Agenda item

Pre-decision Scrutiny of the Future Provision of Household Waste Recycling centres (including Usk).


Officer Carl Touhig presented the report.


Do the savings on staff, reduced hours and day closures include Usk?

The day closures and savings through reduced hours are separate from Usk – it hasn’t been included in those figures. The closure of Usk is a £40k saving in its own right; the £240k saving for the day closures and additional hours is set across the other three sites.

Is the £40k reduction just for this financial year, or every year?

It is an in-year saving for this year. The site is currently open 5 days a week (50 hours per week), with 2 staff on site. This is where the saving comes from – roughly £20k per member of staff. With the current closure due to the pandemic, those staff are working at some of the bigger sites to help manage the Covid response. Viridor has agreed to give us the £40k this year, provided the site is closed, because they would then go in and clear the skips, take away the office facility, etc. The savings from our perspective are just on staff this year; we don’t know what the savings would be next year but I would assume that without 2 staff on site for 50 hours, we would definitely save £40k next year. Not moving skips from Usk to Llanfoist will save more money again. I don’t know what the total amount saved would be, but I would expect it to be around £60k next year if Usk is closed.

What is the answer to concerns that closing the site would increase the traffic and amount of travelling across Monmouthshire, especially in light of the council’s Green Futures aim?

The distance travelled for everyone can be reduced by using the kerbside collections. In response to the argument of air pollution and carbon, the kerbside recycling is the best way forward. This stops pollution, and anyone needing to travel anywhere. Usk already has a problem with air pollution in the town centre – we therefore need to ask if it is right that, pre-Covid, we were bringing 170+ cars and large lorries through Usk each day to service the site, thus adding to the problem.

Has a ‘halfway’ solution been considered e.g. having a site elsewhere, perhaps in the County Council car park, which could use CCTV and therefore be unmanned?

We did look at moving the Usk facility somewhere else in Usk, but people don’t want waste sites next to them. I am not convinced that we would get planning permission for a waste facility on the Rhadyr site or the riverside site, given the flood risk. Additional sites have not been popular in Usk, such as the additional AD plant and Biomass plant, among others, so another waste facility is unlikely to get planning permission, and permitting has to be acquired on top of that. National Resources Wales would certainly look at the flood risk for opening another facility anywhere in Usk. Today, if we tried to open the Usk site where it is now, I don’t think we would get planning permission or permitting for a site so close to residential properties in a flood zone.

What is the consideration for the greatest impact of closure being on elderly residents?

There is a growing number of elderly across Monmouthshire, and we understand that we need to work with everyone across the county. It is not our intention to overlook the elderly. The comprehensive kerbside service is the best way for the elderly to deal with their waste. There have been a lot of queries by proxy, asking how the elderly will get their waste to site if they can’t drive, but we don’t see a large number of elderly people walking into the site. We are always looking to improve the kerbside service, and the amount of materials that we can collect, but people have to use it.

If kerbside collection is the only way forward, how much work has been done to increase what can be recycled at the kerbside? What about better education?

When people started using the kerbside collection more at the start of the pandemic, we saw a big increase in recycling – this is what we need to continue, and we need to continue with the message that proper kerbside recycling is the best way forward. Personally, as a Torfaen resident, if I go to the facility there once a year, it is once too often. I don’t see why the majority of people should use the facilities that often, yet 71% of Usk residents at the site are there once a week. If that level of waste is genuinely being created, we need a different education campaign – one which suggests lessening the amount being purchased that then needs to be discarded. The message should be about reduction of waste, rather than focussing on sites.

If the site is this bad, why wasn’t something done sooner, before reaching a crisis point?

We haven’t let Usk get to a crisis point. We have known about the works needed there for a while, and have already invested in the site to keep it running. It has always been poor performing, with the rest of Monmouthshire being high performing and able to carry Usk. We had the survey work done with Eunomia on site in 2018, which highlighted the issue with the drainage. The report was then put together in 2019 proposing the site’s closure. Matters such as these take time to be processed. There wasn’t a crisis point, but everyone else is doing more. We were faced with potential fines of upwards of £120k last year, and we needed to make decisions about how we would drive up recycling rates – that is when Usk’s closure was considered.

We use Viridor on our sites. When Torfaen cancelled this service, they saved £167,000 a year – was this possibility explored?

Viridor operated the kerbside collection bulking facility in Torfaen, which the council took back in-house. Torfaen’s household waste recycling centres are run by FCC, a company similar to Viridor. It therefore wasn’t quite as simple as the council taking the service back – it was a very different service that they were operating. We have looked at bringing the service in-house here as part of the tender process, and we are quite happy to consider that if the tenders come back at a price where we feel we could do the service ourselves at the same cost.

As garden waste affects everyone in the county, but Usk’s closure only affects Usk residents, surely the survey response numbers aren’t comparable?

I hope to have done justice to the Usk responses – there were a lot of them and I have tried to answer them.

In terms of the elderly population, the point about better kerbside recycling is noted, but some things are still unrecyclable and need to be taken to a centre – an older population will find this difficult, and Usk’s proportion of elderly is greater than, say, Chepstow.

There is a more elderly demographic in Usk, but the kerbside facilities should be used to support them. Many of the letters we received were from older people saying that they use the site every day. What we are trying to do is encourage better use of the kerbside facilities, and move the residents away from relying on these sites, especially as the Usk site is so poor performing, with so many black bags going into it. There will be a bigger element of travel for residents of Usk to other sites, but not if they use the kerbside system. There are some materials that can’t be recycled at the kerbside, but we offer other solutions: Homemakers will come and collect three bulky items for £15, which is a very good scheme.

Usk Town Council has always made up shortfalls in cost when told by MCC that there is a problem, e.g. the Hub, Post Office, renovations, etc. – could they not be given a chance in this situation, too?

Cost sharing has not been discussed with Usk Town Council, and they have not offered to shares costs, to my knowledge. It’s not just about the cost of running the facility; it is about achieving our recycling rates. For the waste that goes into Usk, if we miss our targets by the same proportion of waste, we will pay almost £200k in fines. I’m not sure how those costs would be shared with Usk Town Council – it is not just the cost of £40k, which is a relatively small one, compared to the potential fines.

In terms of disproportionate costs, Usk surely can’t be compared with urban centres, as it’s more rural?

Five Lanes is not an urban site, it is a rural site that services urban areas. Residents of urban areas (Caldicot and Chepstow) travel to Five Lanes, which is relatively rural. In having to do so, they think about the waste they are taking, and recycle more. That is the data that we have. In Usk, the ease of access is driving bad behaviour. The site is also too small, but there is a larger number of black bags being taken to the site than we would see at Five Lanes.

Usk presents 25% Black Bags, which is the same as at the other sites, as is garden waste at 30%, so why are the numbers a particular problem for Usk?

The charts with those figures are the residents’ perceptions of what they bring to the sites. The numbers are not reflected in what is actually brought to the sites. There is a much larger amount of black bags brought into Usk than the 25% figure assumed by users. The actual data is that 53% of waste at Usk is black bags. We have agreed, and are about to implement, black bag sorting at all the sites, which will include Usk if it stays open. This would be very difficult at Usk though, because we lack the facilities to take that material and put it somewhere else. This is a big concern when it comes to black bag sorting.

Is it possible to have a receptacle for small electrical items in Usk?

Some of the bigger supermarkets have offered to take small electrical items; we could look at whether that could be done in Usk. The difficulty with unmanned recycling facilities is that they attract a lot of flytipping, which is why they were removed in the beginning. There were also incidences of arson at some Torfaen sites. But we could look at having a small WE (Waste Electrical) bin in Usk.

Emphasising that Usk residents could use the new green waste scheme, what is the response to elderly residents concerned about being able to move a wheelie bin?

There was some confusion evident in the survey responses that we are reducing the garden waste scheme – this is not the case. We are looking at a different option i.e. bins instead of bags.

Does green waste help with recycling targets? If so, if we take Usk away, will that affect these?

Green waste contributes to our targets, whether through the HWRC or the kerbside scheme.

Could black bags simply be refused, as at Crickhowell, for example?

The Bring sites in Powys take a range of domestic recyclate – paper, cans, plastic bottles, etc. – which we collect at the kerbside. Powys now collects more at the kerb too, and has therefore now reduced its number of sites. They took out the unmanned skips that were at the unmanned Bring sites because of the abuse that they got.

I’m sceptical that we would need planning permission for another site?

We can look at Bring sites. I wasn’t suggesting earlier that we would need planning permission for these, though we probably would. I was suggesting that a full-blown recycling centre would definitely need planning permission and NRW permitting. That is not to say we couldn’t have small bins or skips like the supermarkets used to have – we could probably do something with that idea. However, those would only take material that can currently be put out for kerbside collection. So we would rather push people to use that system more, especially as Bring sites create problems with flytipping.

The £30k expected cost for upgrades is a capital item, and is not therefore costed in one year, but is spread across the number of years it depreciates over – so it could be as little as £5k, if spread over 6 years?

This is correct: it is capital money that could be spread across a number of years. The report intended to highlight that the cost needs to be spent in general, regardless of however that spending actually happens.

£40k is given as the annual cost but we’re already halfway through this year, so the saving would actually only be £20k in the current year if the site were closed immediately.

£40k was agreed with Viridor. If the site must close, they would give us a £40k saving this year, regardless of what point we are in the year. As we get closer to the end of the year, obviously that’s going to change, and Viridor will not pass those costs back to us. With Usk being so small, we wouldn’t suggest that it re-open at the moment with Covid continuing – we can’t manage the site and manage Covid safety. I understand that people are saying to give Usk a chance to improve, but it certainly wouldn’t be a recommendation from officers to re-open the Usk site with the pandemic continuing.

Councillors’ general comments:

Councillor Laura Jones: Geographically, Monmouthshire lends itself to having more than one recycling centre; it is credit to the council that we have more than one in the county, but we should remember that that is necessary. The Usk closure would have the greatest impact on the elderly, while for those able to travel it will increase the traffic and amount of travelling across Monmouthshire. While it has been rightly observed that everyone else does that, it doesn’t make it any better that Usk would have to also do so. I therefore have some concerns in that regard. The kerbside behaviour has improved during the pandemic. We must do everything we can to actively encourage that. Much of the evidence that we received showed that greater education is needed – I agree that this is something the committee and council need to look into for the other sites, if not for Usk going forward. I share the concerns that Usk’s safety is below standard, and that £30k is required to improve it, car parking spaces could be increased, etc. There are certainly positives to the closure option. But, it has become clear that even though the kerbside collection is increasing, the residents don’t feel that their needs are being fulfilled.

Councillor Batrouni: Yes, Five Lanes is a rural site but it services an urban population, and therefore the demographic and usage are presumably different. Of course, Usk needs to improve, but the residents are asking for the time to make that improvement, working in conjunction with the Town Council – it seems that message is being ignored. I would like this committee to see the business plan regarding bringing the costs in-house, when it is ready. Torfaen reputedly halved their costs when they did that – an equivalent saving would be significant for MCC, and would help with any Usk business plan. In terms of the potential fines being discussed, any fine would be applied countywide, and would not be applicable to a Town Council. There should have been a conversation with Usk Town Council about sharing the operating cost of £30k, and additional transport cost of £60k. I propose, in line with the Cabinet’s focus on local services, that we give Usk more time, informing the residents of the issues and asking for a practicable, workable plan to deliver what is needed.

Councillor Easson: We don’t seem to have sufficient monitoring of black bags at any of our sites. I agree with Councillor Batrouni that we should review this matter over the next period, rather than make a decision today. If we monitor the situation more closely, Usk might end up in a better position than it is now. Car parking is a problem, but we should look at how we can use Usk in a better way. Perhaps we should also look at the number of days that it could be open, and encourage everyone – at all the sites – not to dump black bags. I would like to see further surveys done and initiatives taken. I think that including figures in the report that aren’t factual, but represent people’s impressions, is confusing. I have no problem with the hours being reduced from 8-4 but I would like this to be re-assessed in April next year. I am also happy with additional day closures at Five Lanes and Llanfoist, and for Item E to go ahead.

Councillor Webb: I thank the officers for putting together the number of detailed reports and reading materials. I suggest that if a WE bin were installed in Usk, residents would monitor use to ensure it wasn’t misused.

Councillor Smith: It is a matter of money. If this service is continued at a cost of £40k, members need to consider where the money will come from i.e. from which other service will the money be taken. And the service certainly can’t be retained in its current condition. There are many problems. I liked Alison’s logic that the Council Tax of 20 properties in Usk would cover the cost of the site, but we deliver many other services from that tax. It is quite intriguing to consider what people are putting in black bags so frequently. The inability to sort at Usk is an important point – the site is very constrained. We should also note that Torfaen has access to grants money that is not available to Monmouthshire. Torfaen shows how recycling should be done, and I would encourage members to go and see proper segregation and sorting of items. I have a strong concern about the skip’s removal from the site in Usk: given the car park location and the small streets, it is a danger and a pollutant. It is regrettable to lose any service but we need to look to the future, including the positive point of having more parking spaces – I have been unsuccessful in finding a space on numerous occasions when going to the doctors.

Councillor Howarth: I am fearful of ‘tinkering’ with waste, and the ramifications of taking a facility away, particularly in regards to recycling targets, as well as the implications for bonfires and waste burning. There are successful sites at Crickhowell and Llangynidyr that don’t take black bags, perhaps Usk could be retained in this fashion. I believe that we need to investigate further, including whether Usk Town Council can provide some of these facilities.

Councillor Powell: I support what Councillor Smith said. My main concern is not to stop anything but having a waste facility at the edge of a car park doesn’t feel right or safe. It seems a Bring site somewhere else would be safer. There are as many elderly people in Abergavenny, and as Abergavenny residents, we only go to a recycling site once or twice a year. We find we can recycle everything we need to at the kerbside. Yes, a lot of the elderly can’t drive, but surely it’s safer for them to use the kerbside facilities.

Councillor Clarke: Alison’s presentation was very good, as were the officer’s responses. As an authority, we are going to spend £150m this year – despite Covid – so I don’t think it should be beyond us to somehow find the amount needed to ensure the site’s continuation. I would urge the council to use mathematical and practical sense to resolve this matter. Usk should be given a chance to improve, and if it doesn’t, it would then deserve to be closed.

Councillor Groucott: I have been very impressed by the arguments put forward by the residents of Usk, and would therefore support the notion of finding a way forward with them that saves the facility. Travelling to a site elsewhere assumes that time would be given at other facilities to the extra traffic, but the report also says that time at the other sites will be reduced. That doesn’t make much sense to me. I think it shows that the intention is to cut the service, rather than improve it.

Councillor Thomas: I support what Councillors Groucott and Batrouni have said. At the Members’ Seminar, I was more sceptical about the Usk site, and I can understand the officers’ concerns, but Usk has made a very strong case today. There have been many responses, and the Town Council is clearly behind the movement to keep the facility in some form. If the residents and Town Council want to go into a joint venture of sorts to subsidise the facility, then that is their choice. I hope that this is a true consultation today. I agree with Councillor Clarke that the money being discussed is not a huge amount – we should look at it, and not make too hasty a decision, which otherwise appears to be the case. I think there is need for reconsideration.

Councillor Woodhouse: I have been struck by how the residents are clearly missing this facility while it is temporarily shut. I would like to see consideration given to some sort of unmanned facilities while we are in this crisis, and as a possible way forward for the future. I’m sure the people of Usk could monitor such a facility themselves to prevent misuse.

Chair’s Summary:

We have considered the low recycling rate at Usk, and that it is the worst performing site in Wales. We understand Usk Town Council’s view, but it is not a good site: it is too small and there are health and safety concerns. We have analysed the waste composition, with the frequent visits to the site being to dispose of black bag waste that could be recycled at the kerb, which includes food waste. The community concerns highlighted include flytipping; we shouldn’t excuse this, and the closure of the site shouldn’t give the impression that flytipping is acceptable, but flytipping also can’t be used as an excuse not to make the proposed changes. Distance to travel was another concern of both members and the community; Chepstow residents travel 7 miles, some residents travel 14 miles – so it is a matter of perception. The distance to Llanfoist and Five Lanes from Usk is 10 miles, and Covid has given us a new lens to analyse waste. It’s not an excuse for the decision, but it has allowed us to analyse usage rates, and make the recommendations in this report.

The clear response from the officer today to Usk Town Council’s concerns about what residents will use instead is that kerbside recycling will be used, reducing unnecessary journeys and air pollution. It is not viable to reopen the site during Covid. The potential distances to travel are not hugely different from what other residents in Monmouthshire are expected to travel. The themes in the public responses are very similar; we have read them all and discussed our responses to them. We have data that evidences the rationale for the option proposed. The report explores different options, such as whether the site could be run externally, but it’s not recommended if the site is managed correctly.

When we did the composition analysis, in the timepoint between the consultation exercise and the point where the decision was put into abeyance, the situation was worse. With even less recycling now being done we need the kerbside recycling rate to improve. We need to reduce the amount of waste created, and journeys made to dispose of the black bag waste. When we asked the residents’ views on whether black bag waste facilities were a key resource for them, it wasn’t as important to people as we thought.

Regarding Members’ comments, they have asked if self-service could be considered, but the officer has highlighted that it would only accept things that can be recycled at kerbside or disposed of in general waste anyway. Councillor Batrouni has asked that we consider how Usk Town Council has previously taken over operation of facilities, and give them more time, and the opportunity, to turn this around. The Councillor also made a point about protecting our rural areas and their services, and for the council to apply its message. Councillor Howarth requested that a residual waste drop-off be allowed for.

Vote on Recommendations

On some of the issues, such as revised opening hours for HWRCs, the committee supported the recommendations. When discussing the future of Usk household waste recycling centre the committee was against the proposals by a margin of 4 votes to 3. 


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