The facts of the Van Ban Debate

The facts of the Van Ban Debate

Gavin-at-desk-bright 600-x-400At a recent Council meeting I voted against a Motion to rescind the most comprehensive and coherent environmental waste policy the Council had brought forward in the two years of existence. I’ve been asked why I voted that way –  so here is a full explanation of the issue.

Ards and North Down Council recently upheld its decision to retain House Recycling Centres for the exclusive use of householders at a cost of £1.4m – the equivalent of 3-4 per cent of rates.

This despite an attempt by Green and SDLP Councillors to scupper the most cohesive environmental policy brought forward in the two years since the formation of the new Council.

The facts

In June David Lindsay, Director of the Environmental Department within the Council, brought forward to the Environment Committee a new policy that would allow Council to reclaim the Household Recycling Centres for domestic ratepayers throughout the Borough.

The Policy –  which would require local commercial operators to make alternative arrangements to using the free facility, and prevent other commercial operators from outside the Borough from benefiting from our previously lax policy – passed the Committee stage without question.

The Environment Committee is Chaired by Green Party Councillor John Barry. However, as neither Councillor Barry nor his Party colleague Councillor Roberts, took time from their schedules to attend this meeting, it fell to the Alliance Councillor Scott Wilson the Committee Vice-Chair to take the chair.

I was surprised that neither Councillors Barry or Roberts turned up to help scrutinize this important Policy. The Green Party claims to have an interest in the environment but it appears that when it comes to making difficult decisions it is happy to stand aside and allow the Alliance Party and others to make them on behalf of our ratepayers.

Having passed Committee stage, the Policy was also waved through the full Council meeting later in June, once again passed without substantive questions.

The new policy creates a level playing field for all commercial operators throughout the Borough when it comes to the disposal of their commercial waste.

The previous free for all policy was simply unfair. Shop, office and other businesses work hard to pay their commercial rates and then are required to pay for the removal of commercial waste.

So small mainly home-based businesses that used the Household Recycling Centres for the disposal of their commercial waste were getting the equivalent of a free service provided by the ratepayers. A service that amounted to a cost of over £1million per year – the equivalent of 3-4 per cent of domestic rates.

That’s obviously an unsustainable and unfair position for us as a Council to continue to uphold.

So the Policy that Mr Lindsay presented to the Environment Committee in June was comprehensive in its creation of a fair commercial landscape.

Which is why I was astounded when the SDLP and Green Party brought forward a Motion to rescind the Policy in its entirety at the recent Council meeting.

Why did the Green Party oppose the Policy?

It is beyond comprehension why the Green Party in particular is so keen to destroy an environmental policy that cuts back on the amount of waste that the Council is required to handle and which puts our environmental credibility into jeopardy.

Much of the cost is attributable to increased landfill cost and for the Green Party be standing on the side of excusing vastly increased amount of landfill is absurd. But what’s even worse, they are prepared to do so at the expense of every one of the 60,000+ householders in our Borough!

Councillor Barry – who seconded the Motion to rescind this Policy – claims to be an environmentalist, but seconded a motion for us to simply tear up this positive environmental policy. A motion which – had we responded to it – would have affected the rates bill of every household in our Borough.

His decision to take this stand against our environmental policy means simply that what small amount of integrity the Green Party had left after telling us that it’s OK to be a member of a paramilitary organization was left in tatters on the floor of the Council Chamber at the meeting.

I consulted with businesses from within and without the borough.  Some small businesses from within the Borough were unhappy about the changes but they accepted it wasn’t going to have a major impact.

Meanwhile businesses from outside the Borough were astounded that the rules in Ards and North Down were so relaxed.  The updated rules bring us into line with the rest of Northern Ireland where businesses manage to operate perfectly fine.

This Policy has been debated at length three times, twice at full council, and the policy in its initial form was agreed unanimously. Sometimes difficult decisions have to be made for the greater good and although not everyone will be happy with them, as a council we need to show a backbone and behave responsibly, especially when it comes to spending your money.


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