Councils urged to put collection frequency to public vote

24 August 2010

By Chris Sloley 

Councils are being urged to use local referendums to find out what services, including weekly waste collections, residents wish to protect from budget cuts following the use of such a poll in Dartford, Kent.

Local government minister Bob Neill commended Dartford borough council on its decision to use a public poll to ask residents if they wanted to keep their weekly waste collections while visiting the Kent local authorityLocal government minister Bob Neill yesterday (August 23) stated that local residents would be given the power to initiate referendums on a variety of services important to them in the forthcoming Localism Bill, which is due in November. He also called on local authorities to hold local referendums on important local issues.

The comments were made by the minister on a visit to Dartford, where a ‘Big Bin Vote' public poll carried out by Conservative-led council in July 2007 saw 94.5% of the 10,379 respondents vote to retain the council's existing weekly collection of residual waste.

Furthermore the poll found that 89.2% of those polled were not "reassured" by the then-Labour government's position that alternate weekly collections offered no adverse health risks.

Support for the continuation of weekly waste collections has been a long-standing policy position for the government. Communities secretary Eric Pickles has been one of its most vociferous advocates, having attacked the Audit Commission over its supposed stance in support of alternate weekly collections (see story). This is part of an ongoing review by the government of waste policy.

And, Mr Neill yesterday met with binmen and residents in Joyners Wood in Dartford to discuss the outcome of the ‘Big Bin Vote' and discuss how the referendum model adopted by the council could be used by local authorities across the UK.

Commenting on the service, Mr Neill said: "The binman has never been so welcome as now with so many councils cutting weekly collections. Fortnightly collections cause problems with fly-tipping, odour and vermin as well as forcing people to drive to their local dump to get rid of their rubbish, increasing congestion and pollution from the traffic.

"It's good to see here in Dartford the council listens to local people and keeps the weekly bin collections they value. It was fantastic to meet the refuse collectors who are doing such an important job as well and hear directly from residents."

Localism Bill

The government outlined in July 2010 that the forthcoming Localism Bill was set to signal the end-of-the-road for ‘pay-as-you-throw' recycling trials and instead would make it easier for councils to offer rewards for residents who recycle (see story).

Mr Neill said: "I hope other councils will follow Dartford's example in the difficult times ahead as we work together to cut the deficit and listen to local people about what services matter the most."

During the visit, Dartford received further praise for publicly ruling out the practice of 'bin snooping' - bin searches to find out what the public are throwing away. Ministers said they believed the best way to encourage responsible waste disposal was to ‘incentivise recycling' rather than ‘punish families with taxes, and reward them for going green.'