Hastings Council Leader’s Report: July 2019

New Waste Arrangements

Last weekend, Hastings Council’s current waste and recycling contract ended, and new arrangements began. The previous contract, run by Kier, covered four East Sussex councils (Hastings, Rother, Eastbourne, and Wealden), but had never performed well. In addition, the collapse in value of recycled materials meant the contract was no longer viable, as the price had been based on the relatively high value of these materials when the contract was set up.

Biffa Waste Services now run the new waste collection contract. You’ll see their red lorries emptying the bins from now on. However, street cleaning, removing flytips, and bulky waste collections are now run directly by the council using its own employees, through a new Direct Services Organisation (DSO). We decided to do this because while specifying the required service for emptying household bins is relatively easy, specifying a service for street cleaning, particularly in a busy tourist town such as Hastings, is much more difficult. Bringing this service back in-house gives us more control over where and how street cleaning is carried out. We’d have liked to bring refuse collection services back in-house too, but we didn’t have the capacity to do that at the same time. For refuse collection, the main difference is that you no longer need to use the black boxes for glass recycling – glass can be put in the green bins, or pink sacks.

Street cleaning will, however, be organised differently. There will be a greater focus on emptying litter bins, with a half-sized refuse freighter used specifically for this. We’ll also be employing more operatives, whom we’ll want to be part of the local community, so they can work with local people to make sure the streets are kept clean. They will have specific rounds and ‘patches’ with day-to-day instructions, but we’ll also be responding to reports received online, via the council’s ‘My Hastings’ website, so make sure you report all problems with litter, overfull bins, dog fouling and flytipping there, so they can be dealt with promptly. This is especially important in the early part of the contract, as we know we’ll need to adjust rounds according to where the problems are. When dealing with these reports, the operatives take before and after photographs, so we’ll know the problem has been dealt with. All the street cleaning and associated vehicles will eventually be in the council’s own livery, although some vehicles are hire vehicles at the moment.

The first weekend of the service was perhaps the worst day of the year to take over a new street cleaning service – the hottest day of the year, and the day of the St Leonards Festival. Added to that, Kier had left over 300 unresolved reports of litter and flytipping that needed to be dealt with. So it’s taken a while to catch up. There were some problems with the Biffa waste collections too, as they missed quite a few communal bin collections, meaning the bins were overflowing and bags were ripped open by gulls. Hopefully, these problems will be resolved soon.

As the service settles in, we’ll also be looking at how we can ‘commercialise’ it, to generate a profit to pay for local services by offering waste collection services to businesses, or by operating street cleaning services for other organisations – for example, on social housing estates. And we’ll be looking to bring other contracted services back in-house, to run them for public good, not private profit.

Getting Litter Bins Right

OK, here’s the really nerdy article…

The kind of litter bins needed in busy public areas has been the subject of some national research recently. Hastings Council will be replacing some of the seafront bins with new ones, but there’s no ‘perfect bin’ for busy public spaces. Bins with small openings mean that people leave large bags of rubbish beside the bin, where they get ripped open by gulls, badgers, and foxes. However, making the openings bigger means the gulls can get into the bin and take the rubbish out. Bins with lids seem like a good option, but the research showed that people are nowadays unwilling to touch bins, so won’t use them if they have to lift a lid or open a chute – so again leave litter in bags beside the bin.

Recycling ‘on the go’ has recently been the subject of research in Leeds. There, they tried different ways to encourage people to recycle in the city centre. Some of the methods they tried included reward schemes which automatically gave reward points on a card when recyclable materials were put it, other kinds of ‘reward’ bin such as one that blew bubbles when something was put in it, bins with lids, single material recycling bins, bins without lids, and with different messages to encourage recycling. The conclusion of the research was that none these methods worked – in all cases, the bins were contaminated with so much non-recyclable rubbish that the material collected was unusable. So as yet, there’s no clear way to get people to recycle in public areas, nor indeed to get them to use bins properly at all.

One thing we will try is putting notices on bins with photos of what happens if you leave bags beside the bin (usually within seconds) and also reminding people that you can get be fined for doing it. Beyond that, now we run the street cleaning service ourselves, we’ll be able to experiment with different kinds of bins to see what works best.

Weeds Again

It’s that time of year again, when our footways start to look like a rather overgrown country path. Weed clearance on highways is the responsibility of East Sussex County Council, and they will be spraying the weeds soon, which should deal with the problem for now.

However, this is far from ideal. The chemical they’ll be using (Glyphosatebased) is controversial, with indications that it could be carcinogenic with significant levels of exposure over long periods of time. There are many court cases pending in the US with billions of pounds in compensation claims from workers who have used Glyphosate over long periods against Monsanto (the manufacturer of Glyphosate, usually marketed as Roundup). It seems unlikely that the licence for Glyphosate to be used in the EU will be renewed when it expires in 2022, and it’s quite possible, as more successful claims are approved by the US courts, that Monsanto will withdraw Glyphosate anyway.

There are other chemicals, but the ones that are effective are much more expensive, and in some cases have similar carcinogenic suspicions associated with them. So it would seem to be far better to get rid of chemical weedkillers on the streets altogether. In some streets, residents are getting together to clear the weeds on the street outside their homes, and helping those who aren’t able to do so. Councillors should be able to help with that, and join in!

From now on, the Hastings Council street cleaning service will be removing weeds manually, using ‘grubbing out’ tools with barrow patrols (after they get on top of the litter problems), and their new street sweeping vehicles can be fitted with wire brushes that rip out weeds before they get a chance to take hold. This will hopefully mean that the county council will not need to spray the streets in future years.

Lower Tier Site

The government has offered Hastings Council a £6.9m grant to develop a site off Bexhill Road, known as the ‘Lower Tier Site’. This grant is needed to mitigate flooding on the site, as it’s currently in a flood risk zone. At its cabinet meeting on Monday, the council will be considering a report to sign up for this grant.

The site is on the edge of the Combe Haven Countryside Park, on some former football pitches that are no longer used, because of waterlogging and flooding, so it’s currently mown grassland. The total area of the site is around 4 hectares, just over half a percent of the area of the adjoining countryside park (location shown on the map).

The site would be developed through a joint venture with Optivo Housing Association, with at least 40% of the homes being ‘affordable’, which in this case means a mixture of shared ownership and social rented homes with rents pegged to the Local Housing Allowance (so rents would be fully covered by the amount payable from full Housing Benefit or housing portion of Universal Credit). Of the remaining 60%, some would be purchased by the council’s housing company and made available for rent also, using the profit generated from the scheme.

The development would be for 192 homes, using innovative building techniques, high energy efficiency standards, and sustainable energy generation, with links to sports, leisure, play, accessibility, and environmental factors. Throughout there will also be a commitment to providing local employment and training opportunities.

Before any planning application can be drawn up, the flood risk problems will need to be addressed. The proposal is for potential flood water from the river (the site is at risk from fluvial (ie river) flooding rather than sea flooding) to be contained in ‘attenuation ponds’, which means there would be drainage built into the site that, in the event of flooding, would be pumped to newly-created wetlands that could contain the water until it could be pumped out to sea at low tide. These attenuation measures would remove the risk of flooding for other properties in Bexhill Road too. Risk from potential future sea level rises will be taken into account too, although if we fail to address climate change, ‘worst case’ predictions would mean the whole of the Bulverhythe area would be under water within the next 100 years – hopefully the world’s governments will come to their senses and avoid that!

However, a scheme will have to be drawn up first, and will need to get the support of the Environment Agency for the site to be developed. There will also be extensive consultation with local communities about the style, design, and nature of the development. Section 106 payments from the development (a requirement to contribute to local facilities and infrastructure as part of planning permission) could be used to enhance and provide funding for the neighbouring Combe Valley Countryside Park.

Inevitably, developments such as this are always controversial with the occupants of neighbouring homes. This site is not in the plan as suitable for housing development because of the flood risk – the plan didn’t take into account the possibility of flood mitigation. As Hastings is a relatively densely populated borough, it’s impossible to find development sites that aren’t close to nearby housing. We are currently reviewing our Local Plan, but that review will need to identify new development sites in addition to those already in the plan, as population predictions show significant increases in the Hastings population, mainly from inward migration from other parts of the region. Already, there’s nowhere near enough housing for the people who live here, particularly for genuinely affordable rented housing, with several thousand local people looking for a home they can afford, and increasing levels of homelessness. Schemes such as this, with significant numbers of affordable homes, are essential to meet current and future demand, and if we’re to have enough homes for people to live in – we certainly don’t at the moment. So sites such as this, which can be brought into use for housing, are essential to achieve a goal of homes for all.

Summer Festivals Update

The last month has seen two excellent festivals take place in Hastings: The Mid-Summer Fish Festival and St Leonards Festival. The Mid-Summer Fish Festival goes from strength to strength, and was again very popular, with over 8,000 visitors enjoying the fish, food, local produce, music, and fish cookery lessons. This was the first Hastings Council event to be entirely free of single use plastics, with stallholders using bamboo plates, wooden cutlery and compostable cups and ‘glasses’. The council also sold several hundred of our reusable stackable plastic beer mugs at a pound a time.

I was pleased to do the opening speech for the St Leonards Festival, which is organised and run by local events company 18 Hours (with some council funding). This is our most multi-cultural festival, with food, events, storytelling and more provided by the many different cultural communities that have settled around Central St Leonards and have contributed to the area’s regeneration. It was also a huge success, with food and other events in Warrior Square, as well as at other locations in St Leonards Town Centre, culminating in the wonderful illuminated caribou puppets as dusk fell (in picture).

During July, we have even more festivals in town. This weekend saw the Hastings Beer and Music Festival, and the Hastings Theatre Festival. And of course, there’s Pirate Day on 14th July, where another world record will be attempted this year, of the largest human depiction of a ship (that really is an ‘official’ record!).

Public Space Protection Orders

The Hastings Council Cabinet meeting on Monday will consider a report on variations to Public Space Protection Orders (PSPOs). These are orders made by the council to prohibit particular behaviours in geographic zones of the town. To set them up, the council has to have evidence that the behaviour being prohibited is causing a problem in that area. PSPOs were originally set up two years ago, but need to be reviewed from time to time because of changing circumstances – for example, where particular problems have been displaced to a different area not included in the original PSPO.

In recent years, the PSPO legislation has been criticised – or rather, the way councils have used it has been criticised (the picture shows an imaginative array of prohibition symbols from Wrexham Council – it’s OK to be a rough sleeper as long as you sleep during the day!), resulting in considerable scrutiny of new PSPO proposals by pressure groups and the press. In several cases, councils have withdrawn them after setting them up, because of local and national criticism. Others have simply been ridiculed.

In Hastings, PSPOs have been used to prevent anti-social behaviour, use of psychoactive substances (‘legal highs’), aggressive begging and street drinking. They are also used to set up dog control areas, defining where dogs have to be kept on leads, for example.

Before the PSPOs can be set up, they have to be subject to a period of public consultation. Hastings Council consulted on extending the street drinking ban to new areas outside the existing ban area, improving the definition of ‘aggressive begging’ for the PSPO banning this, removing the psychoactive substances ban (because ‘legal highs’ are no longer legal, so this is covered by other legislation) and introducing a new PSPO to ban sleeping overnight in caravans, tents and other structures in some parts of town, coupled with a commitment to support those sleeping in such structures into permanent accommodation.

In the event, there was little opposition in the consultation to extending the street drinking ban or improving the definition of aggressive begging, but a majority of respondents were opposed to the PSPO banning sleeping overnight in caravans and other structures. Added to this, the Government has now issued guidance that PSPOs cannot be used to prevent rough sleeping (making many other PSPOs agreed by other councils no longer valid). So the report to Cabinet recommends that the PSPO on overnight sleeping in caravans and other structures won’t be implemented, but the other changes will be.

It is worth also noting that introducing a PSPO is only one step towards solving the problems the PSPOs are intended to address. The council’s street wardens have powers to issue Fixed Penalty Notices for breaches of the orders, and also have powers to seize alcohol from street drinkers. However, they can’t do this without the full support of the police – a street warden cannot safely be expected to deal with a group of 20 or more aggressive and sometimes violent street drinkers without effective backup from the police. Sussex Police have recently been given additional Government funding, while Hastings Council has had more funding cuts. We’re told that funding will be used to provide 200 additional front line police (including Police Community Support Officers) over the next couple of years. So we’ll be expecting the police to provide additional support, with more PSPOs in particular, to enforce these extended PSPOs in Hastings.

That’ll do for now – if you’d like more information on any of this, leave a message on 01424 451066, or e-mail at [email protected]

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