Congleton's recycling centre will not be replaced "at this time" when its lease runs out in September

By Tom Avery

6th May 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's cabinet agreed 'that the Congleton household waste recycling centre (HWRC) will not be replaced' while a borough-wide review of the centres was undertaken at its meeting yesterday (Tuesday, May 4).

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).

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.

Cabinet members supported this proposal at yesterday's final cabinet meeting before Cheshire East embarks on a new "transparent" committee system.

A new contract for the delivery of the Household Waste Recycling Centre service in the borough needs to be commissioned by the end of March 2023.

Cheshire East claim that the cost of the new contract would "increase significantly owing to volatility in the global market for recyclables".

An environmental appraisal report concluded that 'the residual impact of closing the Congleton HWRC ranges between minor beneficial to minor adverse' and made a number of suggestions to reduce these impacts.

The council would monitor usage and consider measures to improve traffic flow at Macclesfield and Alsager sites.

But a "minor short-term adverse effect" has been assumed by Cheshire East if members of the public drive to Congleton and find the site closed, which could result in fly-tipping instead of travelling to an alternate site.

This will be mitigated by the council through CCTV and signage at Congleton once the site closes to "deter" against fly-tipping.

Speaking at yesterday's cabinet meeting, Congleton Town Councillor Robert Douglas, highlighted several concerns and challenged Cheshire East's conclusions.

Cllr Douglas said: "Cheshire East state that without the Congleton recycling site, the effect on local air quality from vehicle emissions and the residual impact of air quality on population and human health are neutral to minor beneficial.

"But these statements are incorrect given that you accept that following this closure CO2 emissions will increase by 159 tonnes every year.

"Following Congleton's closure there will be additional engine idling in longer queues at the other sites, how much will CO2 emissions increase as a result of this?"

Cllr Douglas queried whether Cheshire East had obtained detailed information from Norfolk and Nottinghamshire Councils, to "ascertain" how they can build recycling sites for £1.9m and £2.5m compared to the council's estimate of £4m including the cost of the land for Congleton.

The Liberal Democrat councillor continued: "Have you computed a properly detailed estimate of the cost of the replacement site, following the closure of the Congleton site the number of homes served by Macclesfield will increase by 63%.

"Your recycling site review (dated July 2020) stated where considerable increases in tonnages are expected, the council may need to make substantial capital investment to purchase land and redevelopments.

"What is that cost to ensure Macclesfield can cope with this increase in demand. Not knowing the answers to all these questions is a more serious admission then the minor administration error which obliged you to defer the decision last month.

"Surely this would leave you with the choice of either deferring your decision until you have obtained all this information or accepting the advice of the overview and scrutiny committee and set up a task and finish group, which involves no financial commitment whatsoever to study all available or alternative options for a replacement site."

The ruling Labour-Independent coalition were forced to push their plans back to yesterday's cabinet meeting following an 'administrative error' last month.

Sam Corcoran, leader of Cheshire East Council, stated that he "did not agree" with "all" of Cllr Douglas' comments.

Cllr Laura Crane, cabinet member for highways and waste, said: "The measurement of air quality is done through the nitrous oxide measurements rather than the CO2 emissions, the evaluation of air quality within the report used the air quality management areas that Cheshire East have near to the household waste recycling centre.

"The measurement of air quality is based on levels of NO2, and the report concludes that with fewer vehicles travelling on the roads near the site, and with some additional movements to the north of the site, it's likely that those measures will be neutral.

"There should be no cumulative effect because the closure of a site will not generate additional vehicle movements on the local road network, CO2 emissions do impact the greater climate, but there not related to air quality.

"The report does estimate a small increase in CO2 which is around 158.8 tonnes per annum, which is a quite moderate adverse effect."

Cllr Crane continued: "It [the report] does propose mitigation measures which will reduce the number of trips residents require to take, therefore reducing its impact to minor adverse.

"We do maintain the estimates provided [for a new site] were realistic figures at this stage of the project design."

The cabinet member for highways and waste confirmed that Cheshire East officers had spoken to a representative of Norfolk Council, who allegedly confirmed that the £1.9m price did not include the purchase of land, or additional factors such as the building of a service road.

Responding to the number of homes that might be serviced by the Macclesfield site following the closure of Congleton, Cllr Crane said: "The report estimates an increase at Macclesfield of around 28%.

"This equates to the annual tonnages increasing from around 5,000 tonnes to 6,000 tonnes and we believe that this is manageable with some 'minor' improvements to the access arrangements at Macclesfield."

Cllr Kay Wesley, chair of the Community and Environment Committee at Congleton Town Council, attended the borough's Environment and Regeneration Overview and Scrutiny Committee on 15th March, where there was a resolution to convene a task and finish group to consider the results of the HWRC public consultation, which had over 10,000 responses.

Cllr Wesley asked: "Why has there been no task and finish group set up to evaluate other options for Congleton?

"The equality impact with regards to the closure of the Congleton HWRC states that it impacts all households 'equally', this is not the case.

"Elderly and disabled residents or those on a low income without their own transport have to rely on others to take them to the tip, it's much less likely that they will be able to do this with a journey to the next town.

"I'd also challenge the assertion that there's no inequality due to sex because a disproportionate amount of people who do not have a car, who are elderly or are single parents are women.

"They are going to be disproportionately disadvantaged by this loss of a local service."

The Women's Equality Party councillor requested that Cheshire East convened a task and finish group to evaluate all possible alternative options "properly" before making any final decisions to remove HWRC provision from Congleton.

Cllr Crane stated it was not within the cabinet's remit to set up a task and finish group, but it would instead fall within the remit of the scrutiny committee under the new Cheshire East committee system.

Cllr Crane added: "I think it's important to factor in the access issues at Congleton at the moment. You have to go up those metal steps to get to the site whereas the alternative sites (Macclesfield and Alsager) are level, therefore improving accessibility for some.

"I know that does mean a slightly longer journey time but once they're at the site, the accessibility I believe is significantly improved."

Cllr Rob Moreton's "biggest fear" was that some councillors who sit on cabinet "won't vote how they really want to" but instead would have all been told to "block vote".

Cllr Moreton said: "I hope I am wrong. Block voting should not exist at local level in my eyes anyway.

"That is why I stood as an Independent councillor. If any of the committee sat here today are in the mind of voting to close Congleton's recycling centre, I am asking you again on behalf of Congleton residents to think again and defer this decision to the new committee system, where all the information regarding costs and alternative sites can be investigated, something which the town council and residents feel hasn't happened so far.

"By deferring this today at least we will reach a more transparent decision which is why we as councillors voted for the committee system in the first place."

Cllr Crane said that if Cheshire East delayed making a decision any further, they would put themselves at "potential risk" of not putting a new HWRC contract across the borough in place for 2023 onwards.

She added: "We are not ruling out the possibility of a new site in Congleton, I think it is really important to bear that in mind.

"All we are saying is that when the recycling site in Congleton closes in September, we will not have a site ready to go.

"We're not saying never to Congleton, we're just saying right now, we don't have the finances available to make that work."

Congleton Town Mayor, Cllr Sally Ann Holland, said: "Due to Congleton's centrally geographic location within the borough and the recent improved connectivity, would it not be in the interests of all Cheshire East residents to procure a site in Congleton for future development of a supersite such as those in other counties.

"Waste and recycling are estimated to increase in the future and the owners of the HWRC site in Congleton do not wish to renew the lease.

"As this administration has not ruled out further HWRC closures across the borough, would it not be prudent to assume that geographically a northern, a central and a southern supersite would be a practical alternative."

The Conservative councillor queried whether Congleton could be allocated 'town specific days', solely for its residents at neighbouring sites (Alsager and Macclesfield) if cabinet voted to close the Congleton tip without earmarking a replacement 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.

Cllr David Brown felt there was a "great feeling of mistrust" in Cheshire East in how the decision to close the tip has been taken.

The Conservative councillor added: "As the third largest town in the borough and with a significant increase in building over the next two years, this centre is of vital need and requirement within the Congleton town area.

"I know we cannot retain the current site but having looked through the council's landholdings in Congleton with smallholdings and the recent approval of planning permission in Viking Way, the council owns 16 farms and smallholdings in the area, one of which I am sure would be available to be used as establishing a recycling centre.

"I would urge that this council does not just dismiss Congleton, despite the consultation, what's the point of having a consultation if nothing is heeded, at least include Congleton in the prospect of when it goes out for evaluation.

"I believe anybody who does a full evaluation of recycling across the whole of Cheshire East would actually demand these is one [tip] in Congleton."

Cllr Corcoran felt the campaign to save the Congleton HWRC had in some cases been "informative" but also claimed there had been several "vociferous false claims".

Previously, CEC's environment overview and scrutiny committee had attempted to make the council undertake a last-ditch attempt to purchase the land.

The Labour councillor said: "The current site is privately-owned and attempts to renew the lease have been unsuccessful, so without the consent of the freeholder the site will have to close in September.

"It is not that we aren't listening, but we do not have the power to keep the Congleton site open no matter how many people ask for it."

The leader of Cheshire East highlighted that there was no "significant increase" in fly-tipping after the closure of Arclid's HWRC.

Cllr Corcoran added: "I think those politicians who have suggested a result in Congleton would be different [to Arclid] do the people of Congleton a great disservice, we should not be soft on fly-tipping or make excuses for fly-tippers.

"The evidence is clear that more than two thirds of fly-tipping incidents [in Cheshire East] took place in Crewe. Other towns high on the list included Macclesfield and Alsager. All those towns have a recycling centre.

"Again, the evidence suggests that the proximity of a HWRC is not a major factor in fly-tipping.

"Despite following the climate change debate for many years, I have never previously heard Greta Thunberg, David Attenborough or any other climate change campaigner argue that to reduce climate change, we must provide more HWRCs."

Cllr Corcoran told cabinet that he had approached Congleton MP Fiona Bruce to see if she would support a bid for Government funding and Congleton Town Council, but he claimed he had not received a "positive response from either".

Making his concluding comments, Cllr Corcoran said: "I note the ongoing discussions around the future HWRC provision across the borough and I think it would therefore be premature to start building a new centre in Congleton before those discussions are complete."

Cllr Jill Rhodes, cabinet member for public health and corporate services, said the current network of recycling centres was "blatantly unfair" with too many in the north of the borough.

Cllr Crane concluded: "If we did have access to the decision taken back in the 1970s to sell the land then we might better understand why Congleton has been failed by multiple administrations having left the land in the hands of a private landowner for decades."

Cabinet approved procuring a new contract for household waste and recycling centres.

Cabinet members also agreed that the Congleton Household Waste Recycling Centre would not be replaced "at this time", whilst the procurement process was undertaken, and a decision was taken regarding the overall provision for the borough and as such the amount indicated in the addendum to the capital programme would remain.

Seven councillors voted in favour, two voted against and one abstained.

In the new contract, the council is seeking to support its adopted corporate plan and environment and waste strategies, which aim to reduce the amount of waste produced, limit the impact on the environment and reduce carbon emissions.

The council will also investigate the potential of providing a mobile 'pop up' household waste service to provide additional access to residents less able to easily access a permanent site.

Risk of further HWRC closures in the future

There is a risk that the revised tip distribution across the borough will not "fully mitigate" the increased cost of running the remaining HWRCs through Cheshire East's new contract.

Once market testing of the new contract has been undertaken, Cheshire East highlighted that it may be "necessary" to consider further HWRC closures to deliver the service at an "acceptable cost".

However, these considerations would be subject to further consultation and a decision that would be taken under the committee system of governance.

     

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