CROYDON COMMENTARY: Armed with his exemption letter from the council, telling him that his home was not suited to storing even one, never mind at least three, wheelie bins, IAN HUNTER set off to the public roadshows to hear what ‘advice’ is being offered to residents
I’ve been to two of the council-run roadshows being staged around the borough to try to explain how the new refuse bins system will work.
Last Thursday, I went along to North End, outside the Whitgift Centre, to see the Veolia comedy team, after a scouting expedition to the first roadshow in Thornton Heath High Street a week before (I was in the area). There, after some “intense” discussion with a charming young lady, she made a list of questions to be answered at the North End session.
After waiting a while because other members of the public were being brainwashed by the rubbish company’s policy (interpret “rubbish” any way you wish), I gained access to a young man who actually had in his possession responses to some of my questions, in a document authorised by Croydon Council, to whom my questions had been passed – Veolia not apparently being responsible for the events leading up to the surprise replacement for our refuse bins.
Croydon, of course, is not acting alone in all this. Our borough is part of the South London Waste Partnership, the SLWP, which includes Kingston, Merton and Sutton, and so offers contractors such as Veolia economies of scale when operating the same or similar rubbish collection services across this part of south London.
So my first question had been when the decision was taken by the SLWP to roll-out this wheelie bin nightmare. The answer seemed to suggest that it was based on surveys conducted by Veolia in 2013, 2016 and 2017, which showed an ever-increasing percentage of the population wanting to see an improvement in the collection rates for landfill items and cleanliness in the borough.
The magic figure for that survey in 2017 was, think, 74 per cent, but I cannot say for certain, as I was not given a personal copy of the reply, which seemed strange as it was a formal response to my questions.
Back at Thornton Heath, I had had a conversation with Councillor Stuart Collins, the cabinet member responsible for rubbish. One point I made to Cllr Collins was that what seemed curious was that under the previous, Conservative administration in Croydon, up to 2014, the percentage of recycling was 46 per cent, and rising.
I said that I had read somewhere that, under Labour, the rates had fallen to 35 per cent.
I did not get an explanation for the fall in recycling, although reference was made to residents’ apathy in using the existing system and the increase in population causing the creation of more rubbish that the current containers could cope with.
My second question was why were Veolia selected for the contract, apparently without competition, instead of conducting a proper evaluation of the reasons to assess if the existing arrangements could be improved?
It seems that all four SLWP councils have come to a decision without public consultation to completely change the status quo. In so doing, they failed (deliberately?) to look at the company at the heart of this mess – Veolia – and seek a properly conducted comprehensive tender process based on clearly defined council requirements. There was no official comment.
My third question asked when the public scrutiny took place before the contract was awarded. Funnily enough this question was not answered either.
I then asked Question Four: how did Veolia go about “assessing” if a property could accept the new bins?
Aside from being told “by personal visit”, it would seem that the council, not Veolia, used Google maps to look at aerial photographs of the borough and scaled up the street images to forecourt and other frontages which, they said, could accept the new bins.
The answer to the council’s self-posed question on its leaflets, “What if I don’t have space for the new bins”, indicated they had “surveyed” (which implies a much more robustly conducted process) the borough and that they believed space exists.
Note, though, the use of the word “believe“. There is no certainty here.
Such is their lack of confidence they added “if you are genuinely struggling” – an officious insult to those who know full well they have no space – “get in touch and we will visit your property and assess and if necessary…” note the bullying implication “… make alternative arrangements.” They do not say anywhere in their leaflets that I could see, what those alternative arrangements might be.
As part of my discussion with the Veolia representative outside the Whitgift Centre last week, I drew a small plan of the frontage of our home to show him the stupidity of putting three wheelie bins at my gate.
I pointed out that I did not have gateposts or a gate, but if I did and was forced to accept the bins I would not be able to open my gate. As it is, there is a 6in step from my property to the pavement which the binmen would have to negotiate.
If, in the interests of speed and efficiency, instead of putting back the bin on my property (two bins on the occasions a paper bin and landfill bin were emptied), they were left on the pavement, contrary to local laws, my Veolia adviser admitted that the company would be fined, not me. This would make an interesting legal conundrum for both Veolia and the council.
As an adjunct to this issue, in terms of this scheme saving money and being good for the environment, I read an article in which the writer wondered who would explain how this improvement would manifest itself if a dustman taking (say) six or more wheelie bins from six houses (or more when converted to flats, of which there are many in my street), trundle along the street to spaces between cars, wait for six or more bins to be mechanically emptied while six times as much air pollution is being churned out by the refuse lorry, that also uses six times the fuel, and then waste their time having to take the bins back to their owners; not forgetting six times the pollution from the vehicles stuck behind them.
How will this be cheaper and more environmentally friendly than one dustman’s journey to the lorry with the contents of six recycling boxes in his large wheelie bins?
If ever a time and motion study into this proposed new arrangement was needed before its introduction, this is the occasion. Was this ever done?
My fifth question on the cost of the new bin compared with the cost of the lidded boxes had, I think, been misinterpreted. The answer which came back was that the difference between the cost was £10. This was not what I asked, but I was told that the information had come from the council. I therefore asked where, amid all the Veolia advisers at the road show, were council representatives who might be able to add clarification to a document purported to have been generated by that our local authority?
I was directed to a man who, having read what his council colleagues had written in response to my questions, took my details with the intention of providing a formal response to me.
In return, I asked him his name.
And so it is that between them, Cllr Collins, the SLWP and Veolia had unwittingly managed to create for me a reunion with someone with whom I had not been in touch for more than a dozen years.
For this was the very same council official who, in 2005, had written to me to confirm that my property was unsuitable for the stowage of wheelie bins.
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