CROYDON IN CRISIS: Council agreed to pay its rubbish contractor an extra £20.7m while it reduced the services they are expected to deliver, leaving the borough’s streets ever dirtier.
EXCLUSIVE by SANJANA IDNANI
Around 1,000 bins have been vanished from Croydon’s streets since 2018, according to official council figures provided through a Freedom of Information request.
Fewer bins on our streets mean that there’s fewer stops on the contractors’ rounds to empty them, and therefore much less work for the council’s rubbish contractors, Veolia.
Of course, it also leads to increasingly rubbish-strewn streets.
Yet at the same time that two-thirds of the borough’s streets bins have mysteriously “disappeared” and the level of service provided by Veolia reduced, Croydon Council has nonetheless increased the amount that it pays Veolia by £20.7million.
According to the council’s own website, there are meant to be approximately 1,500 on-street litter bins across the borough. But residents’ group Litter Free Norbury say that this figure is “complete rubbish”.
Litter Free Norbury’s founder, Tony Hooker, submitted a Freedom of Information request for Veolia’s asset register and bin maps. The register and maps are supposed to be updated regularly.
The register and bin maps show that by 2020 there were fewer than 500 on-street bins in Croydon; 61 bins had been removed from the Norbury area alone over the last three years.
And while Croydon’s streets become ever more dirty, Veolia is making even more money from the borough’s Council Tax-payers.
In 2017, Veolia secured a £209million eight-year contract with the South London Waste Partnership, where Croydon is one of four borough clients.
The additional £20.7million from Croydon was negotiated last year – in the middle of the council’s financial collapse – in a deal supposed to “protect” the borough’s three recycling centres, two of which may, in any case, be under threat of closure.
The cosy additional payment to Veolia by the cash-strapped council will have been overseen by Steven Iles, the Croydon’s rubbish “director of public realm”, and was made with the approval of Stuart Collins, then the council’s deputy leader.
The council has said that it has not authorised the removal of any bins since 2018. Yet over the same period, there appears to have been no efforts made to replace any of the 1,000 missing bins. And that means there’s even more money to boost Veolia’s bottom line: according to Veolia sources, Croydon is paying its contractors £10,000 per year for what seem to be non-existent replacement bins.
Veolia’s maps are supposed to be audited and updated on an annual basis and council officials are supposed to monitor the situation to ensure proper bin services are provided.
But the council monitoring officer for Norbury, Duncan Turner, seems to be entirely ignorant of the rubbish situation in his ward. According to Hooker, Turner insists that “the streets are always clean.”
Hooker said, “Turner must be looking at a different Norbury, because that is not our experience. Particularly in the evening and at weekends, our streets are riddled with litter.”
Vicky Bruce, a volunteer with Friends of Norbury Park, confirmed this. She told Inside Croydon that there are far fewer bins and this has made a big impact on the amount of litter she is seeing around the area.
Council officials have even tried to suggest that none of the shopkeepers on Norbury’s London Road wants the bins because… the streets are so clean.
On a walkabout along the high street conducted this June, in the presence of Councillor Muhammad Ali (the cabinet member responsible for the state of our streets), Turner actually told Hooker and other astonished residents that local businesses had made no demands for new or additional bins to help deal with the rubbish state of the road.
Yet Litter Free Norbury has spoken to more than 60 businesses on London Road, and all of them said they were in favour of more bins. According to Hooker, many expressed frustration with the accumulating litter on their doorsteps.
Confronted with the disparity between the state of the streets and the council’s defence of Veolia, Turner said, “You have Big Belly Bins here which can hold seven times more waste than the normal bins. So you need seven times fewer bins.”
It was another labour-saving measure supposed to reduce the workload of Veolia, but the Big Belly Bins have proved to be less than wholly successful.
“They are simply an over-engineered solution to a rubbish problem,” according to a source at the council.
“They do break down, and when they do, they fail to compress the rubbish deposited in them which gives them the promised capacity.
“But while each Big Belly Bin might have a larger capacity than conventional bins, having fewer bins along the streets provides less amenity for the public, offering fewer places to deposit their rubbish responsibly. And so you get more rubbish on the streets.”
Veolia, meanwhile, continues to rake in profits from the council, with rarely any sanction for poor or non-existent services.
In 2015, Veolia had its Croydon payments reduced by £180,000 for missing thousands of bin collections during that summer. The company’s contract was renewed soon after.
Recent events suggest little has changed – this summer, the twin excuses of Brexit and covid have been offered by Veolia for a lack of HGV drivers and therefore a spate on missed rubbish collections.
Council officials continue to appear to be on the side of the contractors, praising their performance, even when local councillors try to get improved, or even simply adequate, services.
Litter Free Norbury told Inside Croydon that their ward councillors, Leila Ben-Hassel and Shafi Khan, had been trying to tackle the issue for several years but were seeing little or no action from Veolia-friendly council officials.
Litter Free Norbury have themselves attempted to contact the council’s rubbish director, Steven Iles. They have received no reply.
But after many weeks of efforts by the residents’ group, they say that they have an indication from council official Duncan Turner that he is about to recommend the reinstatement of a couple of bins at rubbish hotspots on Norbury high street.
But the residents regard the offer as, well, “a bit rubbish”. The council has refused to commit to the reinstatement of all 60 of Norbury’s street-side bins that were included on Veolia’s contract but which have somehow vanished.
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