NEW rules for using Household Recycling Centres (HRCs) start in just five days.

Walk-ins will be banned at all nine HRCs run by Ards and North Down Council on Monday, with everyone who wants to use one ordered to book a time and day in advance instead.

The booking system is already up and running, offering slots up to two weeks in advance.

But the new rules for local people have already sparked several controversies, not least as they’re being brought in, in part, because at busy times council staff weren’t carrying out the ID checks they were meant to.

The council’s own equality analysts have stated that the revised system will have an impact on the elderly, disabled, and people who don’t speak English as a first language, but the changes are coming in anyway.

A petition on campaigning website that was set up to oppose the new rules has so far picked up well over 2,200 signatures, with the people behind it arguing that the overhaul will ‘create unnecessary challenges and limitations for residents in our community’.

And with just days to go before the system kicks in, a senior local councillor has raised fears that officials could use statistics gathered from it to drive cutbacks to HRC opening hours across the borough.

The council is bringing in the booking system in an attempt to tackle its continuing recycling crisis, which has seen it plummet from one of the best performing boroughs in Northern Ireland to one of the worst.

Three years into the crisis, council officials think a radical overhaul to HRCs is needed to deal with the problem.

Far too much recyclable rubbish is being dumped into landfill at HRCs, say officials, and members of the public will now be ordered to declare what type of waste they’re going to bring in when booking a slot.

The booking system should mean that anyone from outside the borough is blocked from dumping rubbish in local facilities, the council says, as well as ‘preventing the abuse of sites for the disposal of trade or commercial waste’.

It will also, the council claims, get rid of long queues at busy HRCs, free up staff to help members of the public more, reduce the burden of landfill taxes on the public purse, and ‘promote better onsite recycling participation’.

However there have been misgivings over phone lines for the system only being available from 9am to 4.30pm on weekdays, with no service on evenings or weekends.

In its messaging so far, the council has emphasised its Binovation app and website rather than the phone when booking times – and the online methods should be usable 24 hours a day.

The council’s nine HRCs open at 8am and close shortly before 5pm on weekdays, and also open for slightly shorter hours on Saturdays.

Bangor’s HRC, by far the busiest in the borough, operates on Sundays as well; Holywood’s is also open on a Sunday, but uniquely in the borough is shut on Thursdays.

With no evening hours anywhere in the borough and only two of the facilities open on Sundays, politicians have raised fears that Saturday appointments will become like gold dust as locals try to grab a convenient slot to use their nearest HRC.

But senior officials have so far resisted calls to increase opening hours, stating that there’s no evidence that a significant number of locals find the current hours unsuitable.