ACCESS to all of the borough’s nine household recycling centres after the summer will only be possible through pre-booking, councillors have decided.

Ards and North Down Council has made the radical and controversial decision in a bid to reduce the amount of waste being dumped in the centres (HRCs), especially by people who don’t live in the borough.

Council officers believe that cracking down on the huge amount of waste being dumped at HRCs will help the local authority improve its appalling recycling figures which are among the worst in Northern Ireland.

The decision to switch to a pre-booking system was made behind closed doors as part of the rates setting process at the beginning of the year and only made public at a meeting of a council committee on Wednesday.

At a meeting of the Environment Committee, councillors were told the new system will come into effect on September 4.

It is expected that most bookings will be made online, but those people without internet access will be able to book a slot over the phone, and bookings are possible two weeks in advance and up to 30 minutes prior to a visit.

There is no limit to the number of times someone uses a recycling centre, but if officers feel it is higher than normal the person making the booking will be asked to explain why.

Committee members agreed on a prototype for the operation of the system when they met last week. During that meeting the council’s Director of Environment, David Lindsay, fielded questions for well over an hour from councillors concerned about how the system would be implemented.

Mr Lindsay assured councillors this would be a service improvement programme.

“This is not a reduction in service or the introduction of barriers to people using a publicly funded service,” he said. “We know there are people abusing our sites and we’ve introduced this system to prevent fraud by people using our services who are not entitled to use our services”. 

The council has had difficulties combating ‘waste tourism’ whereby people from outside the borough bring their waste to HRCs in Ards and North Down for disposal.

This system, Mr Lindsay continued, would ensure the council’s HRCs were protected for the residents and ratepayers of this borough who pay for those services.

“It will also deal with commercial business use where the owner of that business or commercial enterprise happens to have an address in this borough,” he added. If a business person uses this system to make multiple bookings every week, that would be highlighted. 

“It’s not for the sake of any big brother syndrome,” Mr Lindsay added. “It’s purely to monitor abuses and we won’t be automatically presuming anyone who books a few visits more than the average is abusing the system”.

Anyone who was making an inordinate number of bookings, he explained, would receive a prompt from the system asking the person to call the council and explain why they have to use the site so frequently.

“We are not going to set an arbitrary binding limit on the number of visits from any one household,” he continued. “We won’t be introducing some sort of draconian waste police, but I think it is reasonable that the checks and balances are there”. 

One of the key benefits of the system, Mr Lindsay explained, was that if a householder who wants to use a van or a trailer would no longer have to apply for a permit.

Householders can also book a commercial operator and the system would remember how many times people from a certain residential address had asked to come into the site in a van. 

The registration number of the vehicle used to bring material to HRCs won’t be linked to the number of visits made to a site, but rather would be linked to a residential address in the borough. As is currently the practice, proof that people reside at the address they have booked under would have to be produced at the HRC.

Some of the council’s HRCs, he continued, were quite small and are restricted in the range of materials they can accept. The new system will only allow bookings to be made at those sites which could accommodate certain categories of recycling materials.

“This booking system smooths out the traffic and volume of material coming into a site at any one time which makes it much easier for us to plan the programming of the site,” Mr Lindsay said. At present when skips fill up really quickly the council have no other option than to close the site to allow lorries to come onto the site to upload items from the skip.  

“We would be able to plan the programme of servicing of skips and be able to block out times which means no-one is inconvenienced.” he added.

Mr Lindsay said data protection, would be “front and centre of the system’. “We would not be contracting with anyone unless we had absolute assurances and guarantees in relation to the protection of people’s data,” he added.