As I indicated in my first report to Council last week as Cabinet Member for Sustainable Environment and Climate Change, waste disposal will be high on the Council's agenda this year. The introduction of a new, revolutionary method of treating our household waste in 2009 will transform Darlington's performance on recycling.
Local LibDem councillor Mike Barker touches on this in his blog, in which he urges Darlington Borough Council to be "ambitious" in the choices it subsequently makes. I don't doubt for a moment Mike's commitment to the environmental movement, but it's worth taking a look at a nearby council to see how political strife can stymie the most well-meaning green initiative.
As was prominently reported in the Echo, last year Wear Valley District Council, then Labour controlled, decided to bring in so-called 'tweelie bins' - twin bins that would allow the Council to move from weekly to fortnightly collections. The environmental logic behind such a move was impeccable - fortnightly collections encourage householders to generate less waste. Perhaps naively, the controlling Labour Group at the time thought that they had all-party agreement for the move, in light of the support from the LibDems and the Independents over a two-year period.
I say 'perhaps naively', but given the LibDems' national reputation for duplicity, Wear Valley Labour Group should have guessed what was coming next. The LibDems brazenly campaigned against fortnightly collections in the subsequent election campaign, and the Council recently became hung. Now 15,000 tweelie bins are neatly stacked in a farmer's field near Crook at a premium cost to local Council Tax payers.
So what are the lessons for Darlington? New to the portfolio, I'm strictly agnostic on the 'black bag vs. wheelie bin' argument. I chatted to two residents in Killin Road on Monday whilst I was putting out our ward newsletter who could see clear advantages from the Council introducing wheelie bins. At the same time, the black bag system is much appreciated in terraced areas of the town, where space is at a premium.
Wear Valley provides a salutary lesson, however, as to how toxic this debate can become when political parties exploit a situation purely for short-term expediency.