A COUNCIL that intends cutting rubbish collections to boost recycling is still struggling to make vital improvements to a waste centre.
Residents in Torfaen are being told they must accept reduced wheelie bin collections due to a failure to meet recycling targets, but opposition councillors claim that is shifting responsibility for underperformance onto householders.
The claim comes amid an apparent further setback to Torfaen Borough Council’s plans for a much needed upgrade to its recycling centre, which the Labour-controlled authority has already acknowledged is crucial to it being able to achieve the 70 per cent recycling target.
It is required, by law, to achive the target in 2024/25 and has said to do so it plans to reduce reduce the frequency of bin collections from March next year.
An ongoing council consultation is asking residents in the county borough if they would prefer current fortnightly collections are reduced to either once a month, or a collection every three weeks – and says “doing nothing” is not an option due to its ongoing failure to meet the current 64 per cent target.
However independent opposition councillors David Thomas and Alan Slade say the plan to reduce wheelie bin collections, which analysis shows still contain food waste and recyclable material, is punishing residents for the council’s failure to have the infrastructure in place and improve its current 62 per cent recycling rate.
Cllr Thomas said: “This is a Torfaen management failure, not residents. It is down to the cabinet and officers and they are putting the blame on residents.”
The council is having to spend £324,000 from its reserves to maintain separate kerbside cardboard collections through to September as it cannot use its £2.7 million fleet of 19 new lorries, as intended, to collect both food and recycling, until the Ty Coch recycling centre, in Cwmbran, is upgraded to a bulking and bailing faciltity – where it can drop off, store and sort recyclables.
At a confidential session last week the cabinet was updated on the latest delays to the project.
Cllr Slade said progress on the vital Ty Coch facility “seems to be nonexistent” and said it could be questioned if the council even has a functioning recycling service at a time it is telling residents bin collections must be cut to avoid it being fined £100,000 for every percentage point it is short of the target figure.
The Llantarnam councillor said: “I find it incredibly frustrating they just seem to be sitting on their hands and everyone is to blame. Covid, the staff, the lorries – but it’s just mismanagement.
“They say do nothing is not an option but that is precisely what they have been doing for the past few years as far as I can see.”
Last August the council, which had been hitting recycling targets prior to 2020, briefly suspended garden waste collections so hard-pressed crews could instead collect recycling and unload bins as it dealt with a surge in complaints about missed collections.
The council’s position has been it should purchase the new fleet, which was delivered in January this year, so it has the vehicles able to make combined collections and which can operate with the bulking and bailing operation it plans for Ty Coch.
In February the cabinet approved spending £245,397 from reserves to start pre-construction work at Ty Coch to preserve the five year planning permission that is due to expire on December 11 this year.
A report detailing that decision stated: “To reach Welsh Government’s 70 per cent recycling and composting target by 2025, the council will need to have sufficient infrastructure to store and reprocess the high quality recyclate materials.”
However the cabinet’s confidential session on Tuesday, March 28, discussed problems in meeting the council’s intention of securing a long term – 20 to 25 years – lease on the site.
A summary of the confidential paper, published by the council, stated it could instead consider a short-term lease with the Ty Coch landlord but said this presented “risks”.
Cllrs Slade and Thomas, who haven’t been able to see the confidential information, said they believe the risk identified is that the Welsh Government, which had previously indicated it is willing to fund the £2 million costs of overhauling the waste station, would be reluctant to provide the money for only a short term lease.
The only information published by the council since this week’s secret discussion states: “Cabinet agreed with the recommendations detailed within the exempt report.”
The Local Democracy Reporting Service has asked Torfaen council to clarify what recommendations the cabinet has agreed to.