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14/02/2017 - Potentially illegal DIY charging at the County’s tips

West Sussex county council’s Labour councillors have written to Tory Cabinet Member for Residents’ Services David Barling calling for an immediate lifting of charges for household DIY waste including plasterboard and hardcore amidst anecdotal reports of large increases in fly tipping across all Boroughs and Districts in the county, and a massive diminution of hard-core being disposed in the councils’ Household Waste and Recycling Centres (HWRCs) since the charges began.

In addition, the Labour Group has tabled an amendment to this Friday’s full meeting of the county council, where its annual budget is being decided, which would restore sufficient funding to the HWRS service, so that the charges that have been introduced on DIY waste by the Tory-controlled authority can be abolished.

The decision to introduce charging for DIY materials was pushed through by the Cabinet Member, and supported by the Tory majority of the council at last July’s meeting of the county council, despite opposition from virtually all the councillors from the opposition parties, and independents;

Charges were subsequently introduced for items such as soil, hard-core, plasterboard and tyres. Such items are charged at £4 per rubble bag or part bag, or per item or per sheet of plasterboard. In addition, the rubble bags (55cm x 85cm) have to be bought by residents from DIY stores.

The public consultation undertaken by the county council before the decision was taken had also shown there was a significant majority of respondents against the introduction of these charges.

This week’s upcoming Full Council will be the first opportunity for councillors to reverse this decision, since Storrington & Sullington Parish Council received correspondence last month from a senior civil servant in the policy department of the Department of Communities and Local Government (DCLG) confirming that “waste disposal sites should not be charging for household DIY waste in any rate”.

The lack of clarity over the legality of local authorities such as West Sussex charging for household DIY waste has been steadily growing, with the DCLG warning that not only could the county council be open to a successful judicial review challenge of its actions, but that current legislation would allow Ministerial intervention.

Responding to developments in October 2016, a DCLG spokesperson said, “We are determined to boost recycling and that’s why we have brought in legislation to stop councils charging residents for household waste. Guidance is clear that should include any household waste from DIY… We expect local authorities to offer clarity about free-to-dispose household waste and about what charges apply. We will take action against any council that is found to be charging for household waste.”

In November, Hampshire county council announced it was putting further changes to its HWRCs on hold until October 2017 while it sought further clarity on its proposed changes with the Government. In the same month, Derbyshire county council also confirmed it was putting plans to charge on hold until it got greater clarity.

Guidance from the charity WRAP (Waste and Resources Action Programme), supported by the Government, states “DIY waste is classed as household waste if it results from work a householder would normally carry out”.

Examples of construction and demolition waste from households could include doors and windows; fitted kitchens; fitted wardrobes; inert material such as rubble, concrete, bricks and roof tiles; plasterboard; soil from landscaping activities; and any other building materials.

In their letter to the Cabinet Member, Labour councillors cautioned:

“We believe officers at the county council, under pressure to find cuts to the department’s budget, have taken an interpretation of the law and facts of the situation which while no doubt favourable for the county council, give us considerable grounds for concern about its accuracy, or that it would fail to be upheld if challenged in a court of law. The council appears to be deliberately choosing to decide that all of the waste items listed above are commercial, and therefore chargeable, when they clearly can originate from household waste.”

Labour County Councillor Michael Jones (Southgate and Crawley Central), who wrote the letter on behalf of Labour councillors, said:

"The ‘Tory tip tax’ was forced through, it was the wrong decision then, and now there’s a fairly good chance that it was not legal to introduce charges in the first place, or that it won’t be long before the Government makes the county council reverse them anyway.

“Common sense would suggest the council abolishes it now, taking into account all the reports coming back of the serious increases in fly tipping.

“That there has been a diminution in hard-core is one of the most alarming parts of this. If it’s not going in the right places at the HWRS tips, it must mean much of it is being hidden in the domestic waste. Our district and borough domestic waste grinders and at our MBT plants simply won’t cope and it will cost a fortune to replace them.

“While we did not agree with the West Sussex Tories’ decision to introduce the charges, and indeed accurately warned them of all the short-sighted, damaging things that would happen if they went ahead, at no time did we realise that it may not even have been their right to do this.

“Let’s just end this once and for all and reverse all charges, so there’s no chance there will be any breach of the law.”

Labour county councillor Brian Quinn (Broadfield) agreed with Cllr Jones, adding:

"There is enough of a problem with fly tipping as it is, without the council putting up additional barriers. Why should my residents, and in fact all the residents in the county have to put up with this? They pay their council tax for what they rightly think should be a free service at the point they need to use it. And actually they’re set to pay a good deal more when the Tories put up the council tax by 4% this month, so I think the residents should see something for their money.”

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