Waste tip reprieve for Southwold and Beccles sites
CONTROVERSIAL moves to spend �140,000 on two closure-threatened household waste sites were approved this week - amid claims that recycling was being given priority over children's lives in Waveney.
The sites at Southwold and Beccles had both due to close from May 10 as part of Suffolk County Council's budget cuts, which have also seen funding withdrawn from libraries, school crossing patrols, and other public services.
But on Wednesday night, proposals drawn up by the Waveney's ruling Conservative group were approved by a meeting of the full council - guaranteeing funding for the sites for a further six months.
The proposal to use �140,000 of Waveney's money to keep the sites open had sparked a political row in the build-up to the meeting, and there were further heated exchanges as the plans were approved.
Council leader Mark Bee, who helped set up the funding deal, said that by keeping the sites open until November, Waveney was giving people in Southwold and Beccles time to come up with their own solutions to secure their long-term future - just as volunteers had taken over Beccles open-air swimming pool.
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But although the opposition Labour group supported the motion to approve the �140,000, leader John Shanahan said the plan was a 'cynical' ploy by the Conservatives before the local elections.
He said it was 'ironic' that some councillors - including Mr Bee - had voted for the decision to close both sites at county level but now thought they were worth saving while they were wearing their Waveney hats. 'What on earth is going on? It is a sham, a shambles. It is a shambles of local politics and I ashamed to be part of that,' he said.
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Mr Bee was also asked why Waveney could afford to provide �140,000 to fund the two waste sites when it was not prepared to stump up funds to save the district's 18 school crossing patrol posts - including 14 in Lowestoft - which are due to be axed in July to help save the county council �174,000.
Roger Bellham, councillor for Lowestoft's St Margarets ward, said questioned the council's priorities. He said: 'Are we saying these sites are more important than the lives of children crossing the roads?'
In reply, Mr Bee said he would have liked to help save the crossing patrols but because they did not have an impact on Waveney's services - unlike the costs of clearing up fly-tipping - funding them was hard to justify.
If the waste sites closed, he said, it was likely that Waveney would have to spend at least �140,000-a-year in clearing up illegally dumped rubbish and would also lose recycling credits.
It was also likely to increase pressure at the only other site in Waveney, at the South Lowestoft Industrial Estate.
'We are not taking over the sites. We are looking for locally based solutions,' he said. 'These sites would close if we did nothing about it. If they close it would impact on fly tipping across Waveney.'
Mr Bee told the council that Beccles Town Council had expressed an interest in taking over the Fen Lane site which has 70,000 visitors a year and processes about 4,200 tonnes of waste.
Meanwhile, a meeting will be held next week between Mr Bee and Southwold Town Council to see if it or local people can take over the Blyth Road site. However, there was a chance a commercial company could take on the centre which is visited 44,200 times a year and processes 920 tonnes of waste, the meeting heard.
Another issue raised at Wednesday's meeting was whether Waveney tax-payers should be meeting the full cost of running the waste sites as a lot of waste dumped at them came from elsewhere.Peter Byatt, Labour councillor for the Pakefield ward, said: 'We should not be subsidising South Norfolk and Suffolk Coastal's waste disposal.'
It was also suggested that people from outside Waveney should be made to pay to dump rubbish at the sites.
A report into the funding proposal revealed that there was no budget for the �140,000, so the money would need to be found through services savings made elsewhere. But the only councillors to vote against the bail-out were Liberal Democrats Gifford Baxter and Rose Hudson, both from the Kirkley ward.
Waveney will be forced to dip into its reserves of about �2m if the savings cannot be found.
Suffolk County Council, which has �120m in reserves, is closing seven of its 18 household waste recycling centres in May to try to save �1.45m from its waste services budget as part of an overall package of �42.5m cuts for 2011/12. The cuts will also see opening hours at the Lowestoft household waste recycling centre reduced.