�140,000 furore over Southwold and Beccles waste recycling centres

A POLITICAL row erupted in Waveney this week about plans to spend �140,000 on two closure-threatened waste recycling centres to keep them running for six months.

Conservative leaders at the district council have drawn up proposals to 'save' the sites in the short term at Southwold and Beccles after Suffolk County Council announced plans to close them and five others to save millions of pounds.

But a report to Waveney's full council meeting next week reveals that, as 'no specific budget' exists to meet this cost, the money will have to be found from savings 'that may arise' elsewhere.

The revelation brought an angry reponse yesterday from the council's opposition Labour group, which claimed the idea was a politically-driven move by the Tories ahead of the May local elections.

In turn, this prompted an angry denial from Conservative, who insisted they were acting in the best interests of the public.

Tod Sullivan, Labour councillor for Whitton ward in Lowestoft, criticised council leader Mark Bee for backing the decision to close the sites in his role as a county councillor and then seeking funding from Waveney to keep them open.

He said: 'We're shocked that, having been told off for playing politics, Mr Bee sees fit to bypass the democratic process in order to make an announcement which he has, in fact, no right to make

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'If this money was available, why would we not be presented with a choice of services to assist? Surely school crossing patrols, libraries, etc, deserve to be 'bought time' too?'

Mr Sullivan added: 'How can Mr Bee have voted for this service to be cut when he was at Suffolk County Council? He knew the impact then but didn't care enough about Waveney to stand up for it.

'I honestly believe that Mr Bee is acknowledging that Suffolk ... cut too far, too fast and didn't do enough to investigate the impact. Why else would he need to take money from hard-working people in my ward of Whitton to protect his votes in Southwold and Beccles?'

Conservative Waveney cabinet member Stephen Ardley, porfolio holder for healthy communities, dismissed Mr Sullivan's comments and defended the proposal to save the sites. He said: 'You'd think people would be pleased that we're trying to save the refuse sites. I am sure Mark Bee has the best interests of the people of Beccles at heart.

I don't understand why Labour are not pleased for the people of Beccles and Southwold.'

Mr Bee said: 'No decision has been made or will be made until full council meets. The move will only go ahead subject to full council approval and that's been made plain since the beginning.

'We made this offer to allow the maximum amount of time for all bids to come forward to take over the running of these sites. Personally I feel it's the right thing for us to do and the communities of Beccles, Bungay, Halesworth and Southwold feel the same. And that is the most important thing.

'I'm happy to take the flak if it means we're getting a sensible, reasonable outcome.'

Although the council's report says the �140,000 to save the waste sites would come from 'savings that may arise from subsequent service reviews', Mr Ardley insisted there would be no cuts to frontline services in his portfolio.

Last month, The Journal reported that Southwold's household waste site in Blyth Road and the one at Beccles had been earmarked for closure in May along with five others as part of the county council's efforts to save �42.5m.

Householders were left facing the prospect of a long drive to alternative sites in South Lowestoft and Leiston, amid concerns that the closures could lead to an increase in flytipping.

However, the two sites were given a stay of execution after a meeting at Beccles attended by Mr Bee, its director of resources Alan McFarlane, the county council's portfolio holder for waste, Lisa Chambers, and town councillors. It was agreed that, subject to approval, Waveney would provide the money needed to keep the sites running for six months while a long-term solution was sought.

On Wednesday, Waveney councillors will consider the recommendation that 'a supplementary budget provision of up to �140,000 to be met from General Fund balances for 2011/12' to 'fund the operation' of the sites.

A report to the meeting, jointly drawn up by Mr McFarlane and David Gallagher, Waveney's head of customer services and commercial partnerships says that, subject to councillors' approval, keeping the sites open for a further period would 'provide the opportunity for interested parties to develop ideas and business models that could lead to the waste sites remaining open for the communities they serve'.

Their reports adds: 'The council has been in discussions with Suffolk County Council regarding the future of the Southwold and Beccles household waste recycling centre sites, which are among those sites facing closure.

'The county council has indicated that a budget provision of up to �140,000 would need to be provided in order to allow the sites to be kept open for up to six months. While no specific budget exists to meet such a sum, funding for this proposal could be met by a supplementary estimate in the first instance, pending the identification and allocation of any savings that may arise from subsequent service reviews during the year.'

If councillors approve the report's recommendation, from May the sites will be funded by Waveney but will still be run on behalf of Suffolk County Council by its contractor, the Waste Recycling Group.

Southwold town councillor Michael Ladd told The Journal yesterday he hoped the stay of execution would be approved as it would give 'breathing space' to find a long-term solution.

'It gives everyone more time. We all agree that the closure of our site will mean a huge increase in fly-tipping. That is going to be a major problem for us. But, if we're looking at the bigger picture we would not have these situations if we had a unitary authority.'

Fellow town councillor, John Miller, added: 'I wish to thank Waveney for this, but I do have to point out that there is an election coming up.'

l Mark Bee is due to meet Southwold town councillors on March 29 to discuss Waveney's plans for the Blyth Road waste site.