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Norfolk Recycling Centres could introduce time slots

People could be forced to book slots to dump rubbish at Norfolk's tips, under plans being drawn up by County Hall.
Thetford Dump

People could be forced to book slots to dump rubbish at Norfolk’s tips, under plans being drawn up by County Hall.

Conservative-controlled Norfolk County Council is considering introducing the scheme as a way to save money by controlling numbers visiting recycling centres.

However, critics have described the idea as a “non-starter” which will discourage people from recycling and lead to a surge in fly-tipping.

The council may introduce the booking system to limit the estimated £1m impact of the government’s plans to abolish some of the fees councils, including Norfolk, charge for getting rid of household DIY waste.

Charges for large amounts of DIY waste have been in place for more than two decades, but, in 2018, the county council removed a concession which allowed people to leave small amounts of waste for free.

That meant people were charged to leave materials such as rubble, plasterboard, doors, fence panels, fitted units and bathroom suites.

Charges per 80-litre sack or single item range from £3.50 to £12.

But, following public consultation last year, the government announced it would abolish fees for disposing of limited amounts and types of DIY waste at recycling centres.

While the council has kept the fees in place, pending legislation changes, County Hall officers said the government is not giving them any extra money to cover its increased costs, which they say could be between £500,000 and £1m.

Officers, in a report which will come before councillors, state: “Booking systems for customers using recycling centres are widely used across the country and require customers to book an appointment prior to arriving at the site.

“The changes to DIY charging expected to be introduced by government may mean the potential role of a booking system for customers that use the recycling centre service has to be considered.”

Officers said that would “allow the county council to respond to the government’s changes in a way that is capable of managing those requirements and limiting their financial impact.”

Asked if the booking system would be for all trips to tips or only for disposal of DIY waste, a council spokeswoman said: “At this stage it is too early to say. This is referenced as an intervention that may be required in the future and would have to be fully scoped out.”

Suffolk County Council already operates a booking system for all tip trips, but Brian Watkins, leader of the Liberal Democrat group at the council, said he was worried about the implications of doing that in Norfolk.

He said: “Councils have been forced onto the back foot with the government’s proposed changes to DIY charging, but there are dangers with introducing a booking system for customers.

“Not everyone will comply with such a request, and my fear is that it could lead to an unwanted increase in fly-tipping around the country.

“We should be making access easier and more efficient, not adding another layer of bureaucracy and frustration which could deter people from disposing of their recycled waste in a proper manner.”

Labour county councillor Terry Jermy said: “A booking system is a non-starter. It would deter people from recycling and could increase fly-tipping.

“The reason the government has for scrapping the DIY waste charges is to make it easier for people to recycle, but this would just make it harder.”

Green county councillor Jamie Osborn said: “Introducing even more limits on when people can use the tip will just create more barriers for people who want to get rid of waste responsibly.

“I frequently have people say to me that they can’t get to the tip now that it’s been moved out of the city, and that it’s too expensive to take items there.”

The issue will be discussed at a meeting of the authority’s scrutiny committee today, when council plans to shut Mayton Wood recycling centre, near Coltishall, will also come under the spotlight.

ANALYSIS

The suggestion that people could have to book slots in order to be able to take their rubbish to Norfolk’s recycling centres has not been well received.

But Norfolk County Council says it has to consider the possibility of such a system because the government is on the brink of legislative changes which would mean people could get rid of more of their waste for free.

The county council, back in 2018, removed a concession which had allowed people to leave small amounts of DIY waste at tips for free.

At the time, that sparked considerable anger, arguments at recycling centres and claims – disputed by council officers – that it had led to more fly-tipping.

After consultation, the government has said some of the fees to dispose of DIY waste, such as those imposed in Norfolk, should be abolished, which is likely to happen later this year.

Officers at County Hall warn that will increase the county council’s costs by up to £1m – and say the government has indicated it will not provide authorities with any further money to cover that.

So, the council has said one way to limit the financial impact is to introduce slots for recycling centre visits.

The council has not explained exactly how that would help cut costs, saying the possibility is at a very early stage and would need ‘scoping out’.

Presumably, the idea is that controlling numbers will either allow the authority to save money in terms of when staffing is needed, or, rather more cynically, make it less likely people will head to the tip so often, due to the effort and organisation needed to book a slot.

Either way, critics have said it will deter people from recycling and could increase fly-tipping.

It is also worth remembering that not everybody in Norfolk would find it very easy to go online to book a visit.

This is something which needs very careful consideration, before a scheme is introduced which may save money, but has a detrimental impact on the lives of people in the county.

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