Councillors last night remained steadfast after being confronted with a petition of names opposing monthly bin collections.
The policy, which aims to boost recycling rates and applies to non-recyclable ‘black bin’ waste, is currently being extended across Banbridge District Council’s area.
But a meeting last night heard a strongly-worded statement from a group opposing the plans (excepts from which appear at the end of this piece).
Branding the move “ludicrous”, and claiming that councillors are deaf to the concerns of their constituents, the written declaration was read out during a session of the council – and drew an angry response from some of the politicians themselves.
It had been suggested a delegation of close to 190 protestors had wanted to converge on the Civic Building.
But there were only 30 seats available, and the organisers of the petition said they were “not in a position to control that number of irate ratepayers”, so instead a small group spoke on their behalf.
Headed by Paul Scappaticci, a 55-year-old Banbridge resident, their statement laid out health fears about the plans, and annoyance at what they claimed was the lack of engagement with residents over the proposals.
Mr Scappaticci said 1,512 objectors had signed their paper petition in around one week, with a further 758 objecting online over a period of around two weeks.
They left the chamber after delivering their message, and their comments then drew a sharp response from councillors at the monthly meeting.
One accused the group of “scaremongering”, while another said the council was never going to be able to convince “Luddites” of the merits of the scheme, which has been trialled in a small area since January and is now being extended much further.
It is thought to be the only one-month collection scheme in Northern Ireland – and perhaps even the whole of the UK.
When they came to speak, councillors were highly supportive of the scheme.
First to respond to the protestors was UUP councillor Carol Black, who declared angrily that she “took offence” at the suggestion she does not listen to her constituents.
She said those with concerns about the scheme could call her to help work them out: “But this is scaremongering.”
Fellow UUP councillor John Hanna said when trains were invented, along with electricity and the telephone, they too met with objections.
His voice rising, he told the meeting he “resents” the suggestion he does not listen to the public, and said: “I’ve done it for 22 years and I continue to do it, irrespective of spurious remarks.”
The scheme is necessary for environmental and cost reasons, he said, but added: “No doubt we won’t be able to bring Luddites with us.”
There are three bins which householders receive – brown ones (for compostable waste), green ones (for glass, tins, plastic, paper and other recyclables) and black ones for non-recyclable material.
The council had been trialling the once-per-month black bin collections in the Gilford, Loughbrickland and Poyntzpass areas since January.
The idea is to encourage householders to recycle more using the green bin, and to throw less into the black one.
In the last week or so, it has been extending to Banbridge town, Rathfriland and Dromore, and now covers about 15 out of the 25 collection routes.
It is expected to continue until at least spring next year, when the new supercouncil – covering Armagh, Banbridge and Craigavon – will begin getting fully up-and-running. It will not expand before then.
The protestors said they feared an increase in fly-tipping if black bin space was reduced, and that leaving things like nappies in a bin for a month could pose health problems.
David Lindsay, director of environmental services at the council, said those who needed bigger bins could contact them to try and obtain one, that there had been no health problems in the trial area, and that few residents have actually made contact directly to object.
He also said the scheme could save around £330,000 per year if fully rolled out.
Explaining the reasons for it ahead of the meeting, he said: “Banbridge Council has performed very well in terms of recycling. But notwithstanding that, we still have close to 50 per cent of our waste that’s still not being recycled and is going into the black bin.”
The Northern Ireland Local Government Association believes Banbridge is the only council in the Province where monthly collections operate.
Asked if this was the case, Mr Lindsay said: “That’s right – in fact, possibly across the UK as well.”
Here are some of the extracts from the protesting deputation’s statement last night:
“We request this council to abandon the proposed four-week black bin collection in this district and revert to the bi-weekly black bin collection... we lodge an objection to the way in which the council are forcing ratepayers into doing this without first seeking public opinion.
“We lodge an objection on environmental grounds, namely health, hygiene and safety.
“We lodge an objection on how the council choose to ignore comments on social media which clearly spell out to the council how ratepayers object to these changes...
“With the four-week cycle there will be many, many instances where the smell of the black bin will be repulsive, nauseating and sickening with every opening of the lid – a health hazard that you will be creating.
“We don’t want to hear the message ‘You can take it to the dump or recycling plant as it is now called’. We pay our rates so that we have our waste collected by you.”
It said that “information sessions” had been organised at times which suited few working people (in two-hour slots ranging from 10am to noon, or 4pm to 6pm), and asked: “Is it any wonder that only 49 people attended?”
In remarks aimed at the councillors themselves, the statement said: “Have you ceased representing your ratepayers now?... are you listening to those who elected you?
“Why are you not representing your electorate on this issue as it is clear from the hundreds of comments that this ludicrous proposal by Banbridge District Council directors and officers, and backed by you, is not acceptable to many, many ratepayers?”
It concludes that “we have said from the start that there would be a ‘graduated response’ to our actions depending on the outcome of each stage. This deputation is stage one and we eagerly await your early response.”