Photograph: Hackney Council.

The Town Hall’s Labour administration has successfully defended a formal challenge from Hackney Conservatives over its plans to have non-recyclable rubbish collected fortnightly from street-level properties while continuing to collect recycling and food waste weekly.

Opposition councillors called in the scheme for further scrutiny on the grounds that the cabinet failed to consider “relevant evidence”, that the decision was not in the interest of the borough’s residents, and that preferable alternatives could have been taken.

Councillors on the Town Hall’s scrutiny panel, having quizzed council officers, allowed the scheme to forge ahead, resulting in Conservative councillor Harvey Odze ending the meeting with the parting words to waste chief Cllr Jon Burke: “I’ll see you in court.”

Cllr Odze said: “This decision is one of the most absurd that I have ever come across. It totally ignores the results of the consultation, which is quite clearly against it. That decision alone is not in the interests of the borough residents, as they do not want it to happen.

“I find it very peculiar that the cabinet has made this decision without any hard evidence whatsoever, as there is no local evidence. It is all surmise and statistics.

“There were no alternative options considered, just three paragraphs which refer to the need to reduce waste. They do not detail alternative options. There are alternatives, the main one being to encourage recycling rather than punishing.

“We don’t want this. It is quite clear that encouragement of recycling, incentivising it, is far preferable to punishing people for not recycling. The carrot is better than the stick.  I do not consider the cabinet has kept the borough’s best interests under consideration. If people do not want it, it means it is not in their interests.”

Odze pointed to the dumping of waste when Haringey introduced fortnightly rubbish collections, adding that the singling out of specific communities in the proposals while not mentioning the Turkish, Polish or Alevi communities was “very peculiar”.

The consultation received the council’s largest ever response, with 10,000 having a say, 8,440 of whom believed it important or very important that Hackney recycles more, with 88 per cent of the total believing the council should encourage residents to do so.

A majority of 52 per cent of those asked (4,766) disagreed or strongly disagreed with the proposal to collect non-recyclable waste fortnightly, with 55 per cent believing it would have a negative impact on their household. Thirty-nine per cent of respondents agreed with the proposals.

Consultees were broken down by religion as well as a number of other factors, with the report noting that Jewish and Charedi Jewish respondents were one group less likely to recycle food and least in favour of the proposed changes, along with people in larger households, people who live in N16, disabled people, and people aged between 16-24.

Council officers pointed out that the new plans marry with the government’s resources and waste strategy as well as the Mayor of London’s environment strategy, explaining that Hackney’s own recycling service, which includes food and garden waste and a “robust” educational regime, leaves a service change such as the one suggested as the only option available to get the borough’s recycling rate up to the required 33-36 per cent.

The Town Hall predicts the proposals would see a reduction of 4,400 tonnes of street-level black-bag waste, alongside a drop in disposal costs of £246,000 per annum, alongside an increase in the recycling rate and a reduction in associated emissions of incineration.

Assisted collections, a large family policy and fox-proof bins will also be in place, according to the Town Hall, in response to the main concerns brought out through the consultation, namely about health, vermin, people rumaging through bins and overflowing bins.

On the charges made by the Conservatives of an unfair singling out of communities, officers explained that the reason other communities are not mentioned in great depth is that they were “not identified as having had specific issues”, with not as many people responding from other communities as from Charedi Jewish respondents.

Officers cited other success stories for the proposals, including Southwark and Lewisham, which raised its recycling rate from 17 per cent to 28 per cent after 18 months of fortnightly collections.

Cllr Burke said: “It ought to be noted that fortnightly waste collections are by no means uncommon in the UK. In fact, more than two thirds of England’s local authorities already operate a fortnightly waste collection, or indeed, less frequently.

“Of the top 30 boroughs for recycling rates in the entire country, all 30 provide as a minimum a fortnightly waste collection service, and of the bottom 30 authorities for recycling in the country, all 30 provide a weekly service.

“Although that in itself is not conclusive, it is a highly suggestive piece of data indicating the efficacy of residual waste restriction.”

The waste chief added that the proposals, which are aimed at limiting the council’s exposure to increased levies from the North London Waste Authority as it builds its new incinerator in Edmonton, could future-proof the Town Hall coffers even further were carbon taxation to be introduced.

Burke added: “Quite recently, the prospect has been mooted in the corridors of Whitehall that incineration represents a good first opportunity to trial carbon taxation associated with an unpopular activity that the government is seeking to minimise.

“Were that to be implemented at some point in the future, the cost associated with a failure to attempt to constrain the supply of incinerated waste from Hackney could significantly increase our costs further still.”

The three councillors listening to the arguments, Cllrs Ben Hayhurst, Sophie Conway and Mete Coban, opted to “roll out the proposals and start immediately”, with Cllr Coban noting the need for the council to make efforts to encourage all communities in the borough to engage with the need to recycle, pointing to the respondent demographic to the consultation as “overwhelmingly white”.

Cllr Hayhurst said: “Whilst the responses [from the consultation] need to be taking into account, it needs to be weighed in the balance with respect of other points, such as guidance from the government and the Mayor of London, and clear countervailing interests in terms of reducing CO2 emissions, increasing recycling and a spend to save process over the medium to long term.”

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