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HART FAILS TO SORT GREEN WASTE

WHAT’S GOING ON WITH OUR RUBBISH COLLECTIONS?

GARDEN WASTE SUSPENSION

With the slight easing of lockdown and people returning to work, councils have been hard at work resuming normal services…or have they? Over the period of lockdown there has been an accumulation of rubbish, including green garden waste. Unfortunately this isn’t a service Hart offer free of charge, instead it is a paid for service that you can opt into.

Despite other areas continuing with collections, the service was suspended on March 24th in both Hart and Basingstoke & Deane, as priority was given to collection of regular household and recycling waste. The two councils share the same waste contractor, Serco, which Hart negotiated and controls on behalf of both areas. This cancellation allowed the weekly collection in Basingstoke and Dean to continue up until 20th April, when they downgraded to fortnightly collections…something Hart has to contend with anyway as normal practice. Other areas who also stopped green waste have now resumed their services. Hart has not.

Since that time, local tips and recycling centres have started opening again with safety measures and social distancing in place as desperate residents flock to them to dispose of the waste mountain that has accumulated during lockdown. Queues of up to three hours are being reported as people spend their free time stuck in their vehicles awaiting their turn at the tip as the temperature soars. While a backlog was to be expected this is an uncomfortable situation to say the least.

So with temperatures increasing and people spending more and more time in their gardens, what of green waste? That’s the question many are asking as collections have still not been restarted despite the availability of other services for many weeks now. The advice from Hart District Council is merely to ‘make a compost heap’…and if you’ve done that there is a fair chance the heap is now a mountain, as reports of rat infestations increase across the area.

HEALTH BENEFITS

As well as the obvious benefits to physical health in a time where movement is restricted, there has also been a huge focus on mental health during these uncertain times and gardening has long been heralded as a major help in the battle against depression and anxiety. The combination of fresh air, exercise and simply working with nature has an unbeatable therapeutic effect, so why are residents being left to choose between working in their gardens and either a) spending hours trying to dispose of it (if they have transport and are able to leave the house), or b) creating a possible health hazard in their homes? CCH Councillor James Radley, a member of Hart District Council, stated this on the Community Campaign Hart website in response to peoples concerns:

Comment by CCH Hart District Councillor James Radley:

“There has been a lot of angst over this in social media. If not having your green waste collected is such a big problem for you that it is actually one of the things bothering you right now then you are really lucky. There are many people, right across our society whose lives are being ripped inside out for a variety of reasons. Green waste collections being suspended so that Hart personnel can be drafted in to do other things really isn’t one of them.”

Below: Community Campaign Hart Website (before deletion).

It now looks as though Community Campaign Hart have removed the comment, as well as the information about green waste services from their main page, possibly a wise decision after the anger from residents at the uncaring and unprofessional attitude from someone who is meant to be representing them, an irony from a council promoting mental health concerns.

DEAFENING SILENCE

The Hart cabinet member for rubbish, CCH Councillor Alan Oliver, has been rather conspicuous by his absence during all this…and not for the first time either. Cllr Oliver helped negotiate the contract with Serco on behalf of Hart District Council, which has been plagued with poor service and problems from the start.

Councillor Steve Forster tried contacting Councillor Oliver on behalf of residents to discuss the issues but received a point blank refusal to answer any questions. Instead, Cllr Oliver stated that he would not reply and that Cllr Forster should go through other channels and contact Hart officers instead. Cllr Forster did this and was told that there was no reason why Cllr Oliver could not have responded to his enquiry. Rather shabby behaviour from someone who is meant to be in charge of this debacle.

Councillor Steve Forster stated:

“I asked the Hart cabinet member for rubbish (Cllr Oliver) about restarting green bin collections. He refused to answer me, so I formally requested Hart officers restarted green waste collections this week, in line with HCC reopening the HWRC ‘tips’. If they couldn’t restart, I requested officers explain the reasons that it couldn’t be restarted.

Restarting green bin collections would help residents and also reduce pressure on the HWRC, as they expect long queues. The answer I received is:

“I can confirm that the joint waste client team are working with Serco on preparation of a recovery plan for waste services that have been suspended across the joint waste contract. Details of this plan will be released once it has been agreed.

Whilst thankfully the level of staff sickness has been low, staff availability across the contract has been affected by the need for some staff to self isolate. It is hoped that this availability will improve over the coming weeks and officers will continue to monitor the situation closely.“

Below: Councillor for rubbish Alan Oliver (standing left), pictured with Serco’s regional director Jason Kinsella. Photo: Basingstoke Gazette.

Councillor Forster continued:

I’ll continue working with colleagues to push for this service restarted as soon as possible. The delay, in what is a paid for service, seems excessive – along with the absence of accountability or visibility by the Hart cabinet member responsible for rubbish.

Note government guidelines state the public should stay at home as much as possible to stop coronavirus spreading. Please consider before making a trip to an HWRC whether it is essential for public health or safety if your waste is disposed of at this time. If not, please delay your trip.

Note The HWRC will take all normal household waste except textiles and chargeable waste streams (soil, rubble, plasterboard and asbestos). Please do not take those items to site – note there may be long queues, and cctv is in use extensively.”

So can we at least have a refund for the services we are paying for and not receiving? Nope and here’s why (from Hart District Council website) – oh and please note, recycling centres/tips are now open again so that particular comment is out of date:

Q: Can I have a refund for garden waste?

Sorry no, but your subscription will be paused and then re-started when the service does so you will still receive a full year of collections for your annual service charge.

Q: Why can’t I have a refund?

Our staff are focused on providing key and essential services and we will not have the resource to carry out refunds.  The service ‘Terms and Conditions’ state that the cost of the service is non-refundable. Although you will miss collections while the service is suspended. The number of collections to which you have subscribed will remain the same and your contract end will be changed to reflect this.

Q: How else can I dispose of garden waste?

Please consider making a compost heap at home. HWRCs  are now closed. For information on composting containers please visit www.getcomposting.com

Q: When will garden waste collections start again?

We do not know when collections will resume, but we will give customers as much notice as we can before they recommence

THE BLAME GAME

There have been many questions by local residents to Hart District Council over the situation and when it will be resumed. Most have simply gone unanswered but CCH Councillor Wendy Makepeace-Brown did reply to one resident:

“Please be advised that: Hart officers and Councillors have been working with Serco and Basingstoke & Deane Borough Council to get the green bin collections reinstated, and both Hart and Serco are really keen to get this service back up and running urgently (for obvious resident reasons). All 3 parties of this shared service contract are in discussions to understand how it can be achieved, but unfortunately at the moment, the Conservative led B&D Borough Council is not ‘in a position to agree’ to the service reinstatement and without their ACTIVE support, it is impractical for the service to be delivered for the time being.”

When Councillor Makepeace-Brown was asked what she meant by ‘active support’, why it was impractical for the service to be delivered, and if it was wise to share services such as this, she responded:

“Shared service is common place at local council level and normally works well. In this case there is an internal situation at BDBC and I can’t comment on that as I am not part of it. Perhaps one of your Conservative chums can get to the bottom of it for you as BCBD currently has a Conservative Administration. Regards Wendy”

The local resident replied to the Councillors disparaging remark by saying:

” I am disappointed by your comment “Conservative chums”, as you are aware I contact councillors from all parties when trying to find out information or to get things done, and some are more responsive than others. In elections I think it is important to vote for a councillor who represents the residents, hence over the years I have voted for councillors from different parties depending on their views.”

Councillor Makepeace-Brown refused to comment further.

Below: Community Campaign Hart comment blaming BDBC.

Below: Response from Basingstoke Conservatives.

MANY QUESTIONS, NO ANSWERS?

The situation shows no sign of reaching a conclusion at this time as waste mountains continue to grow and fly tipping increases, there is also an added risk of dried out garden waste becoming a fire hazard in hot conditions as the UK hits the hottest day of the year. The whole situation raises many questions including the obvious “When will Hart green waste services resume?”…no luck with that one, so here are a few more you might want to ponder…

“Isn’t it time Hart thought twice about resuming their contract with Serco given the current problems and past issues?”

“Why have other councils resumed services (or never even suspended them) and Hart can’t sort this out?”

“Is it acceptable for the cabinet minister for rubbish to simply ignore questions sent regarding the situation, especially from another Councillor?”

“Why can’t Hart have weekly bin collections if Basingstoke can?”

“How will Hart address the added environmental and health concerns that extra trips to the local dump are causing and will they accept the added pressure they are putting on them with their failure to resume green waste services?”

“Why haven’t Hart warned local residents about fire risks with dried out piles of garden waste in hot temperatures?”

Franky it’s unlikely that we’ll get any answers but with residents being forced to pay for additional private waste disposal services (on top of the one they are still paying for but not receiving), in a time where finances are stretched thin, how much longer will this go on for and what allowances will Hart make for all the extra waste that has now accumulated? There has been speculation that with Basingstoke and Deane residents wanting both their weekly household rubbish collections back and their green waste service resumed, Hart may be left at the back of the queue, but with both Hart and Serco appearing to claim that there are no problems with shortages of resources, why can’t they just get on with it? The wait continues…although local patience is in very short supply indeed.

*** UPDATE ***

Today, the day after our article on the subject, has seen an update to the green waste farce in Hart with an incredulous announcement from Community Campaign Hart that states the services will “resume mid-June (exact date tbc)”. For some reason they hailed this as ‘great news’ and told local residents already struggling with awful amounts of rubbish that “In the meantime, HWRC’s are now open for excess garden waste. Please, do not fly tip, it is illegal and penalties are very high.”.

Below: Community Campaign Hart announcement 21/05/20

It is understood that the statement is unofficial as there has been no formal announcement from Hart District Council yet, so it was somewhat of a surprise that Community Campaign Hart decided to announce this on social media, especially with their high regard of going through official channels.

Councillor Steve Forster, who has been fighting the cause for local residents stated:

“There’s been nothing from Hart Council officially but we hope there will be an announcement later today, acting on residents complaints and our raising of concerns over the past few weeks.

I publicised my concerns repeatedly and understand council officers have responded positively.

I will be disappointed if service can’t restart in the next week or so as there’s been indication that Hart was ready immediately, and it was awaiting Basingstoke and Deane Borough Council – which we understand was not correct.

Any further delays on restarting the service increases pressure on the HWRC and risks more fly tipping.

I will be delighted when service does restart, especially after one cabinet member dismissively stated it wasn’t a priority for his political group.”

Let’s hope common sense prevails and the June date is swiftly bumped up, or Hart and CCH will have a much bigger mess on their hands than just a green waste mountain.

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