” and so cuts had to be made elsewhere to “meet the extra costs of care homes.”
Councillors at the meeting still had numerous concerns, including the impact on climate of people having to travel further to reach the nearest open tip, reducing infrastructure despite accelerated housebuilding in the county, the addition of the Deal and Swanley sites which had not been mentioned during the previous briefing and the fact members were being asked to ‘note’ the information leading to comments that it is “a done deal.”
It was also said there is a preferred option of the four although it wasn’t revealed which one.
However, the addition of a fourth option, meaning closure of Richborough now features on two options instead of all of them, has been welcomed by those campaigning to keep that site open.
Sandwich councillor Dan Friend, one of the leading campaigners for the preservation of Richborough HWRC, said: “We’ve been campaigning hard for a genuine choice, and it is immensely gratifying to see our efforts bear fruit. The inclusion of multiple options in the consultation aligns with our goal of offering a fair and balanced approach to address the future of these essential recycling centres.
“We must capitalise on this opportunity to make our voices heard and ensure that the decision-makers understand the significant impact of their choices on our community.”
A 10-week consultation period will start at the end of the month.