Published: 11 January, 2017
By RICHARD OSLEY
THE Town Hall this week divided the borough into the haves and have nots: the homes which will retain a weekly bin collection – and the ones which will soon only have waste picked up once a fortnight.
More than 30 per cent of properties will be switched to the less regular service from April, with maps of the affected streets – almost exclusively in the north of the borough – published for the first time on Monday.
Conservative councillors had been haranguing Labour council chiefs for months in a bid to get the street-by-street information. There were complaints this week that an apparent slowness in providing the details had left little time for the public to object.
Large parts of the wards the Tories represent at the Town Hall, including Belsize, Hampstead Town and Frognal and Fitzjohn’s, are being converted to fortnightly collections.
Camden says the changes have a double aim: to save money, and to encourage more recycling, as all residents will still get a weekly recycling collection. The borough is one of the worst performers on recycling in London, 25th in a table of the capital’s local authorities.
The issue of waste collection, however, is always sensitive, with councillors acutely aware of its importance to residents and how some relate it to the council tax they pay. When officials gave a presentation on the changes at an event in West Hampstead on Monday evening, they were told that a universal right to have rubbish taken away was being removed.
Most areas in the south of the borough will keep their weekly collection, but roads in Swiss Cottage, Highgate, Fortune Green and West Hampstead in the main will go fortnightly.
Conservative leader Councillor Claire-Louise Leyland said: “We’ve been asking for this information for months. There has been no openness, no transparency.
“There was a chance here to work with residents to come up with a solution that works on a local level. Instead, people will be handed maps which show virtually all of their areas are going to the fortnightly collection.”
To add to the frustration, a pledge to pass the new collection information to councillors went unfulfilled on Friday afternoon when officials reportedly claimed the files were too big to send.
They finally got first sight of them on Monday, and the map has since proved to be easy to email.
Cllr Leyland said: “There is no thought that some of the streets will not have room to store waste. It’s been produced without really talking to residents, the worst consultation I have ever had the misfortune to be involved in.
“The danger now is, because they haven’t worked out what can work where, that there will be an increase in rubbish just being left on the streets by people who have nowhere to store it.”
Liberal Democrat councillor Flick Rea said: “The Tories are talking about secrecy but anybody with a grain of sense would have realised that this was coming to anywhere west of Camden Town.
“There are going to be major teething problems with this, because it hasn’t been thought through. There are houses in my area where there are three flats on three floors and there isn’t room to keep the rubbish.”
She added: “Camden as a whole can have a transient population. Some people only stay around for three months or so. They are not going to be bothered with this.
“Camden has been awful on recycling over the years because it has been so poor at communicating what can and can’t be recycled. You can have an article in the Camden Magazine and [environment chief] Meric Apak smiling, but it’s not enough.”
Green councillor Sian Berry supports the council’s switch.
“Some people with front gardens and backyards do not know how lucky they are,” she said. “It’s a luxury in London to have space like that, and if they do then there is no reason why they can’t have a fortnightly collection. The smelly stuff can still be collected in the food recycling once a week.
“I live in a flat above a shop and I have one bin, so I need a weekly collection but there are people who don’t and we must improve recycling in Camden.”
Councillor Apak said the council was sticking by its plans. It would have moved to a new strategy even if Camden had more money and could pay for weekly collections, he added.
Asked about whispered criticism that it was Tory-held wards that were worst affected by the reduced service, he said: “That is an unfortunate coincidence. It just happens that there are more houses with more space in the north of the borough. In the south of the borough, in places like Holborn, the front door opens onto the pavement.”
He added: “The rate of recycling in Camden is simply appalling and we had to do something.
“We are not going to be herding people. We have no whip, but we do want to increase awareness. Some 85 per cent of what goes in the bin in Camden could be recycled, generally, but only 25 per cent on average is.”
Cllr Apak said the council would show flexibility to houses of multiple occupation. He was open to reviewing residents’ circumstances on a case-by-case basis if they could show it was impossible for them to store waste over two weeks.
“This is about getting back around the table with residents and working with them, not against them,” he added.