Green bin charges scrapped by Carlisle council after backlash

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Controversial plans to charge for green bin collections in Carlisle from next April have been scrapped.

But a senior councillor says he can't rule out some sort of fee being brought in at a later date.

Carlisle City Council revealed last month that it was thinking of ending its free garden waste collections, instead charging householders £30 a year to be part of the scheme.

The Labour-led authority blamed budget pressures, stressing that it was not a statutory service.

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But opposition councillors branded it a "garden tax", while 400 people signed a petition against the charges.

Now the council's ruling executive has decided not to go ahead.

Chris Southward, environment and transport portfolio holder, said they had listened "very carefully" to the views of local people.

But he denied that it was a U-turn, saying they were only ever considering it as an option.

Yet he added that he could not rule out the charges - which would have saved about the council almost £400,000 - being brought in at a later date, as budget pressures grow.

"It was something we wanted to think about. Other councils are doing it. We are having a look at every budget line," he said.

"I think it is inevitable though. I think in five or six years everywhere will do it anyway. It's an obvious development for some time in the future, but we are not going to come back to it in a hurry."

The decision not to proceed with the scheme followed an informal briefing for elected members on Tuesday.

Mr Southward said they were concerned that the annual charge might not be affordable to some, which influenced the decision.

"I was not entirely happy with the system. There are some people for who £30 is a lot of money and we feel for them," he added.

"At the moment we haven't got any way of means testing it, or a concessions scheme. I would have liked to have included that if we were going to go ahead and do this. We can afford to do without it for now. We will take our time and get it right."

Mr Southward said that since 2010, the council has seen the money it gets from central government drop by 40 per cent.

The council has managed to find £7m of savings in that time, but needs to find a further £3.5m by 2019, plus more after that date as its Revenue Support Grant from Government is stopped.

He explained that the council will not have to find the projected £400,000 of savings from the bin scheme in next year's budget, however the charges had aimed to help ease pressures in future years.

Now they will have to look at all their non-statutory services - which include parks, the arts and community centres - to see if extra savings can be made in the coming years. "If push came to shove, other things might have to go. We can't spend it twice," he said.

However he added that they will also be looking at new ways to generate income - such as increasing charges to concert organisers using Bitts Park - to ease current pressures.

Mr Southward said although he was aware of opposition to the bin charges being voiced through The Cumberland News letters pages and social media channels, the council only received a couple of letters directly. He said he would be replying to each one personally.

One of the main fears was that it would reduce recycling and lead to an increase in fly-tipping - a concern expressed by members of Longtown parish council at their recent meeting.

Val Tarbitt, who represents Longtown on Cumbria County Council, told the forum: "I'm concerned there will be green fly tipping and I think that will be a very difficult thing."

Ray Bloxham, Conservative city councillor for Longtown and Rockliffe, described it as "appalling," and urged members to complain.

"My concern is that it will be reverting back to how it was before. Either fly tipping or putting in with the household waste. That is what we all used to do," he said.

But Mr Southward disagreed.

He told The Cumberland News: "That's utter nonsense. It's never happened anywhere that they've done this. People are not going to become law breakers for £30 a year."

He added that people would choose to either pay the charge, take their waste direct to the tip or start home-composting.

Mr Southward also criticised opposition councillors for trying to turn it into a political issue when the reason budgets are under pressure is the Conservative Government's cuts to budgets.

"Right from the off I tried to avoid this becoming political. I wanted to look at it properly as a council, but it was politicised straight away when it was referred to as a garden tax," he said

He added that in other parts of the country there are Conservative-run councils trying to bring in similar charges, with opposition Labour councillors using the same arguments.

Mr Southward added: "A clean environment and good health and wellbeing are priorities for the council, and we recognise the contributions that gardens make to those aims.

"That is why, after listening carefully to the views expressed by local people and considering all the information provided to us, we have decided not to proceed with the option of charging."

Eden council is also reviewing its garden waste service, but no proposals have yet been drawn up.

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