By Local Democracy Reporter Simon Finlay
The public consultation into the closure of council tips across Kent has been delayed – sparking speculation the idea might now be reconsidered.
Officials at Kent County Council, which runs the recycling centres, say they need more time to feed “wider information” into the documents. The consultation was due to begin in early August.
But opposition groups at KCC have pounced on the decision as a sign of the leadership rethinking the closure plans.
One Tory backbencher even speculated that a U-turn could be on the cards.
Under the latest proposals up to four of six named tips could shut as KCC tries to find £86m in savings against a backdrop of squeezed budgets and soaring costs.
Those under threat are Faversham, Tovil (Maidstone), Deal, Richborough, Dartford and Swanley.
The KCC proposals, which could save around £1.5m, has sparked a huge public backlash.
An email was sent to councillors this afternoon by David Beaver, a senior officer within KCC’s Environment & Waste department and seen by the Local Democracy Reporting service (LDRS).
It said: “Following the last Cabinet Committee, as Officers we wish to carefully consider the points raised by Members and ensure these matters are explained in sufficient detail.
“It is important that wider information is included within the consultation documents to receive informed public and stakeholder views.
“This will mean the commencement will no longer be in early August, however, please be assured we will continue to update Committee Members as our work progresses so that you are advised of the revised launch date of this consultation.”
Labour’s Barry Lewis, who represents Margate, said: “I am delighted they have started to reconsider their stupid proposals to close tips across Kent.
“It could prove in the end to be a victory for common sense and the opposition parties at County Hall.”
Antony Hook, leader of the Liberal Democrats at County Hall, said the decision to delay the consultation has exposed “huge holes” in the arguments for closure.
He added: “The Lib Dems will continue to say ‘Stop this mad closure plan now!’
“We have pointed out huge holes in the Conservatives’ arguments for axing tips. Problems putting together the information for the public suggests they haven’t considered proper information in the KCC cabinet.
“We won’t stop fighting to save Kent’s tips.”
Sean Holden, Conservative chairman of the Environment and Transport Committee, said: “It seems sensible to me that the county council’s officers should hold back the consultation about recycling centres until they are satisfied that residents will get all the information they need to make a judgement.
“It follows the July 5 meeting of the Environment and Transport Cabinet Committee, which I chair,where there was considerable debate. Elected members introduced information with a lot of local detail from areas they represent and it is right that should be taken into account.
“The consultation has had an unusual degree of member involvement because the previous committee meeting recognised the degree of public interest and set up a working group of elected councillors to help to shape it.
“If officers feel they need more time to ensure the public gets a full picture before giving their opinion it’s important they get that time.”
One Tory backbencher told LDRS: “This whole business of the tip closures seems to have really chimed with people and the councillors are getting it in the neck. Although I have no evidence to support this, I wouldn’t mind betting a u-turn could be on the cards.”
Cllr Dan Friend, Conservative Cabinet Member for Housing, Skills and Education and Ward Member for Sandwich at Dover District Council, said: “Through the collaboration of our pressure group, in conjunction with the invaluable support and advocacy of our MPs Craig Mackinlay, Roger Gale, and Natalie Elphicke, alongside the active participation of our parish, town, district, and county councillors, in addition to the strong voices of our engaged residents and businesses, we have effectively compelled the attention of Kent County Council.
“The deferred public consultation regarding the closure of council tips serves as a discernible testament to the leadership’s reconsideration of their initial plans. In light of these developments, we at the ‘Save Richborough and Deal HWRC Group’ hope these proposals may still be scrapped; however, if the plan is to continue with the consultation, we assert the imperative for an all-encompassing and transparent process, ensuring comprehensive and unbiased information availability, thereby equipping every resident with the essential facts to make informed and judicious decisions.
“This unified endeavour exemplifies community engagement’s profound impact and underscores common sense’s triumph over ill-conceived propositions.
“We must persist resolutely in our pursuit to safeguard Kent’s tips, recognising the crucial significance of this cause towards preserving our environment and upholding the collective welfare of our communities. To keep up to date, please go to www.danfriend.co.uk/richborough”
Kent County Council’s Cabinet Member for Environment, Susan Carey, said: “The budget for 2023/24 agreed by KCC councillors in February identified the need to fill the budget shortfall this year from both spending reductions and increased income. These savings are necessary to produce a balanced budget, the cost of services provide by KCC have risen by more than £200 million.
“As part of these savings we are having to make some very challenging decisions about where we can offer our services in the most cost effective and efficient way possible.
“A report on KCC’s Household Waste Recycling Centre network was discussed by the Environment & Transport Cabinet Committee (ETCC) on 23rd May and an informal member group of county councillors set up to inform the consultation process. The results of this work were reported to the ETCC meeting on 5th July.
“We are still working through comments raised by members at the Environment & Transport Cabinet Committee and elsewhere about what information to put in the consultation. This has led to a delay and a new date will be announced when this work is ready. No decisions will be made until all options and feedback from the consultation has been evaluated.”