Charges at West Sussex rubbish tips suspended by the county council earlier this year were ‘not illegal’, according to one cabinet member.
Starting in October last year, residents were charged £4 per bag or sheet to dispose of what was described as non-household waste such as soil, hard-core, DIY, and plasterboard at West Sussex County Council’s civic amenity sites.
At the same time hours of operation were reduced, while the majority of rubbish tips are now closed for two days a week as part of cost-cutting measures introduced by the Tory administration.
However the Government’s anti-littering strategy, published in April, included plans to stop councils from charging for the disposal of DIY household waste.
A day later the county council suspended its charges until a Government review had concluded.
Michael Jones (Lab, Southgate and Gossops Green) asked how much money the ‘illegal’ charges had generated for the county council and asked the cabinet member responsible when residents would be reimbursed at a meeting last Friday (July 21).
In response Deborah Urquhart (Con, Angmering and Findon), cabinet member for the environment, said: “These charges are not illegal. If it were the Government would have taken just about every council to court.”
She explained they had decided to suspend charges because residents were ‘getting confused thinking it was going to be free because of the Government announcement’.
She added: “I believe that was the right decision to take and probably we were the only authority to have done so.”
The county council was planning to raise around £1million a year from the charges.
Cllr Urquhart continued: “It was quite legal to charge at that point so now we are not obliged to refund it.”
Following feedback from businesses in Bognor Regis and residents in Littlehampton the opening hours of both towns’ rubbish tips have been extended slightly on a trial basis.
Daniel Purchese (LDem, Rustington) said: “I welcome the extension of the opening hours, but would the cabinet member agree they should go back to their original opening times?”
Cllr Urquhart explained that she had set up a task and finish group to review the opening hours, which will then make recommendations to her.
She added: “We will be looking to review those hours, not a one size fits all approach but to see what we can come up with in the financial envelope.”
Francis Oppler (LDem, Bognor Regis East) argued that Bognor Regis’ rubbish tip was unique since it shared the site with a retail park.
He said that while the businesses welcomed the extended opening hours, he felt the site should be open seven days a week and not the current five, with the original opening times also reinstated.
He added: “Whilst the tailbacks have improved they are still causing residents and businesses problems.”
Cllr Urquhart responded: “The feedback I have had on the changes we have recently implemented is they are working well. What we will do is look at the statistics.
“We will take a calm and measured approach.”