Council’s Waste Trial lost revenue and probably fewer than 150 fly tips were averted

Waste activism in Peterborough has a long and distinguished history and a great many people and many organised groups have got stuck in, many of them heroically and steadily cleaning up things which simply shouldn’t be where they are.

This blog years ago as a lament that I had not been able to achieve something I’d dedicated a great deal of time and energy to: stopping the construction of a plant to incinerate domestic waste. And in this blog I began to look at and discuss the politics of Peterborough generally, partly in order to understand and explain the weaknesses of campaigning organisations in the city (who I then felt could all have done better) against a political decision to incinerate, based on levels of (elected councillor) ignorance which I’d never encountered before in any organisation. I needed to understand how that had happened too, and who benefits from a toxic waste disposal policy. Who benefits from a waste policy which isn’t working.

Meanwhile it seems that the attitudes I encountered: literally: “if you can’t see it, there is nothing there” approach to stack emissions has created a national problem, especially in England, which now does things worse and to lower standards than Scotland, Wales, the USA and Europe. Brexit might offer hope to those that are keen to practice toxic politics, but the toxins left in our environment aren’t going anywhere.

But about three years ago the Green Party began a Flash Mob Litter Pick, which roved around in response to resident callouts to deal with litter hotspots. Here’s a Flash Mob after a session litter picking in 2016, taken in a New England cul de sac: Like any litter picker, we were dealing with the council and its ways of doing things, with the odd hazardous item (discarded hypodermic needles are one of the worst at the moment) and we were also thinking about things like the bags the council uses, why people do what they do, where it comes from and how it travelled to where it is. We had hundreds of conversations, with each other, with passers by, with the council and with the people who deal with fly tipped toxic wastes (such as paints, oils, chemicals). It didn’t take us long to appreciate that people were sometimes being turned away by the legal disposal routes because of the way they had been implemented by the council or because of the conversations they had had with council operatives. We encountered a number of people who had been turned away from the Household Waste centre at Dogsthorpe. We realised that if you make people feel they are doing something wrong when they thought they were doing something right (they just didn’t know about the law or the procedure for doing what the council requires them to do) you are probably just building anti-council feelings and even another fly tip. The council operative is probably doing the right thing: saying all the right things, but the person to whom they are talking is struggling to cope with the situation. Some people get angry. Some people are shocked. In this situation, people may hear what is said to them, but they won’t be able to listen. So as we picked, we worked out that if one cul de sac could produce two car boot fulls of waste and a pile of fly tip, then there would be several skips full in each ward in the city. The volume of discarded waste lying around in our environment, defining our environment for everyone living or growing up in it – are unbelievable.

With fly tip, we looked at it and we began to understand the impact of the nice man at the front door who offers to take away your rubbish despite not having obtained the all important waste carrier’s licence. The role of this character is key: he (we think it is usually a he!) has perfectly understood the business opportunity provided to him by this corporate communications disaster.

Sometimes it is a whole house contents which is tipped out onto the highway, or someone else’s private property. Anybody in Peterborough can see that there is a big problem with landlords, or with people providing services to landlords and tenants. People living in or running the rental sector grab the cheapest furniture, because tenures are short and incomes are tight and what could be a re-use opportunity is instead a dumped problem. Legitimate house clearance businesses: where are they?

Julie Howell (pictured here in New England) took the conclusions to Orton Waterville where she was a parish councillor and she applied herself to communicating directly with every resident. Waste management was just one of the things she tackled in her communications. Here she discusses fly tipping on her blog:

http://howell4ortonwaterville.blogspot.co.uk/2018/05/getting-grip-on-fly-tipping.html

And here she is discussing fly tip on Radio Cambridgeshire yesterday morning:

Yesterday she was responding to the council leader who made some interesting comments in an article published in the Peterborough Telegraph soon after Julie was elected to the city councillor and thereby displaced the cabinet member responsible for waste management. The paper’s headline and the photograph put fly tipping into the spotlight.

https://www.peterboroughtoday.co.uk/news/politics/council-leader-pledges-new-efforts-to-tackle-fly-tipping-in-peterborough-1-8491096

First he announces that fly-tipping will be “a focus” for the council this coming year. And admits that the issue was “repeatedly raised on the doorsteps in the run-up to the elections.” This might suggest that there is hope.

But then he says something really interesting. What he appears to do in a scant four lines of text, is give a summary of the results of the Free Bulky Waste Trial. I don’t know if a detailed analysis of the results of the trial has been made available to elected councillors or whether or not that analysis breaks down at ward level. But if not that is what I’d be asking for if I was a councillor.

Holdich claims that the trial “made no difference to the amount of fly-tipping,” This suggests that the council has a way of very accurately measuring fly tipping activity over a period of time. That would be very interesting, if it were true. I think the police might be interested in how the council knows this too, since not being able to catch fly tippers is one of its defining and most annoying characteristics.

Then he asserts that “the council missed out on £40,000 from fewer paid collections.” Now, assuming he’s right about that, it suggests to me that the people making use of the free trial were people who would otherwise have called the council to arrange a paid for collection. This group of people, complying with existing procedures and forking out for the collections they organise does not strike me as an appropriate target group if you wanted to attract the waste which is being fly tipped and the people doing the fly tipping, because this group is by Holdich’s definition not fly-tipping their waste anyway. They are doing it correctly and dutifully providing the council with additional revenue.

Then Holdich claims that “It’s a national problem and nobody has come up with a panacea.” I think by calling on a Greek goddess, he is both looking for and deriding a universal fix. He might do better if he looked systematically at another goddess: Hygeia is the Greek goddess of cleanliness and hygiene, a goddess understood by the Greeks to be part of Aesclepius’ family of medicine, health and feeling good generally.

But let’s have a closer look at the council’s “Free Bulky Waste Trial”. It was designed to run for thirteen weeks: from 11th December to 9th March. A bulky waste collection normally costs £23.50. So adding up the available collections during the free trial, we have a cap of 52 collections per day, and an estimated “more than 1,000 free collections” during month one. Then a maximum of 26 per day for the remainder of the trial. Residents would be free to book a collection between 4th December to 5th March. So what actually happened?

We don’t know, except that the available slots were taken up enthusiastically to the extent that no more bookings for free collections were taken from 25th January, six weeks before the trial was supposed to end. Taking Christmas into account, the Trial stopped half way through. In fact it didn’t survive the Spring Clean Season. When the council closed new advance bookings, it was clear already that it was well organised people who were using the trial.

What we do know is that if £40,000 revenue was lost to the council because people using the trial would otherwise have booked a chargeable collection, then 1702 free collections were made who’d otherwise pay for those collections. These will have been well organised people complying with procedures, who probably were unlikely to be fly tipping waste or giving it to to a fly tipper masquerading as a legitimate waste handler before the trial began.

The big question, then, is how many collections were made above 1702.

52 per day for the first month would give us four weeks one of which includes the Christmas break. So let’s say 52 x 4 x 3 = 624

Then we have 26 per day for the other nine weeks, so x 4 x 9 = 936

If we add these figures together and take them away from 1702, we get 142.

Roughly one hundred and forty two collections were available to people who maybe would NOT normally have called the council. And that figure can only be true if the council and those people were able to use every single slot it had available. Given that this target group is likely to be less well organised, less well resourced and generally less compliant with how the council runs things, I find this highly unlikely.

We don’t know if the council added capacity, as it promised it would at the outset of the trial if demand was high. And if it didn’t, we don’t know why it didn’t. It may have realised that the non fly tipping community was not engaging very much with its trial, and if so, that would not surprise me.

I am sure that Holdich feels that the trial proves his point. I dare say it proves mine too: that the systems in place are unfit for purpose for many sections of our community and it is also clear that the ruling Conservatives still have no sensible plan in place to change that.

 

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Peterborough Council Chamber

Image

Council Chamber on the day what we now call Peterborough Town Hall was opened. This photo was taken from the Spectators Gallery which is currently closed. Elected councillors are (I think) sitting at the long tables with some very strange headwear at rest on them. None of them is female, although there are a few women sitting behind them, one with a dark cloche hat and most of the others sporting dark berets. Headwear is not flashy. The gallery (behind the photographer) is probably full to bursting. Guests and public are seated around the councillors very tightly, leaving “the floor” clear. Slender tables are unencumbered with lights and mics. The room is shown at its best: lit by daylight. The Mayor’s parlour is packed with what could be a choir in uniform (door to the right) and so is the balcony of the foyer (door to the left). The principal uniform is the man’s suit, worn with greater or less formality. One or two of the men may be wearing gowns and one on the left side may be wearing a chain of office. High table is court like. The chair’s chair is a proper throne and whoever sat on it would have a commanding view of the entire room, including the whole of the Spectators Gallery. (The current layout – I’m not sure when or why the room was turned around –  is not at all as clever from the point of view of the chair.) Still familiar today: the person in clerical garb. The architecture is happily and joyfully calling on medieval precedent within a confident classically formatted & commercially alive building (rented shops were built below this room, the income to the council intended to keep rates as low as possible). This photo is on public display in Peterborough Town Hall.

My response to Charles Swift OBE’s counsel of despair

This is the speech I delivered to residents and activists at Park Ward Hustings on 15th April in the run up to the local elections on May 3rd – this is the uncut version

We live in Park Ward so we live in the heart of Peterborough

I am delighted to be standing again in Park Ward this year. I live in the middle of the ward and this is Peterborough’s heart. So many things begin here, so many children come here to school and then to college and the whole ward is wrapped around Central Park, laid out by the Peterborough Land Company as a gated garden, though when that private initiative collapsed quickly converted by the then local authority into a breathing space for the free use of residents of what was then a bustling, industrious and densely populated area. Also, the ward (which almost exactly follows the All Saints parochial parish council boundary) is heart shaped.

How Park Ward seemed thirty years ago

When we moved here, I didn’t know much about this area at all. Two things impressed me. I’d never seen people so down at heel: one day I walked along behind an elderly couple who were both wearing shoes with no heels left at all and worn out soles. I’d never seen anything like it.

The other very remarkable thing was the cleanliness of the homes and streets. Despite having some very very deprived streets, this ward was clean and tidy as a pin. I’d come from a much bigger city and felt I was somewhere green, clean and very proud of itself. When I first went doorknocking over ten years ago, people wanted to invite me into their yards and show me how they were managing their recycling. Peterborough had big green recycling boxes then and people would wash their plastics before putting them safely under heavier items, so that recycled waste did not blow around.

This area was full of beautiful front gardens: cars were parked on drives and on the street, not all over the garden. Back gardens, park gardens and allotment gardens were tended with skill, time and patience. There was time for our gardens then. You can still find some magical gardens here, but so many have been paved and converted into car storage spaces. With the loss of jobs with decent terms and conditions has come a loss of leisure time.

How the rot set in

Now I know that what I was seeing was the achievement of the Peterborough Development Corporation (PDC ) and Peterborough City Council (PCC) was a local authority which was still funded to run services fairly well. But although I couldn’t see it, rot had already set in. The PDC was already not able to leave a funding legacy to enable the city council to look after the landscape it created. The Conservatives preventing local councils from building council homes and Labour doing nothing despite three terms in government to put it right. Deregulation creating economic turbulence, financial crashes, disappearing investment markets and pensions. All that fuelled a new generation of private slum landlord, the worst of them using property primarily as a personal financial investment and not seeing a rented home as first and foremost a social good. Housing became a source of extreme insecurity and vulnerability as decent jobs with proper pensions became a thing of the past.

The big squeeze on local authority funding puts the city council itself at risk

Charles Swift OBE today eloquently describes the pickle the council is in and councillors themselves are finally waking up and realising that they need to fight for the city, and for local government itself. We’ve seen Northamptonshire County Council collapse and Peterborough may not be so far behind.

Julie Howell, the Green Party’s mayoral candidate for the Combined Authority of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough (which includes Huntingdonshire) went to the Treasury in the snow to protest the underfunding of Peterborough.

Loyalty to party has made local councillors insufficiently critical of national governments and blinded them to the risks posed by councils which cannot afford to do what they want to do, even what they have to do. At the moment in Peterborough, our Westminster government is not our friend. It is less accountable to us than the EU and it is less aware of and less articulate about our problems. At last our local councillors have woken up to the shabby disproportionate underfunding of this city.

Fit for purpose waste management

As a Green I want to bring back the neighbourhood as a place people can feel comfortable in and proud of. This is our home and nobody enjoys the neglect our area currently suffers. Fly tip and domestic waste flying around in the wind is not a necessary or inevitable part of living here. We urgently need to get the place feeling like home again. We need a waste strategy which works for every single resident, whether they have physical strength and a car or not.

Bring back gardening

I’d like Park Ward to develop its own gardens project to bring horticulture back into our lives and to feature and promote the beautiful gardens we still have and encourage people to create more. This could be set up to support mental, social and physical wellbeing and I am absolutely delighted that initiatives like this are underway in Peterborough and they can  and I hope they will help people regain a sense of ownership and responsibility for the areas they live in.

Lower limits and speed enforcement

We need to address traffic and speed in the ward. Last time I asked 70 – 80% of people living on Dogsthorpe Road and Park Road wanted speeds reduced to 20mph to give us roads fit for children to walk and cycle to school on. That is why a few of us in Park Ward set up 20’s Plenty for Peterborough. These roads are currently treated as feeders to trunk routes and this has been disastrous for the area and has encouraged very high speeds and extremely dangerous driving.

The council is currently kicking 20’s Plenty campaigns in Peterborough into the long grass: the latest of these is a huge campaign in Werrington which is currently stalled at the council.

Park Ward could use a big public meeting to tackle speeding in the wake of a series of incidents on Park Road, and continuing problems on nearly every road.

Cycle training for all

We need much higher standards of cycling training to improve cylist behaviour and safety. We should expect good behaviour between people, whatever they are riding or driving. I utterly deplore the council’s current obsessive focus on people who bike down Bridge Street while simultaneously doing absolutely nothing about declining standards of driving on the road. We need traffic enforcement, simply because there will always be some drivers who respond to nothing else.

All vehicles everywhere: not just a Bridge Street Bike Ban

I observe cars with odd headlights missing, driving on pavements, ignoring signage prohibiting private cars on Westgate, ignoring give way signs and shoving out into traffic regardless, double parking outside schools, parking on pavements, parking close to corners, reversing out from a side street into a bigger road, driving with one hand on the wheel while eating, talking on a mobile phone or smoking or even all three. Not buckling your children up. Children standing in the footwell instead of being seated. Children sitting on adult’s laps. These things can and do kill. Why won’t the council tackle them? I’ve been told that traffic enforcement officers are now deployed over three counties: that means our police officers may not even be working at all within the whole of Cambridgeshire. Meanwhile PES staff catch and fine people on bicycles. It is shameful. If you come into Peterborough from somewhere else you are likely to be shocked and appalled by the driving standards you encounter here. This is a new phenomenon and everybody knows it doesn’t have to be like this.

Safer streets

I’d like initiatives to get children walking and bicycling to school and this has to start with changing parents’ perception of the hazards presented by our roads. Parents are right to worry: our roads are not safe. It would not be difficult or expensive to make them much safer.

Bringing democracy back

I’d like our public gallery back in the council chamber. This has been closed since Conservative councillor Andy Coles was publicly shamed by demonstrators dropping a banner alleging human rights abuses. He is still a councillor, and since then two more women have come forward and made accusations about his behaviour while he worked as an undercover policeman.

That an ex spycop could be elevated to the unelected position of Deputy Police and Crime Commissioner for Cambridgeshire (which includes Huntingdonshire) and Peterborough – a position which is set up to keep the police accountable to the people indicates how rotten things are in our county and what a parlous state local politics is in. He did resign from that position instantly, by the way, just not from his city councillor role.

I will never bring you a counsel of despair

I do not despair, though, like Charles Swift does. Apparently not alone he foresees the end of Peterborough City Council.

In the Greens we’ve never deluded ourselves that the systems of government which we have in place were fit for the tasks that lie ahead, especially if those include tackling the biggest single emergency which faces us: that of climate change.

We support grass roots movements which get on with it anyway, like Transition, for example. These initiatives do not rely on our corrupt electoral system to produce the necessary decisions. They just get on with it, and with politics as it is at the moment, that is the only attitude to have.

We’ve always deplored the slanging match of two party politcs. We like Open Space formats, for example, which create a circle and enable smaller but often much more important voices to be heard. We like proportional representation (rather than First Past the Post).

The Greens trust the people. This cannot be overstated. And because this is how we work, we have practical ideas which we ask you to consider and take away.

We are proposing to the people of the city that we parish Peterborough

To you: that we parish Park Ward, possibly creating three civil parishes within the current ward boundary.

To establish civil parishes across the area of the city which presently has none could help us all. I don’t think city councillors can cope with the level of need presented by escalating poverty and complex deprivation. A councillor doing a good job in this ward is having to work absolutely flat out tackling issues many of which could be better handled at a more local level. City councillors are struggling to raise their eyes above fly tip, potholes and dog mess. This is not the way to run a city the size of Peterborough. They’re not looking at housing or homelessness and when they try they find their hands are tied. They are not coping, and this has been engineered by successive decisions at a national level. As inequality increases under government after government, civil parishes could come to the rescue: they can tackle a great many of the things which currently burden our ward councillors and they could help us to get a working and accountable democracy back. If the city council does crash and burn, a civil parish (or three) could take up quite a few of its key functions and would be highly and very locally accountable to us.

A competent parish council (this takes a year or two to achieve!) has available to it remedies and approaches available to it in the Localism Act as well as older powers already vested in parish councils. 

NOTES FOLLOWING COMMENTS & QUESTIONS RAISED

Garden projects near Park Ward – where to start?

Please like on facebook: Creating Sustainable Places    facebook.com/SustainablePECT

The Green Backyard  facebook.com/thegreenbackyard

Olive Branch Community Garden    facebook.com/groups/olivebranchcommunitygarden

Is this Peterborough’s only hustings? 

Local Elections 2018 Hustings in Peterborough

Mon 26 Mar 2018 14:00 – 16:00 Peterborough Pensioners Association Hustings, Centre 68, (behind Westgate Church), Westgate, Peterborough

Sun 15 Apr 2018 19:30 – 21:30 Park Ward Local Election Hustings, All Saints Church Hall, corner of All Saints Road & Park Road, Peterborough

Wed 25 Apr 2018 19:00 – 20:30 Fletton & Stanground Hustings, The Heron

MON   30 Apr 2018 14:00 – 16:00   

Peterborough Pensioners Association Hustings

Centre 68, (behind Westgate Church), Westgate, Peterborough

Cllr FITZGERALD, PEACH & ALLEN claim: Neighbourhood Councils are just as good

No: they’re not, though this is what several city councillors claim. They don’t have the same obligations to meet in public and to publish their minutes, so they are not as accountable. They also don’t have anything like the same powers as a proper PC. 

and that It is expensive to pay a parish clerk

True, though split across every council tax payer who contributes a precept to help run the parish council, this might be very good value for money. With a good parish council and a good professional clerk, you can for example employ people who could supply nursing, policing or waste management services. You can build things, you can maintain things. And you can do that with very tight scrutiny, because locals are entitled to sit in on meetings.

Parish councillors are not paid. And a parish council can avoid many of the overheads which a city council can’t. Parish councils can work with, across and without party politics: they require local activists to work constructively together.