Green waste charging update

A brown wheelie bin full of garden waste

We hear and understand why residents are concerned that charges for green waste collection remain in Barrow. In this statement, our Cabinet Member for Customer and Waste Services, Councillor Dyan Jones, shares with residents some of the details and context for the current situation, the issues the new council must consider around harmonisation of services and what is happening with waste and recycling collections.

"On April 1 2023 Westmorland and Furness Council took over the delivery of council services, replacing the former district councils in Barrow, Eden and South Lakeland and Cumbria County Council.

"While the county council had delivered its services across the whole of the county, prior to 2023 the district councils had, over nearly 50 years, developed ways of working that suited their individual areas, their individual communities’ needs and, as ‘sovereign’ councils, were able to set their own priorities and their own policies on how services would be delivered in their respective areas, within any rules laid out in national legislation.

"This meant that, on April 1 2023, Westmorland and Furness Council inherited services from the former district councils that had many differences in the way they were managed.

"Some of those differences were subtle, perhaps a different type of form being used for a grant application or a different reporting procedure for certain services.

"But others, such as the way waste and recycling services are delivered, are more obvious, as they are services that are used and relied on by almost all of our residents, every week.

"The former district councils had developed collection solutions to suit the different areas and differing needs, meaning differences between areas in how often your waste and recycling was collected, what type of containers were used (bins, bags, boxes etc), differences in collection arrangements around bank holidays and winter suspensions - and whether certain collections were subject to a separate charge.

"In the former Barrow Borough Council area, it had been decided that a separate charge would be applied for collections of green (garden) waste, which councils are not legally required to carry out.

"With a largely urban footprint and a high proportion of properties without gardens, it was decided this was the fairest option, rather than asking all Council Tax payers in the borough to subsidise a free service only used by a proportion of its residents.

"In the South Lakeland and Eden areas, the local decision was that green waste collections be provided as a free additional service, alongside the statutory general waste and recycling collections.

"As a new authority, Westmorland and Furness Council is committed to improving and harmonising many of its services, to ultimately ensure that services are all delivered in the same way, and to the same consistent standard, across the whole of the new authority area.

"But this is a huge undertaking with a service as large as waste and recycling – and it was never going to be something that would happen immediately. It requires robust and careful planning to ensure we’re providing the very best services for our communities, that meet their needs and deliver the best value for money.

"Westmorland and Furness Council is England’s third largest unitary authority by area, delivering services to 225,000 people across nearly 4,000 square kilometres. The work to harmonise waste and recycling collections, in particular, across such a large and diverse area, is a significant project and requires considerable investment and planning.

"In the first year of the new authority, the need to harmonise waste and recycling has already been identified as a priority and, since 1 April 2023, much work has already started to consider the challenges, practicalities and impacts of the various options that will need to be considered by me and my colleagues in the new administration.

“We have engaged expert analysis of the various options and we are currently trialling a ‘co-mingled’ kerbside recycling system.

"We have also now received some clarity around the Government’s ‘Simpler Recycling’ national strategy. This was published in October last year, and it outlines expectations around things like food waste collections and the range of recycling that should be collected, including cartons and flexible plastics. Following the publication of the strategy, the Government launched a consultation exercise and we are expecting to receive the finalised strategy soon, incorporating consultation feedback.

“It’s important that we consider the final version of the new national strategy when planning our waste harmonisation work, to ensure it aligns with the national strategy and that we fully understand the implications for our resources and how much the harmonisation programme will cost.

"For example, the resources – number of bins, wagons and crew - required to deliver green waste collections in Barrow are currently determined by the number of people signed up to pay for the service.

"If that service became free, to bring it in line with South Lakeland and Eden, that would likely result in more people in Barrow requesting the service – which means more bins needing to be purchased and delivered to the extra homes and possibly more wagons and staff required to empty the bins.

"If food waste is included in any future harmonised collection service the council will need to work out how it will collect that, buying and distributing suitable containers to residents and also how that waste will be transferred and processed.

"The whole harmonisation project is therefore complex and will require substantial logistical and contract changes. It will also take some time to get it right, and although work has already started in the first 12 months of the new authority it will be a while yet before we are in a position to roll-out a fully harmonised waste and recycling service across the whole of the new council area.

"Done correctly and carefully, harmonisation provides the opportunity for many benefits - including consistent collections, simplified and more convenient ways to recycle, more cost-effective contracts, integrated customer support and information, optimised routes and the economies of scale that come from serving such a large area, resulting in financial savings over time.

"We also have an opportunity to utilise the most up-to-date collection and treatment methods to help ensure that we meet our carbon neutrality targets by making sure as much as possible is reused, recycled or treated in a sustainable way.

"To allow for that harmonisation work, and an understanding of the implications of the new national strategy, it was decided that the best option, for now, is to continue to deliver waste and recycling services as they had been under the former district councils prior to 1 April 2023.

"This provides continuity and consistency for residents and minimises any service disruption. Your waste and recycling still gets emptied on the same days, on the same weeks and by the same crews as previously.

"However, that does mean that differences in the services in different areas also remain, and that will be the case again for 2024/25 while we continue the harmonisation process. So there are still different arrangements for collections over bank holidays, different frequencies of collection and different containers used, depending where in the new council area you live.

"It also means that the green waste service in Barrow will continue to be separately resourced and paid for by an additional charge on service users.

"We recognise that some people have raised concerns that this does not appear fair or balanced. We have been asked several times why the service is different in different areas when we are now one council.

"Unfortunately there isn’t a ‘quick fix’ to this situation, and even after nearly a year of the new council we have plenty of work still to do to ensure we are getting our plans right, to consult with our residents and to consider the many and complex logistical and financial implications, before we roll-out any changes to such an important service, relied on by so many people, across such a large area.

"We understand people’s frustrations on this issue, and we want to be open and honest with you about the background, the challenges and what we are doing about it.

"We are committed to making this work in the best interests of all our communities. It is a priority for the council and we will consult and engage fully with residents on any changes.’’

Councillor Dyan Jones - Westmorland and Furness Council Cabinet Member for Customer and Waste Services.