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Flintshire Council proposing shake-up of waste collections to avoid £1m fines

Flintshire Council bins (Pic: Rory Sheehan, LDR)

POLITICIANS in Flintshire will have to make “very difficult decisions” to avoid fines of more than £1m for failing to meet recycling targets.

The warning was made by Flintshire Council leader Ian Roberts as the local authority faces being penalised by the Welsh Government.

Ministers currently expect Welsh councils to achieve a recycling rate of 64 per cent, but this goal was missed by Flintshire during the last two financial years.

The authority is currently proposing a shake-up of its waste strategy in a bid to avoid being fined, with the target set to increase to 70 per cent in 2024/25.

Reduced black bin collections or providing residents with smaller bins are among the measures being suggested to improve performance.

Backbench councillors expressed concerns over the proposals when they met last week as they said it would be “unfair” on people who do recycle.

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However, Cllr Roberts (Lab) said urgent action was needed, with the devolved government still to decide whether to fine the council over its previous failures.

Speaking at a cabinet meeting held yesterday (Tuesday, 12 March), he said: “The problem with the strategy is that there is uncertainty in Welsh Government as to whether or not we will implement it.

“We’re quite clear that we’re working with Welsh Government as closely as we can, but they have to be convinced that we will improve.

“There has been a slight improvement in the targets of one per cent, but we need to get much higher than that.

“We do have this infraction fine hanging over us and members’ minds will need to be concentrated when making the very difficult decisions that will be necessary here.”

Last year, councillors resisted a switch to three-weekly bin collections from the current fortnightly arrangement because of how it would impact residents.

The council recently held a consultation on the strategy which received more than 5,300 responses.

While most people supported measures to improve recycling rates, views were split on plans to either reduce the frequency of collections or make black bins smaller.

In response, Cllr Chris Bithell, cabinet member for public protection, said the authority could not keep avoiding the issue.

He said: “It strikes me that we’re in the last chance saloon with this as we’re faced with infraction fines.

“The minister has given us the time and opportunity to put things right, and to increase our recycling rates which we’re failing quite miserably at.

“We’ve taken a fairly soft approach to this so far. Last year, we decided to tackle this on an educational basis.

“That hasn’t worked, and I think it’s just a 1.43 per cent improvement on last year and we’re still missing the target by a significant amount.”

He added: “Where on earth will we find that £1.6m extra to pay those fines, if we don’t do better than we are at present?

“That should be a sobering thought for all of us as members of the council.”

Data published by the authority shows that 58 per cent of waste currently put in black bins by residents in Flintshire could be recycled.

In 2022/23, the figure equated to 13,410 tonnes of material that could have been recycled, of which just under half was food waste.

Cllr David Healey, cabinet member for climate change, said public support was essential to improve recycling rates.

He said: “This does hinge upon public co-operation and members of the public in Flintshire must really get the message that they need to put less in the black bin and recycle more.

“That is what is likely to cause us to have a significant infraction fine and they must play their part.”

Cabinet members approved the proposed waste strategy at the end of their discussion.

A further report will be presented in June outlining more details on the council’s planned move to a “restricted capacity” waste collection service.