Cheshire East agree to establish taskforce to tackle Congleton tip options

By Tom Avery

18th Mar 2021 | Local News

Congleton Household Waste and Recycling Centre, off Barn Road (Image: Google Maps)
Congleton Household Waste and Recycling Centre, off Barn Road (Image: Google Maps)

Cheshire East councillors voted in favour of setting up a task and finish group to look at "all available options" in respect of a household waste recycling centre in Congleton.

Several Congleton Town Councillors spoke passionately in favour of ensuring a long-term HWRC facility was retained in Congleton at Cheshire East's Environment and Regeneration Overview and Scrutiny Committee, held today (Monday, 15th March).

The Congleton site, off Barn Road, is due to close in September 2021, as the lease on the land is up, and planning documents show Bluemantle, the owner has earmarked it to become a Costa coffee drive-through outlet.

The nearest alternative sites for residents served by Congleton HWRC are Alsager (around eight miles away) and Macclesfield (around six miles away).

Speaking at today's scrutiny committee, Congleton Town Councillor, Paul Duffy said: "To my knowledge, we have still not had a breakdown of the £4m cost estimate of a replacement tip."

Cheshire East Council does not own the lease at the existing site in Congleton, but in February 2020, the authority approved a £4million budget for a new purpose-built recycling site for Congleton.

Although the current lease expires in September 2021, there is a break clause included in the contract, which means the site owner could close the tip before then if they gave the council "sufficient notice".

This means Cheshire East would have to commission and fund creating a new facility in Congleton – a capital cost of around £4m, leading to around £250,000 per year in additional costs for the council.

Whilst the council's Medium Term Financial Strategy – their budget plans for the next four years - includes £4m for Congleton HWRC, it is within the addendum to their capital programme.

This means that it could only go ahead once a detailed business case has been approved to make sure the proposal is affordable.

As a result, the council proposed that they do not replace Congleton's HWRC with a new facility once the current site's lease comes to an end.

Cllr Sally Ann Holland has previously indicated that four other new recycling sites across the UK have cost significantly less than £4m.

Cllr Duffy added: "Given other councils have built recycling sites at a much lower cost, the service cost for ours [Congleton] would only be in the region of £100,000 for interest in capital repayments, a small affordable cost for any organisation of Cheshire East's size.

"Yet we are repeatedly told there is no money left, however, the capital programme is currently set at £128m for projects in Cheshire East.

"Surely it would be reasonable to suggest that £100,000 could be found from a figure of £128m."

The Liberal Democrat councillor queried whether the scrutiny committee had been provided with any options to "view potential savings" from other areas that could be made to support a £100,000 repayment schedule.

Cllr Duffy highlighted that 4,500 additional homes will be built in Congleton and that increase alone would result in £8.5m extra a year going into Cheshire East "coffers".

He continued: "It is not unreasonable that some of this large amount of extra money should be reinvested into to Congleton to provide a basic council service in the form of a local recycling centre.

"Closing and not replacing the Congleton recycling centre is the low-hanging fruit of a budgetary exercise where costs are tight and savings need to be found.

"However, opportunities always present themselves and I do not believe the opportunities have been fully explored."

Therefore, Cllr Duffy asked that the scrutiny committee recommended delaying the April Cabinet motion so that all "financial opportunities" could be "scrutinised properly".

Andrew Lindsay, chair of Brereton Parish Council, spoke in support of a new replacement site being built in Congleton.

Mr Lindsay said: "Brereton parish has three main settlements, Brereton Heath, Brereton Green and the new development at Bluebell Green.

"In recent years there has been a lot of housing development in Brereton Heath, which has roughly doubled in size."

The nearest recycling to Brereton is Congleton which is about eight minutes away by car according to Mr Lindsay.

Mr Lindsay alluded to the recent CEC HWRC public consultation and highlighted that 74% of residents would travel up to 10 minutes to reach a recycling centre.

Mr Lindsay continued: "Clearly the existing Congleton site will close soon, but there is a great opportunity to build a new site in Congleton that would be within ten minutes travel from Brereton Heath by using the new link road."

He made reference to a new site potentially being built on the employment land allocation near Viking Way or Radnor Park.

Mr Lindsay added: "A non-residential area with good road access. Residents of Brereton Heath and other parts of Brereton would have an easy-to-use recycling centre that would encourage them to recycle.

"If the Congleton site is not replaced then the nearest sites will be Middlewich, Alsager and Macclesfield which are 18 to 20 minutes away from Brereton Heath."

Only 24% of respondents in the HWRC public consultation said they would travel 20 minutes to a recycling site.

But Mr Lindsay felt the additional demand on those three town's sites could see them become "overloaded".

Mr Lindsay said: "The recycling sites would be hard to reach and this would discourage recycling and increase fly-tipping."

Congleton Town Councillor Robert Douglas said that for over three months residents had been challenging the "validity" of the Labour and Independent Cheshire East run administration's "claim" that a new recycling site would cost £4m.

Cllr Douglas said: "How is it that Norfolk can build a site for £1.9m and Nottingham another for £2.5m. Cheshire East is paying £27,500 each year for our existing site and is willing to continue to pay that sum.

"By deducting this figure, the additional cost for a £2m site would be less than £100,000 per year, less than 40% of the cost constantly quoted in this document. £100,000 is just 0.01% of Cheshire East's budget."

The Liberal Democrat councillor felt that the silver bins for many residents were "already full", whereas the black domestic bins are "near empty".

In a document published by Cheshire East officers regarding the potential impact of Congleton's closure, Cllr Douglas cited that the report stated that residents 'would only add one or two items to the residual waste bin from time-to-time'.

Responding to those claims in the report, Cllr Douglas said: "This is totally unrealistic at least 4% of Congleton site's throughput will be lost, 111 tonnes per year, every year.

"Much of the recycled items dumped into domestic waste bins because residents will not travel all the way to the alternative site. Totally contrary to our green agenda.

"Without a site in Congleton, the number of homes served by the Macclesfield site would increase by over 15,000 homes, an increase of 63%."

It was only earlier this month that Cheshire Police officers advised residents to avoid the area around the Macclesfield HWRC because of "massive queues".

Cllr Douglas continued: "Following the closure of the Congleton site the queues at Macclesfield will be much worst.

"This queue means that traffic not visiting the site has to carry out dangerous manoeuvres, putting lives at risk.

"This danger has not been highlighted even though Cheshire East proposes to spend £5m to improve the safety of a junction [Flower Pot] just a mile away.

"This proposal is deeply flawed and fails to consider all the options that are available."

Cllr Douglas requested that the scrutiny committee recommended that a working group was formed which reported back in six month's time with a "solution to this problem".

Fellow Congleton Town Councillor Kay Wesley "urged" the scrutiny committee to consider the "long-term priorities" of Cheshire East.

Cllr Wesley alluded to the borough's environmental strategy (2020 to 2024), for which Cheshire East has 'ambitious goals to reduce carbon emissions and improve air quality'.

As well as objectives for the reduction of waste and an increase in recycling, reusing and composting.

Cllr Wesley said: "It's clear looking at Cheshire East's own analysis and the responses from the public consultation, that the closure of the Congleton tip would lead to longer journeys and more carbon emissions.

"Most Congleton households are not within a 15-minute drive of Macclesfield or Alsager in normal traffic conditions.

"There's also a significantly increase risk of fly-tipping and reduction of recycling. This will bring down the performance of the borough overall against both clean air and recycling targets."

The Women's Equality Party councillor referred to Cheshire East's five-year equality, diversity and inclusion strategy and the equality impact assessment in the HWRC report.

The report concluded that the closure 'impacts all households equally' with a "passing reference" to disabled and elderly residents "potentially being disadvantaged" due to being reliant on others to drive them to the tip.

Cllr Wesley added: "But this is not a tiny minority, Congleton has the highest proportion of elderly residents in Cheshire East.

"We need local facilities to serve residents who are downsizing, moving into residential care and indeed dealing with bereavement.

"I would also challenge the assertion that there is no inequality due to sex. A disproportionate number of people who do not have a car, who are elderly, or who are single parents are woman.

"They are going to be disproportionately disadvantaged by this loss of a local service. And all this is going to be exacerbated because Congleton is getting more new housing than any other town in Cheshire East, with thousands more families requiring a HWRC.

"Councillors, ambitious strategy documents published on glossy paper mean nothing without action. Here is an opportunity for Cheshire East to demonstrate its commitment to the environment and equality."

Cllr Wesley called on the scrutiny committee to advise Cabinet that making a decision on 13th April was "premature" and that Congleton Town Council was "united" in asking the scrutiny committee to "fulfil its role fully" by creating a task and finish group to evaluate all possible avenues over the next six months to "ensure adequate provision" of waste and recycling facilities in Congleton.

Cllr Suzy Firkin, also of Congleton Town Council, said Cheshire East's current proposal to not provide Congleton with a replacement site "lacked ambition" and did nothing to address the challenges of the climate emergency or guarantee a reduction in waste generated."

The Liberal Democrat councillor said the tip's closure would only disperse the challenges, create additional problems such as fly-tipping and additional greenhouse gases.

Cllr Firkin added: "The consultation and data on which this closure is based is highly-contested, however, it is not too late for Cheshire East to take an innovative and collaborative approach, to create something better for the future, not just making the easy and flawed decision to close Congleton."

Speaking to members of the scrutiny committee, Cllr Laura Crane (Labour), portfolio holder for highways and waste, said: "If you do disagree with the proposal to close Congleton that will mean something else has to be cut and as of yet, we have been unable to find something that should be cut.

"We are about to go through the process of moving into the new contract in 2023. At the moment the preliminary figures we have suggests we cannot afford to run all eight HWRCs that we have.

"We could build a new site in Congleton, if we could find the funds for that and then find ourselves in the neighbourhood and communities committee [from the new CEC committee structure] having to make cuts to other sites across the borough.

"So, we would have spent £4m and we would have to close additional sites as well potentially."

Frank Jordan, executive director of place at Cheshire East, said that the £4m cost of a replacement site came from a "sound assessment" of the specification, scope and size of site that would be needed for Congleton. The quoted price also included the estimated acquisition costs for a new facility.

At the previous scrutiny committee in February, councillors recommended that Cheshire East requested to buy the current site in Congleton with a "sensible offer given the current economic situation and strong resident voice".

Speaking at today's scrutiny committee meeting, Cllr Paul Findlow asked for an update regarding those negotiations.

Mr Jordan said: "Several approaches have been made to the freeholder. He has made it clear he's not willing to extend the lease nor have we been able to reach terms that are acceptable to the council around any acquisition of the site."

In the spring of 2018, Cheshire East Council's then portfolio holder for finance, Paul Bates, told the annual meeting of Congleton Town Council he had authorised the spending of £50,000 on consultants to look for an alternative site for Congleton.

Speaking at today's meeting, Cllr Tony Dean (Conservative) was against the proposed closure of Congleton's HWRC and he felt the environment assessment report submitted regarding the potential closure was "unscientific guff".

Under the former Cheshire East administration (Conservative) alongside Cllr Don Stockton, Cllr Dean was on the environmental capital board which involved the ongoing project before they finished their administration to search for a new recycling site for Congleton.

Cllr Dean said: "Two sites had risen like cream to the top when the election occurred, and the new administration took over. That project could be reignited."

The committee was told that Cheshire East would not reveal the locations of the two sites as it was sensitive and commercial information.

Cllr Dean added: "In terms of Cllr Crane's request for money, there are savings in the Medium Term Financial Strategy (MTFS) which have been rejected. Those could be relooked at.

"Looking at the MTFS strategy, yet another youth centre in Crewe could be looked at and the money for that is more than enough to put this recycling centre back into place.

"It's all about priorities and if the priorities in the strategy are correct then we need to prioritise the environment above yet another youth centre in Crewe."

Responding to Cllr Dean's comments, Cllr Mike Hunter (Labour) said: "I am very, very annoyed that Cllr Dean seems to think that we can say 'get rid of youth clubs' and let's put tips in. This is not a question of either or, the priority of the youth is just as important as the priority of the HWRCs.

"It is very easy when you sit on the opposition benches to snipe and say such things. It's irresponsible."

Alsager ward councillor June Buckley had concerns about the potential media coverage if there was a "horrendous" crash near the entrance of Macclesfield's HWRC once the Congleton tip had closed.

Congleton Town Councillor Rob Moreton (Independent) said: "When the new committee system was brought in to replace the Cabinet, there was a reason for this.

"It was because many felt there was a lack of transparency in the Cabinet system. The new committee system is up and running in May, so if there was ever a chance to see how good it could be, this is it.

"I am asking this committee to back Congleton residents and the town council by proposing to Cabinet members not to close Congleton's tip, but instead pass this onto a new committee system in May when they can make a more balanced decision which the residents of Congleton fully deserve."

Cllr Sally Ann Holland, Town Mayor for Congleton, queried how much it would cost Cheshire East to mitigate the highway problem at Macclesfield HWRC and combat the expected and already recently publicised increase in queuing traffic to enter the site.

She told the committee that Congleton Town Council picks up a fly-tipping tab worth £5,000 a month which is "probably increasing" to collect waste around the town and within close vicinity of Congleton.

Cllr Holland added: "Some of the poorest people in Congleton will not have the opportunity to get to a tip.

"Let's face it on the grand scheme of things, a 20-minute journey there [to another HWRC], a 20-minute journey back, possibly 20-minutes waiting to get into the site.

"Are you really thinking that a few unscrupulous people won't actually think 'oh forget this I'm just going to dump mine [rubbish] later down some country lane'.

"Of course, it will happen, it's irresponsible to think it won't."

The Conservative councillor endorsed the idea of a task and finish group being set up.

Ralph Kemp, head of environmental services at Cheshire East, said within the boundary of the Macclesfield HWRC site, the authority would change the traffic management plan to "provide a greater queuing length" which he anticipated would not be " very expensive".

Mr Kemp said: "We are aware as is the rest of the country is finding, whilst everything else is shut [during lockdown], there is an increase in traffic to HWRCs that have remained open.

"But that does not represent the normal traffic to our sites."

The £4m figure which was implemented in the Medium Term Financial Strategy addendum was based on an 'assets assessment' according to Mr Kemp.

The price was based on how much it would cost to replace a site to 'modern standards'.

The business case does state that there is allocated funding available for Cheshire East to carry out a further site-specific feasibility study which would provide a 'detailed breakdown'.

Mr Kemp said: "Because the costs are site dependent, but the £4m is still considered to be a reasonable estimate as we go into a project with no site identified including site costs."

Speaking on calls for a task and finish group, Cllr Crane said: "You can call for a task and finish group that takes six months to look into it, but in six months that site will no longer be our site, so we need to be moving forward quicker than that."

Cllr Buckley proposed that a task and finish group was established "to investigate all available options urgently" relating to HWRC provision in Congleton.

Although the existing site is due to close in September, the Liberal Democrat Alsager ward councillor also proposed that the option of permanent provision for a recycling site in Congleton was not taken away while the matter was being considered by the task and finish group.

Cllr Dean seconded Cllr Buckley's proposal.

Cllr Buckley's proposal was carried with seven councillors voting in favour and five voting against.

The future of the Congleton Household Waste Recycling Centre will now be discussed at a Cheshire East Cabinet meeting on 13 April.

     

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