THE decision to close Garstang’s “tip” has prompted a major political row, an official call for a rethink and Labour politicians accusing the Conservatives responsible for the decision of “shedding crocodile tears.”
Labour councillors at County Hall had been planning to ask for a formal “call- in” of the closure decision, but were beaten to it by a group of Conservative councillors, including Garstang’s County Coun Val Wilson.
Coun Wilson said she has asked for a convening of a meeting of the county’s Overview and Scrutiny Committee, “so that they can consider whether a call-in is required.”
The call-in meeting is due to be held at County Hall at 4.30pm today.
Coun Clive Grunshaw, a leading Wyre Labour and county councillor described the politcal manoeuvring following the tip closure decision as “pure panto.”
He said: “The situation seems to be a little confused, as I’m told, that the Tories have also submitted a call-in request.
“This is pure panto – they are calling-in one of their own decisions in a desperate attempt to distance themselves from taking responsibility from what they are actually doing! You couldn’t make it up!The Conservatives submitted a call-in notice to pre-empt the one from us.
“It means that the person leading the request for the decision to be called-in will be a Tory rather than a Labour county councillor.
“It is a cynical political ploy that hasn’t been used before (i.e. a cabinet member requesting that a decision by a fellow cabinet member is called-in) to deflect attention away from themselves.
“They seem to want the power to take decisions without the responsibility that goes with it!
“Our call-in notice has also been submitted and we will (with the permission of the committee) also be allowed to speak.”
Coun Grunshaw added: “I feel that the consultation process has been a sham. The Tory-controlled authority has not listened to the views of residents, the concerns that were raised have not been addressed.”
He said it was especially important that the matter be reconsidered in view of a possible alternative operator who has expressed interest in the site.
He added: “The STING group’s campaign to save Garstang HWRC has been well organised and they should be congratulated for their efforts. Hopefully, they can be represented at the call-in meeting and it would also be helpful if some of the Conservative councillors who have been shedding crocodile tears over this issue could exact some influence over their own colleagues. If they do not what is their point?
“It is no use pretending that this is not a party political issue: it is. A Labour-controlled county council introduced the HWRCs and it is a Conservative-controlled authority taking them away.
“They will argue the need to make savings, but I would suggest that a fraction of the money being used to introduce unwanted 20 mph zones across Lancashire could be better spent on HWRCs.”
County Coun Wilson said she appreciated “the valiant efforts of those who have fought to keep the site open and know how disappointed they must be.”
She added: “However I also understand the difficult decisions that are having to be made in the current financial crisis, and that priorities have to be made, including care for the elderly and a range of services for vulnerable people of all ages.”
The call-in mechanism is brought into use when councillors want a second look at an executive decision, but does not guarantee a reversal of a decision.
The decision to close Claughton – along with three others tips at Great Harwood, Bacup and Colne – follows a review of the service after the council agreed to save £520,000 as part of a £179m programme of savings in its February budget.
The proposal to close the Garstang tip resulted in a massive local campaign and a petition collected more than 7,500 signatures opposing the move.
Conservative-run Wyre Council, which opposes the move, is also disappointed with decision.
Coun Peter Murphy, of Brock, cabinet member with responsibility for refuse collection and recycling at Wyre said: “I fully opposed the closure of Claughton tip and believe it will cause enormous problems for residents of rural Wyre and the council.
“Lancashire County Council has acknowledged that it miscalculated journey times for people, many of whom will have to travel massive distances to dispose of their waste when Claughton closes. This decision goes against everything we have been striving to achieve in terms of increasing recycling and reducing landfill. I understand Lancashire County Council’s need to save money, but disagree with a cut that will have such a huge impact on the community.”
It is expected that Wyre Council’s household collection service will be affected, as people put extra waste into their grey bins. There is also the potential for fly-tipping of materials that the council is unable to collect.
The county council has rubbished the fly-tipping fears.
Coun Murphy added: “It appears that this closure has been decided at officer level rather than by elected members, which is why it is so difficult to accept a decision that was so vehemently opposed.”
The closure decision was announced on Thursday by Coun Albert Atkinson, deputy leader of the Conservatives at county hall.
He said: “Given the huge changes in the way we dispose of our waste there has long been a need to look at the value for money we get from HWRCs. People can now recycle most everyday items using their kerbside collections, with HWRCs there for the occasional times they need to dispose of bulky rubbish or items which can’t be collected from the kerbside.
l The tip will close on March 19, 2012, with staff remaining on site until the end of April 1. The call-in is unlikely to see the decision reversed, and the only real hope left is a possible private option mooted by Coun Roger Brooks, and reported in last week’s Courier.
l The scrutiny meeting is being held this afternoon (December 21) at 4.30pm in Committee Room C at County Hall and is open to the public.
l See letters and comment, page six.