Richmondshire District Council has been left “between a rock and a hard place” by the government’s demand to replace nine councils with one or more unitary authorities, a meeting was told this week.
A scrutiny committee heard the authority had been working for some time on plans to replace its ageing waste and recycling fleet of trucks by the end of August 2022, and there were concerns over whether some of the vehicles would last beyond that date.
Councillors were told as the fleet got older the costs of keeping it running would spiral, wasting taxpayers’ money.
However, the authority’s corporate director Colin Dales said as the local government reorganisation was “almost definitely going to happen” in May 2022 or May 2023 the authority should put its waste and recycling review on hold.
He said an incoming unitary authority would want to make its own decisions about waste and recycling, such as the type of lorries and collection styles, so Richmondshire council could waste a lot of time and resource coming to a conclusion that was never implemented.
He said the way forward had been further clouded as the government had given no firm direction over its incoming national waste strategy, such as whether it would insist on food waste being collected.
Mr Dales said: “The alternative is to carry on with our waste and recycling review and all the energy and cost that goes into that knowing full well that a new authority, be it an actual one or a shadow one, will not want to take that forward.
“I don’t think we should be tying hands of a new authority in any way. We are between a rock and a hard place on this one.”
Councillors said Richmondshire council had a responsibility to council taxpayers to press ahead with such key issues.
Independent councillor Leslie Rowe said: “It would be a gross dereliction of duty not to plan for the future. There is no certainty about this local government reorganisation.
“The minister has been forced to resign, a new person has not taken up the reins, we’ve had no letter coming in. Until this is decided one way or the other we should continue to do what we are supposed to do, which is to plan for the future. I can’t see any argument apart from the fact that it is too much bother to continue planning to replace these vehicles in 2022.”
Mr Dales refuted the suggestion the changes would be “too much bother” and when questioned over why district authorities could not look to start closer working over waste and recycling said various attempts by council to work together had come to nothing and that there was a spectrum of recycling schemes across North Yorkshire.
He said the councils had never been able to agree a standard way to collect waste.
Members told the meeting that they wanted the authority to continue its review, maintain its kerbside recycling service, introduce food waste recycling and not expect plastic, paper, card, cans and mixed glass to be separated for recycling.
Councillor Clive World said residents were continuously asking for the council to improve its recycling collections and the district council should leave the issue from “a position of strength”.
He said: “We owe it to our community to build up the recycling from 40 per cent now to 60 per cent. We will be saying in our negotiations with whoever that this is what the people of Richmondshire want rather than just sitting back and saying ‘over to you, what do you think’?”