Local residents will have noticed that our green waste collections are due to restart in March after two months of suspension. These collections help keep our gardens, driveways and pathways clear by removing surplus green material at a time when gardeners are often busy improving their immediate environment for the approach of spring. Yet the Council’s decision to interrupt these collections has created an unnecessary backlog of waste, to the irritation of many local residents. Having represented Gorrell district on the Canterbury City Council since 2015, I’ve tried to raise my concerns about green waste collections being suspended. Often, I’ve found my voice blocked.
It’s the older and less mobile residents that concern me the most here. When this suspension first came into effect, I asked whether the Council have considered its impact upon this particular demographic? Recent complaints to the Labour Group have highlighted the winter clear-up of gardens and the difficulties many residents have in just putting garden waste into a car and taking it to the tip. Some are not mobile enough to drive, or cannot afford to run a car. This is a cut which particularly affects the older generation, with the correlative impact upon their immediate environment and, potentially, on their spirits.
My query at the last meeting received a response from Conservative Councillor Nick Baker, who told me that when proposing “the short-term suspension of the green waste collections, the needs of all those residents who use this particular service were considered, and balanced against the need to ensure the general, dry-recycling and food waste collection services received by all residents were effectively delivered.” The view was taken that during the eight-week period, (January and February) as there was a large drop in usage at that time, residents could take garden waste to a local household waste recycling centre, or, particularly if older and less mobile, start home composting if space allows or wait until their green waste is next collected in March.
My reply to Councillor Baker highlighted that no equalities impact was recognised in the reports to Community and Policy and Resource in January and February last year and no Equalities Impact Assessment (EIA) was carried out, despite this constituting a reduction in service. I asked what measures had been put in place to reduce or ameliorate the impact of the loss upon those with the protected characteristics, including those in receipt of ‘assisted collection’? Councillor Baker replied that the decision to cease the green waste collection during January and February was taken by officers, who would be asked to provide a written response to the councillor.
I waited for this written response, but eventually had to chase it up. When I received it, baldly stating that “the garden waste collection service was only temporarily suspended, and as a consequence an EIA was not required,’ I didn’t find it satisfactory. The lack of care and detail apparent here, spurred me to consult an expert who carries out frequent local authority
EIAs, who confirmed that “if a proposed change was likely to be short-term in nature, or have limited negative impact, then a full-blown EIA would probably not be required.” However, she added, “it would still be necessary to undertake an initial screening exercise, and it is through this screening, that you are able to identify whether the changes are likely to have a negative impact and how to mitigate against any such disadvantage…’
I had done a bit of screening myself, regarding the older and less mobile residents who can’t just put their garden waste into a car and take it to the tip, as well as those we have already identified as needing ‘assisted collection’. To these I’d add Councillor Baker’s suggestion for starting home composting, although this is clearly not possible or reasonable for all. A 90-year-old lady in my Ward recently informed me that she imagined another bin was going to be provided, as she had double the garden waste already. ‘It’s almost as if they think old people don’t do gardening’, she remarked.
So what are we going to do, at the very least, to deal with the triple amounts of waste that will need to be collected in March, however and wherever, our unfortunate residents may have stored them? Councillor Baker did confirm to me in January, after all, that the needs of all those residents who use this particular service were considered in Jan 2018.
The bigger picture here is the Council’s repeated, though not consistent I am glad to say, failure to carry out EIAs on changes or reductions in services like this, in the spirit of the law. The Equality Act was designed to ensure that the needs of the most vulnerable were considered in our decision-making and things were done to make any loss less painful. It was not designed to give councils another boring hurdle to pay lip-service to before decisions were made. I sincerely hope that the next Council is able to face decisions in the correct manner, focusing, as we always should, on the needs of those who need us most.’
Garden waste may seem like a relatively small issue (though I am pursuing it to see what can be done), but it is a good example of things that need to change in the City Council. My concern that the Council wasn’t taking its equality duty seriously has been building since I was elected. It first reached a peak with the cuts to Enhanced Care homes where an equality assessment was done nothing was considered at first to mitigate the effects of the cuts. We did have some success in the end by working with residents of the homes for older people and their families, but it had to be pushed for repeatedly at successive meetings and with demonstrations to show just how upset people were. A Labour-run City Council would put the needs of the most vulnerable first in all our decision-making, and would assess the impact of any change in accordance with the spirit, as well as the letter, of the law, in this case the Equality Act 2010.