Several councillors from across Mid Ulster have expressed concern about proposals to close five recycling centres, including one at Coalisland.
At the local authority’s special meeting on Monday, February 6, members were presented with a report on council’s planned expenditure for the 2023/24 financial year.
These figures were used in helping council to strike its 7.3 per cent increase in the district domestic rate and included in the detail was a saving for the “rationalisation of waste recycling centres” which includes a “programme of planned closures at Castledawson, Coalisland, Draperstown, Fivemiletown and Moneymore”.
With the proposal to strike the rate at 7.3 per cent brought forward by Sinn Fein group leader Councillor Cathal Mallaghan, seconded by his party colleague Ian Milne, and SDLP group leader Councillor Malachy Quinn signalling his party’s intention to support the proposal, independent councillor Dan Kerr asked if the proposal still included the recommendation to close the recycling centres in question.
“In Coalisland, at least, I believe that will be a huge blow to the ratepayer if that was to go ahead,” said the Torrent councillor.
Chief executive Adrian McCreesh told the chamber that “as it stands, the papers reflect the expenditure items that are in there with the agreement of the members”.
Councillor Clement Cuthbertson also drew attention to a line in the report noting council would reduce contractor costs by “cessation of grass verge cutting” and asked what would happen to staff at these recycling centres and those who cut grass verges.
Mr McCreesh assured the chamber there was “no appetite in this organisation for any form of compulsory redundancy” and claimed the decision to close the recycling centres was based, in part, on the “lifespan of the facilities in question”.
“It was also based on the fact this organisation has invested millions in the last number of years in Cookstown, Dungannon and Magherafelt to build state of the art, modern, recycling centres that have capacity to service the whole of Mid Ulster and it is on that basis that it was presented to members in consideration for savings,” he said.
“In relation to the grass cutting, this organisation made clear to the Department for Infrastructure that when we are struggling to maintain services and cut our own walkways, we find it quite ironic we are cutting acres upon acres of lands and grass belonging to DfI.
“Members have discussed this time and time again. If I am not mistaken we issued correspondence stating this and asking them to step up and start taking responsibility for their own areas.
“They don’t cut any of our areas, yet we, over the years, have increasingly taken on board their facilities.”
Council’s vice-chair, Councillor Frances Burton said she was sure the decision to close the recycling centre in Fivemiletown – an area that already feels it is “on the periphery of Mid Ulster” – will “go down badly” with local residents who will see their rates bill increase.
“Maybe we should have had some form of consultation with the people,” she said.
“People really feel their bin collection and being able to use recycling centres locally is what they get for their rates.
“I know they get more but at the end of the day you have to try and work with people and I wonder, if stuff is dumped at the gates of these places, as we saw over the pandemic enforced closures, what we will do?
“There was a considerable amount of money spent on Fivemiletown when the Clogher facility was closed and we went through all the numbers of how much refuse was left in these places but we need to consider how we make it easy for people from those places to get to our recycling centres.
“It is a fair wee travel for people to get from Fivemiletown to Dungannon so how do we make it as easy as possible? The last thing we want is for stuff to be dumped outside these centres and people left living close to these areas left in that situation.”
The Clogher Valley councillor also asked for clarity for staff who may now be fearful their job status has essentially become “go somewhere else or you don’t have a job”.
Mr McCreesh said these points will addressed at council’s environment committee “in the very near future” and told the chamber that in relation to staff “nothing is set in stone”.
“We are in an organisation where change is constant, another constant is we don’t have the resources to meet our ambition,” he said.
“These things will evolve and will hopefully impact positively on our citizens. As far as staff are concerned, most of the staff, right across the organisation, are aware that because of costs, tighter budgets and the economic climate this is likely to be the economic environment we are operating in for at least four to six years.
“In a position like that you have to look at rationalising services to provide a better service but that does not mean redundancies. There are more than enough duties for staff to be doing elsewhere.
“As an example, indoor leisure is static or thereabouts and outdoor leisure is expanding exponentially, we need to re-resource that. We have not done that in the past but that is the future of local government and as any business we have to put our resources where they are most needed at any point in time.”