Question Time at Council: Cllr Theobald says no, he’s been very busy!

Having had concerns over the Conservative’s communal bin scheme from when it was on the drawing board, I haven’t been surprised to receive a flood of emails and phone calls once the bins were installed in Regency ward this month.

I’m welcoming photos of problems on the Bin Files Flickr group and took the opportunity of this week’s council meeting to question Cllr Theobald, the cabinet member responsible, on who he’d consulted on this scheme (like the last minute removal of the foot-pedals), whether money had been effectively spent and what future plans there were.

The webcasting pilot lets me provide for you clips which I think are more telling than a transcript would be. The webcasting system won’t let me link directly to certain points in the meeting so I’ve extracted the clips onto YouTube. I reproduce my initial written questions below along with Cllr Theobald’s written responses.

As you’ll see the whole process was quite unsatisfactory as, intentionally or not, Cllr Theobald rarely answered by questions or misconstrued them. There’s a bonus clip at the bottom of this post which may answer why. Perhaps my favourite response is Cllr Theobald explaining that the city’s waste strategy is two years late because he’s been “very, very busy“!

The question and answers:

Bonus clip which might explain things:

(e) Councillor Kitcat

“Could Cllr Theobald provide details on any consultation held with emergency services over the type and location of communal bins being introduced to Regency Ward? In particular were individual bin locations discussed, particularly with regard to ensuring safe access and preventing fire hazards?”

Reply from Councillor Theobald, Cabinet Member for Environment.

The City Council would not usually consult the emergency services for placing objects, or indeed determining the locations for cars to park, on the public highway, unless they form part of a safety scheme or traffic calming proposal.

The specific locations of the communal bins to which you refer have been determined with Highways and Traffic engineers who fully consider road safety issues as well as access for emergency services and delivery vehicles, on this basis we have not asked the ambulance service, the fire or police authorities also to view the location of each bin.

I am pleased to mention our strong and positive links with the East Sussex Fire Authority. Cllr Ted Kemble as the Vice Chairman of the Authority discussed the communal bin scheme with the Chief Fire Officer sometime ago and they are satisfied that they do not pose an additional fire risk.

(k) Councillor Kitcat

“Can Cllr Theobald provide any details on any plans for communal collection of recycling in the city centre? If so when does he expect these plans to be implemented?”

Reply from Councillor Theobald, Cabinet Member for Environment.

There are no plans to implement communal recycling in the city centre. We are looking at a range of options to improve recycling rates and these will be set out in the waste strategy. The first draft of this will be brought to Cabinet in April this year with the intention that residents are consulted on its proposals.

(p) Councillor Kitcat

“Can Cllr Theobald provide the costs incurred by the council in printing and sending notifications to residents for:

  • The changes in bin collection schedules,
  • The introduction of communal bins in some wards and discontinuation of bag collections,
  • And the changes in recycling collection schedules?”

Reply from Councillor Theobald, Cabinet Member for Environment.

The cost for the communication including designing, printing and posting the materials is budgeted at £98,000. This works out at approximately £0.47 per communication. Given that all the changes result in annual savings just short of £1m I think this is money well spent.

(q) Councillor Kitcat

“Can Cllr Theobald provide an estimate on the number of people who have taken up the assisted waste collection service since the introduction of communal bins and what number of users has been budgeted for at what cost?”

Reply from Cllr Theobald, Cabinet Member for Environment.

Communal bins are generally easy to use as they avoid the need to carry a weekly supply of refuse in big black bags, and in many cases taking these down 22 into basement bin stores. Instead small bags of rubbish can be deposited in the bins on a daily basis if need be. However some people are unable to use communal bins and Cityclean will provide assisted collections for these residents. 17 people currently have an assisted collection for the existing communal bin collections that cover 6,600 households. To date we have received 35 requests for the new communal bin roll out covering 24,000 households, which are currently being considered against criteria set with the FDA (Federation of Disabled People) to ensure a fair and consistent approach to agreeing assisted collections.

Given our past experience it is highly likely that these numbers will reduce as residents understand the system and those who have negative views of the bins get use to and accept the scheme. Assisted collections are picked up by the driver of the communal bin truck and thus are provided within the budget for the communal bin service.

You can view the full list of written questions and answers submitted online here [PDF]