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October 27, 2010

Community recycling not valued by Council

An award winning and much valued community recycling project is facing a threat of closure because of Council plans to standardise a new collection system across the Highlands. GREAN are the only community run recycling social enterprise left in the Highlands and it is feared that the Council view them more as an anomaly within their overall service provision rather than as model of localised waste recycling

The future of East and Central Sutherland social enterprise company GREAN (Golspie Recycling and Environmental Action Network), which employs 23 people, is once again in doubt. A funding agreement between GREAN and Highland Council comes to an end in March next year and no assurances have as yet been given that it will continue.

Instead, fears are high that a radical shake-up by the local authority of waste refuse services in the Highlands, aimed at saving £500,000, could adversely affect GREAN.

The company, which began operating in 2002 and is based in Golspie Industrial Estate, is the only community sector group left in the Highlands offering a kerbside collection service. A similar community enterprise on the north coast, Bettyhill Environment Action Group, ceased trading in June 2008.

Highland Council presently provides a kerbside recycling service to 95 per cent of households in its area and waste management officials are thought to regard GREAN, which requires over £400,000 a year to operate, as an anomaly.

Concern over the group’s future intensified following a meeting of Highland Council’s Transport, Environmental and Community Services (TEC) committee, held in Inverness on 23 September. Members agreed to axe the present system of weekly refuse collections across the Highland area and instead introduce a fortnightly pick-up.

The new scheme, in which general household refuse will be collected one week and recyclables the next, will be gradually rolled out. The move is expected to save the local authority £500,000 in wages and vehicle costs.

Councillors took the decision after considering a report by Head of Waste Services, Colin Clark, who gave a strong indication that the new system would have a knock-on effect on GREAN.

He stated: “The roll-out of alternate weekly collections in East and Central Sutherland will impact on the operations of GREAN.”

However, also before councillors was an analysis of comments made by North residents during the council’s recent budget consultation. It states: “People were supportive of community recycling schemes such as GREAN and it was suggested that those should be increased across the area.”

North, West and Central Sutherland councillor George Farlow sits on the TEC Services committee and was present at the 23 September meeting. He subsequently went on to voice his fears about GREAN’s future at a recent meeting of Lairg Community Council.

Speaking to the NT earlier this week, Councillor Farlow confirmed that he thought the council wanted to usurp GREAN.

He said: “It seems to me that the Highland Council want a one-size fits all approach.”

Northern Times correspondent Liz Quinn, who was at the community council meeting, said: “Members were horrified that GREAN’s good work could be in jeopardy and felt that the jobs had to be safeguarded. It was suggested that members of the public could write to the council in support of GREAN on this issue.”

At Monday night’s meeting of Golspie Community Council, members, and the public in attendance, also fully supported the retention of GREAN services.

GREAN manager Fiona MacDonald said: “We work on contracts and are just coming to the end of a two year contract – it finishes in March next year.

“We hope to get the contract renewed and that is what we are working towards at the moment. We don’t know what impact the roll-out of alternate weekly waste collections will have. We hope it is not going to affect us too greatly, but we just don’t know.”

Meanwhile GREAN is continuing to expand its operations and has just opened a new textile workshop “SewGREAN” in Unit 2 on Golspie Industrial Estate under the management of newly appointed textile supervisor, Sheila Kennard.