MORE than 4,000 people are calling on the council to dump their new system forcing locals to book appointments in Household Recycling Centres (HRCs).

At the start of this month, Ards and North Down Council became the first, and so far only, local authority in Northern Ireland to order taxpayers to book a slot to dump rubbish in HRCs.

The move came as the council struggles to get to grips with its three-year recycling crisis, but sparked several controversies – not least as they were 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 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 happened anyway.

This week North Down MLA Alex Easton and councillor Wesley Irvine delivered a petition signed by 4,051 people calling on the local authority to abandon the booking system.

They dropped it off at the council’s main HQ, Bangor City Hall, shortly before Mr Irvine attempted to force a vote on scrapping the system through the council chamber.

The independent unionist thinks that the petition is proof the booking system is unpopular with local taxpayers and should go.

“Any changes to services need to be done in a way that commands public support,” he said. “Though the public have shown that they are willing to contribute to recycling efforts, many across the borough believe this a step too far.

“Many actually believe it will lead to less recycling, as the hassle of booking online or over the phone will put people off attending recycling centres. This petition shows the strength of feeling against the new system and the want for councillors to listen to their concerns.

“I am calling for the new booking system to be scrapped and for alternative methods to increase recycling and reduce the amount of waste going to landfill.”

Mr Irvine hoped to make that happen at a council meeting that got underway shortly after this newspaper went to press last night.

His bid was likely to have some competition, however, as it’s understood that at least one political party wanted to launch their own vote that would see the booking system continue for another few months before a full review near the end of the year.

Speaking after handing in the petition this week, Mr Easton argued that it is ‘quite clear the public are really unhappy with the council’s decision’ to create the HRC booking system.

“While I understand the council needs to save money by reducing the amount of waste they send to landfill, this is really not the way to do it,” said the MLA.

“There was no public consultation on the issue, which leaves the council open to a judicial review; this new operating model could also discourage people from recycling, as it restricts the number of times they can go to an HRC and have to book an appointment.

“Many people, especially the elderly, do not have access to a computer and as such are penalised by the new online booking system.

“All of this really defeats our need to meet recycling targets and is counterproductive.”

Arguing that the new system will make fly-tipping problems seen in Craigantlet and Millisle even worse, Mr Easton suggested that the council needs to enforce its existing rules about dumping waste in HRCs more strictly, rather than plump for the appointments-only system.

“It’s time this council started to listen,” he said. “Since my time on that body, officers seem to rule the roost; that is no way for a council to run.”