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Local History: Communal Bins Arrive

Published by on Friday, 13 February 20093 Comments

Communal Bin in BrightonThis is an article which I wrote some months ago in another local magazine on the history of the communal bin scheme. I thought it might prove of interest for some residents in the area to reproduce it here. One thing I really hate is hypocrisy, and when dealing with certain local councillors from the main political parties, you are treated to it in abundance. Labour are currently running around trying to be all warm and fuzzy towards residents, claiming that the expansion of the communal bin scheme is ‘outrageous’. Now read on …

Incredibly, it seems that certain Conservative councillors seem to have forgotten the Conservative-led scrutiny panel into the events surrounding the introduction of the communal bin “trial” in Central Brighton a couple of years ago. That panel concluded, amongst other things, that residents should be properly consulted about communal bins before they were placed in streets. Now the Conservative administration seems intent on dumping these bins all over the centre of town, and all over Kemptown. Perhaps even more astounding than that, Labour councillors Gill Mitchell, Craig Turton and Warren Morgan are trying to make political capital out of this mess, and  are acting as if they were walking into the affair as wide-eyed innocents. Well … what a difference a couple of years makes … in fact all three were on the Environment Committee and all three forced these bins on residents in the centre of town with no consultation whatsoever, and continued to do so after the trial in other areas.

In late 2003 an envelope fell through my letterbox. It wasn’t addressed to me, just to “The Occupier”.  I was really getting fed up of endless non-descript junk mail dropping through my door, adding to a sense of irritation whilst doing nothing for our environment. This was the time, I thought, to make a stand. I, like so many, complained about all kinds of things around the city, but realised that I never did anything about it. Now though, I could open the junk mail in my hand, find out who it was from, and then start some action about it. Little did I know that opening that envelope would take me down a completely different path – a path that led me to uncover the staggering way in which our city is run, and the contempt with which residents are held by certain factions within our council.

What in fact was contained within the envelope was a document from CityClean – the cleaning department of the council which had been formed when the refuse collection had been taken in-house in October 2001, having formerly been run by the privately-owned company SITA. SITA had suffered significant problems, including rubbish piling up in areas for days and workforce strikes, and for many residents the view was that no one could do any worse. The missive in my hand told us that our rubbish collection was changing and we would soon be enjoying a 12 month trial of a wonderful new system known as communal bins. The pictures showed six foot high containers and a person using the bin whilst displaying a smile usually exhibited by the latest recruit of some whacky south Californian cult.

I soon learnt that many of my neighbours knew nothing of this scheme – probably because CityClean had only seen fit to deliver only one letter per building – even for the many  multiple occupancy properties. I also discovered that there was to be a community meeting in the local church hall a few days later. I produced a leaflet and delivered it to as many streets as I could, with several other residents. Local ward councillor Roy Pennington told the church warden that they’d only need “a few chairs” – in fact over 100 people turned out to pack the church hall. Also in attendance were Gill Mitchell, a councillor for East Brighton and the then chair of the Environment Committee, and Tim Moore from CityClean, whom I recognised as the joyous ‘resident’ using the bin in the CityClean flyer, and who was wearing the same fervent, toothy smile as previously.

Assembled residents were informed by Tim Moore that in fact they themselves had asked for these bins in a recent survey. Judging by the animosity in the room it would seem that those residents who had supposedly made such a request had given the meeting a miss. Residents argued that the bins were unsightly, unnecessary, inappropriate in a conservation area, and would also lead to a loss of parking spaces. Tim Moore told residents that there would be two exhibitions that they could attend which would tell them more about it, and that they would provide “photographic evidence” of the need for bins. At the conclusion of the meeting another resident asked if in the light of this overwhelming opposition they would cancel the trial. Gill Mitchell pursed her lips and announced the trial would continue as planned, and also commented to Regency councillor Roy Pennington, “I can’t be bothered to answer these questions”. This was the unfortunate tenet that would continue throughout the so-called trial of these containers. This was my first encounter with our elected representatives and council officers. I was amazed at the contempt with which they were treating residents, the very people who paid their salaries (many people are unaware that councillors are now paid out of local taxation on top of their expenses). However the best was yet to come.

At the two public exhibitions (attended by a scant 48 people due to the inconvenient times chosen) residents had the joy of meeting the metal beast in the ‘flesh’. But what of the “photographic evidence” Tim Moore had promised us? Well it would be unfair not to give the poor fellow points for trying – he had a picture of a single open black sack photographed in such a way that the location could have not only been anywhere in the city, but indeed anywhere in the world. However CityClean don’t just think big in terms of bins – they had paid, presumably at no small expense to the local taxpayer, to have the photo blown up and printed on card to form a handsome backdrop to their exhibition, which lasted a total of merely two hours.

But ultimately this was all based on the mysterious Best Value Review of Waste Management 2002 in which Tim Moore and Gillian Marston claimed that we had all asked for communal bins – right? Well actually, no. I obtained a copy … it certainly made interesting reading. It revealed that in fact 85% of residents had somewhere to store their rubbish prior to collection. It also showed something even more interesting: out of the choices offered to residents in the survey, communal bins were the least popular, not the most, as Tim Moore and Gillian Marston had claimed. I questioned them on this, to which they replied that it had been based on the Regency edition of the report. Fine, I said – they could give me a copy. I’m sure I do not need to tell readers that there never was any such report, and over the next few weeks I was treated by the pair to a series of reasons as to why I hadn’t received it, which were laughably pathetic and only stopped short of claiming Gillian Marston’s dog ate it. During the few meetings residents forced with Gillian Marston and Tim Moore, we were treated to some other gems by the pair: for example, did you know that people who care about conservation and heritage are “just living in the past”?!

I received a letter from the council’s head of law, Mr. Abraham Ghebre-Ghiorghis. I can only assume that Mr. Ghebre-Ghiorghis had previously provided legal services to some blood-thirsty Somalian warlord as his letter informed me that unless I stopped writing articles in local newsletters and removed everything from my website I would be subjected to “legal and/or other action”! I asked him to name the specific instances of supposed “defamation” and to elaborate on the “other action” but he failed to reply to my questioning. It was clear the council were just desperate to stifle any free speech. In fact they even started threatening local newsletters. All this coupled with Gill Mitchell telling us that we had been properly consulted, everyone wanted the bins, and those who opposed them were just a small “vociferous minority”.

Eventually the weight of opposition forced a council scrutiny panel to look into the bins which saw Gill Mitchell hauled over the coals and which concluded that people had not been properly informed and that any future placement of these bins should be carried out after proper consultation with the residents.

However that, and more besides, is history. What the “trial” has shown is that the bins that have been in place in the centre of town regularly overflow, and even need teams going around from CityClean every single day to collect all the fly tipping that occurs next to the bins. How can this possibly be saving money? It stands to reason that four people (that we know of) going around every day in two vehicles must cost as must as one crew collecting refuse once a week. These bins also discourage recycling  – but don’t just take my word for it – in fact Gill Mitchell even admitted to this at a public meeting in Preston Park in the early days of the trial. Hardly a suitable result for a council which wishes to pride itself on doing its best for the environment?

Related Articles

  1. Communal Bins Overflow
  2. Letters: Communal Bins
  3. Letters: Letter To Councillor Geoffrey Theobald (Council Cabinet Member For The Environment) Regarding Communal Bins
  4. Letters: More On Communal Bins
  5. The Old Market: Financial History


  • Jane (Hove resident) says:

    I am going to start making my banner out of an old white sheet with 2 bamboo poles from the old days. Lets start a revolution!!! count me in!

  • feline1 says:

    I’m still waiting for all these bins to get parking tickets for being on double yellow lines.

  • sara says:

    The problem with dumped refuse in my street has been getting worse and worse since the introduction of this scheme. I regularly have bags of rubbish dumped outside my front gate, with household refuse left for days strewn across the road. I’m convinced that there are people here who are not aware / do not understand / cannot be bothered with the communal bin system and its making life miserable for the rest of us.

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