Derbyshire Dales councillors have unanimously agreed to push ahead with plans to bring in charges for garden waste pickups.
The district council’s current contract with Serco Limited - costing £1.9 million per year - runs out in August 2020 and the authority has been on the hunt for a replacement.
It says that the current service cannot remain the same due to changes in the market, including the value of recyclable material and continued pressures on the council’s finances.
The authority says that the current contract would cost £2.5 million a year if it was awarded under current market pressures, which would be “unaffordable”. Its total annual budget is around £35 million a year.
As a result it put forward a series of potential changes, including changing to four-weekly waste pickups and a range of potential charges for garden waste pickups from £25 up to £55 per year.
After a record response to its consultation, with more than 2,600 people sharing their views, the authority has ditched the four-weekly proposals but is carrying forward with chargeable fortnightly pickups for garden waste.
At a meeting last night (Thursday, November 29), councillors finalised key details of the future waste contract so that it could send out a tender for companies to apply for.
It is thought that eight companies are currently being courted by the authority.
The district council is keen to retain the possibility of changing pickups for residual waste from fortnightly to three-weekly from 2024 – halfway through the proposed eight-year contract.
Under the council’s current contract, the private firm accepts all liability for the service, but this would not be an option under the future contract.
It says that companies are more cautious and would only be willing to share the liability with the council – the extent to which this would be shared would be debated through further negotiations.
Out of the people who responded to the consultation, around 40 per cent said they would be willing to pay for garden waste pickups, with 72 per cent saying they would pay £25 for the service.
Council officers say that the current national average price for garden waste collections is £40 per year. If introduced, they say that this could bring in an extra £454,000 a year.
Whatever cost is introduced, the service would be opt-in not opt-out.
Several Labour and Liberal Democrat councillors said that they voted to push forward with the contract for the good of residents but did so “with a heavy heart”.
Coun Irene Ratcliffe said the authority should have considered a council tax hike instead of charging for garden waste, so that the service could remain exactly the same.
She said that she voted for the contract to push ahead but “had a bad taste in her mouth”.
Coun Ratcliffe said that the authority could have chosen to share services or work more closely with its neighbouring district and borough councils instead.
Coun Martin Burfoot also called for a rise in council tax instead of garden waste charges, saying that a council tax levy was less complicated to bring in.
He also feared that recycling rates would go down as a result of the proposals – if only temporary – along with increases in flytipping.
The Derbyshire Dales currently has the highest recycling rates in Derbyshire at 57 per cent – the target from central government is 60 per cent, and this could be set to rise to 65 per cent.
Coun Peter Slack said that when the current contract was first brought in lots of residents were burning excess recyclable waste in their back gardens and “there was smoke everywhere”.
He suspects the same could happen again.
Conservative members said they were “horrified” at the council tax hike suggestion.
Coun Vicky Massey-Bloodworth said: “I am from a low-income household and the thought of raising tax would be much more terrifying.”
Deputy leader Coun Albert Catt said: “If they don’t want it they don’t have to subsidise other people getting it.”
Coun Garry Purdy stated that a charge which would amount to a pound a week would be acceptable.
Council leader Lewis Rose said: “We have to be able to afford the service. The most important thing for residents is ‘is my bin going to be collected’.
“It is a service which, to a certain extent, is taken for granted.
“I think this is the right step at this stage. It is a very, very important service for our residents and we have to get it right.”
Coun Colin Swindell said that previous issues with the current contract had been a real cause for concern, with refuse trucks knocking over walls and struggling to get to houses “in the back of beyond”.
Ashley Watt, the authority’s head of community and environmental services, said that the companies it had contacted were aware of how rural the district was and were also eager to design their own fleet of vehicles to cater for this.
Coun Sue Burfoot stated that this must have a serious amount of consideration, particularly due to the limited space for refuse vehicles to access houses on Matlock Bank.
She says emergency services cannot navigate many of these streets as it is.
Eddie Bisknell , Local Democracy Reporting Service