Labour failing to get a grip on bins and litter

Litter is piling up in the city – a depressing visual reminder that the Labour Council has failed to get a grip on waste


Councillor Leo Littman

We can all do our bit to reduce litter: take our rubbish home, or even better, don’t take rubbish with us in the first place. However, it is the Council’s responsibility to keep our green spaces clean and tidy, and this early May bank holiday they failed horribly.

weekend litter chaos Argus

From The Argus Newspaper,  May 11th 2018

30,000 visitors flocked to the city and tourists and residents were drawn into parks and open spaces by the sunshine. Yet instead of being a reminder of the Brighton Fringe & Festival’s fantastic cultural and arts offer, the bank holiday also became a reminder of the Council’s failure to deal with waste. 20 tonnes of it was left behind on Brighton beach alone.

Any influx of visitors in Brighton and Hove can cause a surge in litter. With good weather forecast at the start of May, it should have been clear that extra resources to manage waste collection would be needed.

Yet Councillor Gill Mitchell, the Labour lead on Environment, said that ‘extra staff resources would be in place by the end of May and beginning of June.’ Talk about shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted!

The bank holiday litter issue belies a much bigger problem. This is not the fault of City Clean and City Parks workers, who spend hours painstakingly picking up rubbish overflowing from inadequate bins; it’s the Council’s Labour administration who cut their budgets too hard.

Complaints from residents about litter, bins and fly tipping problems now appear in my inbox on almost a daily basis. They eclipse practically all other complaints received by myself and my fellow Green Councillors.

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A snapshot of Brighton and Hove in recent months. Labour Council leader Dan Yates said recently that after the last bank holiday, the ‘city was looking great.’

Residents are clearly frustrated with overflowing bins and months of delayed bin collections. They have raised concerns about the impact of rubbish on our environment and our tourist economy. On top of the rising number of unsightly graffiti ‘tags’ that now cover buildings across the city, it is easy to see why residents and conservation societies are increasingly fed up.

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Green Councillors have been asking repeated questions about graffiti tagging

There is no doubt that hardworking and committed staff – like so many public service workers hit hard by ruthless austerity cuts – are being asked to do more with fewer resources. Last autumn we heard that refuse collection trucks were available in the depot but with no staff to drive them. Cuts to the dedicated City Clean team by the Labour Council have gone too far, too fast and the service is struggling to keep up with demand.

Rubbish recycling figures

The solution to some of this does not rest solely on providing more bins. Councils in England spend around £852m per year on waste collection. As recent documentary Blue Planet made clear, we all need to reduce our waste at the source, dispose of it responsibly – and be helped to recycle. 35% of fish caught off the British coast have plastic in their gut and 80% of the ocean plastic comes from the land.

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No wonder Brighton and Hove’s recycling figures are so rubbish, when the Council’s own recycling contract doesn’t include collecting most plastics. Image from Brighton and Hove Independent, 30th March 2018

Yet despite being a coastal city, in Brighton and Hove only a small amount of plastic can be collected for recycling – not pots, tubs or trays, whereas other Councils manage to recycle so much more. These restrictions are the result of a 25-year long contract struck under a previous Labour administration with the waste company Veolia.

Residents want to recycle more – but Labour have failed to challenge this contract. With 17 years of it to go, their inaction means the city will continue to lag behind on recycling. Just this week the Environmental Services Association said that the UK will struggle to meet targets for household recycling ‘due to a historic lack of funding and policy support in England.’ We can’t afford waste – and we can’t afford to waste time.

Under the previous administration, recycling levels dropped due to missed collections during a strike sparked by the equalisation of gender pay. Five years on, recycling figures are still appalling. What is the current administration’s excuse?

Proposals put forward for a plastic-free city by the Greens last November are moving at a snail’s pace under Labour. The city will wait until at least July before news on important changes, such as prohibiting the use of single-use plastics at city events, or ending the practice of purchasing unnecessary plastics in the Council’s supply chain. Although 30% or more of the refuse collected and sent for incineration in Newhaven is food, Labour voted against using money Greens put back in to the budget to kick-start a food waste collection service.

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Greens set out a budget plan for a cleaner, greener city that also included weekend, year-round emptying of bins in city centre parks. Again, Labour voted against these proposals in coalition with the Conservatives. Their other attempts to tackle the problem – such as the 3GS littering enforcement agents – have proven to be deeply unpopular, fining people for putting things in the wrong bin; and with no remit to deal with the vast amount of litter left on the beach.

A rubbish litter strategy

Help certainly won’t come from the Conservative Government – who published a ‘litter strategy’ that ultimately puts the responsibility for clean streets on seemingly endless volunteers, instead of using available powers to encourage big companies to stop creating useless packaging, or reversing years of cuts to Council budgets.

The city needs a stronger strategy for reducing waste. Greens have led the way on banning single-use plastics. We are calling for an Environmental Impact Charge – so that huge events pay back to our city and contribute to clear up the mess that the extra footfall often leaves behind. We want to see a timetable for action that sets out the options for retro-fitting our recycling facilities to take more plastics, something that other local councils and local companies have been doing for many years.

We live in a city full of people already taking the lead on this – our fantastic small businesses and local trailblazers – like the Food Partnership, Claire Potter Design, HiSbE, Surfers Against Sewage, the Tempest Inn and other local groups are already pioneering new and innovative ways to deal with waste.

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Green Party Members on a beach clean

It was a Labour Council which tied the city into a 25-year contract which handed control of what we as a city are allowed to recycle to a private multi-national company. It was another Labour Council which cut the budgets of CityClean and CityParks to the point where they can no longer keep the city or our parks clean. In between, Labour prevented the Greens from trialling food waste collection schemes.

Dan Yates, the new Labour Leader of the Council recently wrote: “Unfortunately it appears beaches do not keep themselves clean, nor do parks, or even our streets.” No, Dan; they don’t. That, as a basic public service, is your job, and you’ve failed.

One thing is clear; whether it’s allowing residents to recycle what they want to recycle (be that plastic not shaped into bottles; or their food waste), or keeping our streets and public spaces clean and tidy, Labour are simply not up to the job.

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A more ambitious future for East Brighton: Guest blog by Green candidate Ed Baker

Ed Baker lives in East Brighton and is the Green candidate in the upcoming East Brighton by-election on 8th February.

On 27th December Lloyd Russell-Moyle resigned his council seat representing East Brighton. With the election date set for 8th February, the four main party candidates are on the campaign trail.

I’m very proud to have been selected as the Green Party candidate. I’m doubly proud that the Greens have been the only party to field a candidate who lives in the ward.

I’ve lived in Brighton for more than 12 years. In that time I’ve fallen in love with our city. I’ve also been increasingly dismayed by the very visible damage wrought by national austerity policies from a cruel and complacent Tory government.

In 2016, rough sleeping in Brighton doubled. In 2017 it increased by nearly another quarter. This gives Brighton the grim accolade of the largest homeless population outside London. But this crisis is an iceberg – we know there are far more ‘hidden homeless’ sleeping on sofas or in their cars, who aren’t counted among the rough sleepers.

These numbers are greatly upsetting, and should be treated by the Labour-run council as an ongoing emergency. Again, the Greens are leading the way, spearheading an initiative to open council buildings as night shelters.

But to properly resolve our housing crisis, we need more genuinely affordable homes. Pressure from Green councillors has led to new flats in Hollingdean set at affordable rents, linked to a percentage of income rather than market rates. I strongly support this and want to see similar rents applied to more new homes.

The pain caused of austerity politics is felt really sharply in East Brighton, which encompasses some of the most neglected areas of the city. Since 2011 the ward has been represented by six Labour councillors, and now a Labour MP, and still we see cuts to vital services and record numbers referred to food banks. All this while Labour claim to have been focusing on ‘getting the basics right’. This displays a spectacular lack of ambition for our city, with even this low bar missed by a mile. On the doorsteps, residents tell me about their dissatisfaction, and how Labour have taken their votes for granted.

I’m excited to represent East Brighton. Only the Green party have the political courage to properly stand up to Tory cuts, and hold Labour to account for standing by and watching it happen.

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With Green Party MP Caroline Lucas

But the Green vision doesn’t stop at opposition to austerity. Our ambitions for Brighton see the city leading the way as a modern and sustainable place to live and work.

We applaud the more than 50 companies locally who’ve taken the Plastic Free Pledge to abandon the ecological disaster of single-use plastics, and call on the council to do the same.

Air pollution is hugely damaging to our children’s health, and costs the national economy £16bn a year. We imagine a cleaner, healthier Brighton served by an entirely zero-emissions public transport network.

A Green vote in the by-election on the 8th of February is a vote for your local community. A vote for a cleaner, greener, fairer and more affordable East Brighton. It’s a vote for a more ambitious future, because Brighton deserves better than the basics.

Greens and local campaigners call for a ‘plastic free’ city

Greens urge Council to ‘go plastic free’ and encourage traders, residents and businesses to do the same in a bid to reduce damage plastic waste causes the environment and public health


The Green Group of Councillors and local campaigners [quoted below] are calling on the Council to take serious action on plastic waste in Brighton and Hove.

Ahead of a meeting of Full Council on 2nd November, the Green Group are urging the Council to take decisive action on single-use plastics (SUP) such as bottles, plastic cups and straws, that are used just once before being thrown away and are not widely recycled.

The Green Group are also hoping that all parties will support a call to work with residents, businesses and local traders to set up a ‘Plastic Free Network,’ that builds on the best practice of organisations in the city already phasing out the use of plastics, to support people in making the transition to more sustainable alternatives.

Over 56 venues in Brighton and Hove have signed up to the ‘Plastic Free Pledge’, a campaign to limit, or remove, many single-use plastics from their business, such as plastic straws.

Only 14 percent of plastic packaging is ever recycled or re-used and like many other Councils, Brighton and Hove only has the facilities to recycle plastic bottles. With recent studies showing that plastics are now present in samples of British tap water, and present in a third of all fish caught off the British coastline, the Greens have also raised the alarm about the role Brighton and Hove has to play in preventing plastics from entering the ocean.

Local campaigners Claire Potter and Jake Arney, co-founders of the Plastic Free Pledge, have commented on the issue. Jake said:

“Plastic straws were the first target of the Plastic Free Pledge, however we are already helping organisations to look at their single-use plastic waste in other areas. Whether it is plastic cutlery, takeaway containers or coffee cups, there are viable alternatives available. We don’t hate plastic, we hate the wasteful misuse of plastic and the damage it causes.”

Claire Potter added:

A recent report by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation states that if we carry on in this throwaway nature, by 2050 there will be a greater weight of plastics in the ocean than fish. Plus we are yet to outlive a single piece of plastic – unless we have incinerated it, every piece of plastic we have ever created is still on Earth. We need to use and value plastic more highly – single use-plastic needs to be removed from our convenience lifestyles and replaced by for more sustainable alternatives, such as reusable containers instead.”

Councillor Phélim Mac Cafferty, who is proposing the motion for the Green Group of Councillors, commented:

“A plastic straw – used just once before being thrown away – can take up to 600 years to degrade. This and other single-use plastics in fact break down into smaller fragments, which studies now unequivocally show are strangling the life in our seas, entering our food chain and even our water supply, affecting our health too.

“The Green Councillors are calling on our city to lead by example on this scourge of plastic waste. We want to phase out the use of these unnecessary single-use plastics in all Council buildings, including in our purchasing and supply chain, and to champion alternatives. But plastics don’t just damage the environment; the waste costs us billions a year.  

“As a coastal city we all know about the beauty of our seas. But our seas are incredibly fragile so the time for action cannot come soon enough. We are also a city full of trailblazing organisations who we can learn from, and who already have advice on how they have reduced plastic usage and waste in their own business models.

“We are hoping all of the political parties are aware of the need to take decisive action on this issue and can come with us on what is perhaps the most important environmental issue of our time.”

Proposals to reduce single-use plastics will be heard by the meeting of Brighton and Hove full Council on November 2nd.

 

Notes…

Unnecessary (i.e. excluding medical items) Single-Use Plastics (SUP) used once before disposal e.g. bottles, cups and straws, are not widely recycled. Studies from Columbia University show SUPs can take up to 600 years to degrade, breaking into fragments that cause damage to the environment and permeate the food chain. Recent studies found that 72% of U.K tap water samples were contaminated with plastic fibres, and a third of all fish caught off the British coast contained plastic.

The Plastic Free Pledge encourages organisations and individuals to reduce SUP waste https://plasticfreepledge.com/ A petition calling on the Council to issue guidelines to local businesses on plastic reduction is here: http://bit.ly/2gtwqFC and a petition calling on Government to reduce and end SUPs here: http://bit.ly/2xSFLhs

Several businesses and organisations in Brighton and Hove have already implemented plastic free alternatives, such as Brighton Catering Supplies, Silo, HisBe supermarket and The Tempest Inn.

Are plans for recycling in Brighton and Hove simply going up in smoke?

Leo Littman, Preston Park Ward Councillor

News that cardboard meant for recycling may have instead been sent to the incinerator by the company in charge, Veolia, is scandalous if true.  Residents in this city pay the Council a considerable amount every month to have their refuse collected, and many residents spend time sorting their rubbish to ensure as much of it as possible is recycled. If they now learn that the people they rely on to process that recycling are simply burning it because they don’t have the staff needed to do the job properly, they are entitled to be furious.  Both Veolia and the Council need to be open about what is going on – the Council’s statement, which placidly accepts Veolia’s ‘assurances’, will put no-one’s mind at rest.

Local Labour are once again failing to get even the basics right.  The city is becoming dirty and run down and recycling rates are still in the doldrums. Let’s not forget: it was Labour who landed the city with this regressive 25-year waste PFI (Private Finance Initiative) deal in the first place, a deal which pays us not to recycle effectively, or even to reduce our waste. The Tories then extended the agony for another five years. Neither Party can be trusted on this issue. If the investigation finds a breach of contract has occurred, the Labour group must commit to serious review of the terms of the contract.
Residents deserve better.

Original article on the claims that cardboard recycling in Brighton and Hove is being incinerated available here: http://www.theargus.co.uk/news/15522573.Cardboard_collected_for_recycling_is_being_incinerated_claims_whistleblower/

We are pushing for action on toxic air pollution levels in Brighton and Hove

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Green ‘Notice of Motion’ going to Full Council this Thursday 6th April

At the meeting of Brighton and Hove City Council this Thursday, the Greens have put forward a set of proposals aiming to challenge the rising levels of air pollution in Brighton and Hove. We hope our calls to protect public health will be backed by all parties.

Brighton and Hove is one of 40 UK cities listed by the World Health Organisation as breaching safe air pollution limits. ‘Hotspots’ in the city such as Queens Road, Western Road and Rottingdean High Street regularly exceed both U.K and E.U limits for nitrogen dioxide, a toxic gas that along with other pollutants is primarily emitted by diesel vehicles and which can cause premature deaths and lung cancer.

Greens are calling on the Council to reduce the harm of emissions and protect public health by encouraging alternatives to diesel vehicle use. The proposals also call for better enforcement of regulations on engine idling, a major contributor to both noise and air pollution. The Greens are keen that the Council push for more government assistance to help taxi drivers to replace diesel cars with low-emission vehicles. Following similar initiatives rolled out in London, Greens are also pushing for differential charges to be applied to diesel vehicles parking in areas of the city badly affected by diesel fumes.

Green Councillor Lizzie Deane is keen to stress that any changes that lead to cleaner air will benefit everyone. She said:

“The rationale of this motion is entirely health related because, although air quality in the city has improved in recent years, there is still much to be done, especially in the city centre. It is now widely accepted that diesel emissions can cause serious health conditions, including asthma and lung cancer. So this is a motion that aims to benefit everyone, including motorists who, after all, are breathing the same air. In fact, recent studies have shown it is motorists who are most affected by diesel air pollution. I am particularly concerned for babies and toddlers who, by virtue of their size, are closer and more vulnerable to vehicle pollution emissions than adults.

“I do appreciate that some motorists bought diesel vehicles in good faith at a time when Government advised diesel to be a safer option. However, the only safe option is low emission vehicles, and we must do as much as we can to encourage their use. I am also aware that some of the proposals may have ramifications for the taxi trade, and am keen that existing cabbies are assisted when making upgrades to low emission vehicles.”

Studies have estimated that diesel fumes contribute to the deaths of more than 29,000 people in the UK each year and increase the likelihood of individuals contracting lung cancer almost threefold.

Green Councillors are calling on all parties to support their call for cleaner air at a meeting of Full Council this Thursday, April 6th.

Greens taking action to halt Downland sales – now let’s push to stop sales altogether

Earlier today, following our amendment that was submitted to Policy and Resources Committee, we have successfully called for a halt to the fast-moving sales of parcels of land in the Downland Estate. We put forward both a letter, setting out clearly why the Downland must be protected, but also two concrete proposals which, supported by the Conservatives, demand that the council look into alternative options to these sales and suspends the disposal process as it stands. (Amendment here, you can also read our letter)

 

We are relieved and energised that our requests to put the brakes on the sales have been accepted by all. We have fought hard to stop these plans despite how far ahead they were in the process. For now, this means that the plans to dispose of two parcels of land of the Downland Estate totalling more than 91.5 acres will not go ahead. But a halt is not enough. What is a fact now is that momentum and support is still needed to ensure we can finish what we have started and reverse the sales altogether.

Like many residents of Brighton and Hove and the surrounding area, we consider the Downland to be a special place that should be treated differently to other council ‘assets.’ It is a stunning area, a habitat for wildlife to flourish and for us to experience the local natural environment. It’s beautiful to look at, and an amazing part of our local environment both for flora and fauna, but it also secretly sustains us in more ways than we realise. Underneath our toes, the Downland also encompasses the ‘chalk aquifer’; – nothing short of a giant natural ‘sponge’ that forms a reservoir providing all the natural drinking water for Brighton and Hove. It is no surprise then that previous civic leaders had the foresight to purchase the Downland and protect it.

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Questions have therefore been rightfully asked about how these sales were made possible in the first place. We recognise that Councillors from all our local political parties sat on the committees that oversaw the original disposal plans and had the opportunity then to oppose them. In the original committees of July 2014 and Feb 2016, where these sales were agreed, the land was identified, not as part of the ‘Downland Estate’ but as a ‘non-core asset’ available for disposal to fund the Stanmer Park restoration and development.

Now we know that the details of the programme of land disposals would have benefitted from greater scrutiny. The Green group of Councillors have always valued the strength and importance of learning how to do things differently and to adapt when new information comes to light. As soon as details about the true nature of these sales became clear, we moved swiftly to act. Most importantly, we have also demanded significant changes to council policy and procedure that will ensure Downland is never again identified as an area suitable for sale.

We will be working with Councillors across all parties to increase protection of our estate which not only provides our water but is also unique for its biodiversity, heritage and landscape. We appreciate the irony that it is the Conservatives who have seconded our proposals, knowing as we do that it is the cuts and austerity policies of their colleagues in central government that force local councils to consider such drastic measures as selling the natural environment. Yet working together is essential if we are to reverse the sales. We believe protecting the natural environment is a task for all of us.

No matter the value, elected Councillors should always be clearly notified of any proposals to sell the Downland.  That’s because the ‘value’ of the Downland is about so much more than ‘money.’ You cannot put a price on nature.

Here is our opportunity to implement positive changes to council policy. I also hope we will lead the way to a change in the ‘culture’ in local government that all too quickly ignores the bounty of our natural environment.

The environment isn’t just another service to cut

By CLLR LOUISA GREENBAUM

 

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Brighton & Lewes Downs became a UNESCO Biosphere Region in 2014, now threatened by planned cuts.

The recent round of floods across the country was another in a series of wake-up calls on climate change.  Already we are seeing the impacts of the 1C rise in global temperatures so far, as freak rainfall events become more common and the scale of flooding increases.  It is a stark reminder of the impending threat of massive and catastrophic climate change over the next few decades.

The floods are an example of how the government’s ideological austerity programme has brought misery and destruction to the country.  In the 2010 spending review, the coalition government slashed flood defence spending by over £100m in a single year, and despite one-off high-profile cash boosts, this trend has continued.  The Environment Agency’s funding for maintaining flood assets has fallen by 14% in response to cuts. Floods in 2015 alone cost the economy £5.8 billion and displaced thousands of people.  Cutting spending on flood protection is counter-productive and hugely damaging to at-risk communities.

Investment in flood protection is just a sticking plaster for climate change, and one that will become increasingly expensive as environmental damage outstrips our capacity to mitigate it.  What is needed is a comprehensive and holistic approach to tackling the causes of climate change and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. It requires a shift in our way of life towards a greener economy.  Thankfully, the international community have agreed to limit climate change to less than 2%.  What needs to happen now is to transform those lofty goals into meaningful action.

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Views through the spectacular Devil’s Dyke – a precious green space for Brighton & Hove

At the national level, the last 6 months have revealed the government’s intention to cut back on environmental protection measures.  In the latest spending review we saw cuts to subsidies for energy efficiency, renewable heating technology and home insulation, which comes on top of increases in the cost of renewable energy.  We also saw cuts to the Department for Energy and Climate Change and Defra of 22% and 15% respectively.  This follows the 2010-15 coalition government which according to the House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee presided over disastrous declines in air quality, biodiversity and flood protection.  For central government, environmental protection is just another pocket of national spending to slash and burn.

Locally, in Brighton and Hove it is up to the Labour-led City Council to implement these Tory cuts.  A role they seem to have taken up with no small amount of gusto, despite strong Green resistance.  So far, the Labour Council has switched energy supplies away from renewable sources, refused to divest pension funds from fossil fuels and expressed unwavering support for expansion of air travel at Gatwick.  Future plans in the 2016/17 budget include cuts to recycling budgets, sustainability teams and park rangers.  Sadly, Labour seem to take the view that the environment is just another service to cut, a middle-class luxury that the city cannot afford in these hard times.

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Floods in Brighton in 2015

When the consequences of inaction are the loss of homes, droughts, sea-level rise and rising food costs, investment in the environment is not a luxury.  It is massively short-sighted to think we can wait until we are nearly underwater, when it will be too late to act.  It is imperative and urgent that we act now.  The Tory Government and Labour Council have it all backwards.  The environment cannot be seen as just another service we cannot afford.  With such high-stakes, the reality is we cannot afford NOT to act.

Greens are calling for a halt to austerity.  It poses an immense risk to this city, this country, this planet.  We must resist the cuts and demand a greener world.  As families in Cumbria, Lancashire and Yorkshire try to pick up the pieces now the media spotlight is gone, they can tell you what climate change costs.  If we don’t act soon, we will all be telling a similar story.