Fenland Council’s controversial proposal to introduce a charge for its brown bin service was given the go-ahead by the authority’s Cabinet today (Thursday).
The existing free garden waste collections will cease and be replaced with the new chargeable brown bin service from April next year in a move expected to save the council £500,000 a year.
Residents who want to keep the service will have to pay a £40 annual fee, and those that don’t will have to wait until next summer to have their unused bins removed from their property.
Cabinet members considered a 1,622-signature petition against the proposal, and written concerns such as ability to pay the charge, and the impact on household waste sites and fly-tipping.
But councillors heard that 61 per cent of the 12,000 residents who responded to a public consultation on the plan would pay to continue receiving the garden waste service. Members also felt that residents’ concerns had been mitigated as much as possible, and said losing the service would mean some refuse workers losing their jobs.
Councillor Will Sutton said: “It’s been a struggle for me to weigh up the pros and cons (of the proposal), but I’ve come to the conclusion that the consultation we did outweighs the petition by quite some number.
“No-one has ever been happy paying for something they have had for free, but we had two options: stop the service altogether or charge for it. Sixty one per cent of people said they were happy to pay, and if we stopped the service we would have to lose local employment.
“I have the greatest respect for the guys who do the work in all weathers, so I’m pleased to support the proposal and keep local employment.”
Councillor Michelle Tanfield agreed, saying: “The most important thing is that we don’t lose this service altogether. I totally support the petition but I do appreciate that people are prepared to pay and if we keep it, we keep it working at the exceptional standard we want to keep it at.”
Councillor Peter Murphy, the portfolio holder for the environment, said many residents mistakenly believed the cost of running the brown bin service could just be added on to residents’ council tax.
But he explained: “It’s not legal to add it to council tax, and in any case, if we did it would add seven to eight per cent on to the tax which would trigger a referendum.”
Cllr Murphy added that Fenland was not the first authority in the region to introduce a charge, with more than 50 per cent of waste collection authorities in East Anglia already charging for a garden waste service.
“We have used the experience of these authorities to develop the best offer possible for our customers,” he said.
Members were told the proposed new service is based on a subscription per bin to cover collection costs only. The charge of £40 per bin, per year, will be reviewed annually and reflect ongoing running costs.
Paid-for bins will be identified via a subscription sticker, which will last a year and display the address of the property.
Councillor Simon King asked how concerns about ability to pay the fee had been mitigated, and Cllr Murphy said there was the option to pay the charge in three instalments in January, February and March, before the service starts in April.
Anyone signing up before January 10 would also receive a 10 per cent ‘early-bird’ discount.