Sunday 10th of July saw a joint initiative by Bridgwater Trades Council, Bridgwater Forward and Bridgwater Senior Citizens Forum to protest against Somerset County Council’s decision to close the Saltlands recycling centre in Chilton Trinity on Tuesdays and Wednesdays and on Sunday afternoons. In addition they have imposed charges for accepting certain items for recycling such as gas bottles, car tyres and soil. These charges have been a particular source of outrage in the local community.
At 10 am I joined amongst others Dave Chapple of the CWU, Vicki Nash of the NUT and Councillor Leigh Redman of the FBU on the banks of the River Parrett opposite the gates of the recycling centre. The Bridgwater Mercury was due to cover the event and requested that we find examples of rubbish fly tipped in the local area. I kept my eyes open as I walked to the venue and as well as the usual drinks cans and bottles I was able to pick up a car number plate from out of a bush and a broken suitcase lying in the street. However the copse next to the centre proved to be a fertile source of fly tipped items and we were able to come up with a car tyre, a couple of bicycle tyres, a telly, a tarpaulin and some soggy underlay – all presumably dumped by would be users of the facility exasperated at finding it closed when they wished to use it. Perhaps our piece de resistance was a sofa dumped in the lay-by opposite the sewage farm.
Our protest consisted of a publicity leaflet which we handed out to the users of the centre as they arrived. We were delighted to receive almost universal support. Only two or three drivers refused to speak to us and I received one challenge from a chap who thought the closures were necessary and the charges fair given the current financial climate and he expressed the view that once the economy had recovered that the former status quo would be reinstated. Something I find very hard to believe as I feel it more likely that the Council will unilaterally declare the charges a success and extend it to all items. However even he agreed that the dramatic increase in fly tipping since the cut backs was undesirable.
The Bridgwater Mercury’s Andy Slocombe arrived for a photo session shortly before 11 a.m. Our attempts to be photographed with our collection of rubbish at the gates was thwarted by the site supervisor who was anxious about the image of the centre but after some negotiation by Dave Chapple we were able to get the photographs on the other side of the road using the site entrance as background. After the session we dutifully set about recycling the rubbish that we had recovered only to be told that we would have to pay for the tyre! Dave used it as means of having a discussion with the Viridor workers who run the site but I don’t think our treasurer was too impressed to receive a receipt for £4.20 for one rimmed car tyre the recycling thereof.
Dave’s inquiry into the effects of the cut backs on the Viridor work force was enlightening. Over the course of the last couple of years they have seen their hours cut from 60 a week to 40. Effectively they have lost a third of their income and perhaps more distressing still is the fact that they now have to work every weekend to make up their 40 hours. Not good for those with children. It seems that whilst they have a Unite union rep at the
depot not many of the workforce are in a union. Whilst they recognised that we were their to support them they were largely sceptical about whether we could achieve anything and were nervous about speaking to us for fear of reprisals by management. Taunton
Whilst the support for us was nearly universal there were a couple of incidents that really need to be reported to show the level of outrage that the community feels over the situation. I recognised one fellow with whom I used to play rugby and who served in the Marines with my brother. Having tried to sneak past us at first I managed to get his attention and explained the situation. He pointed out that the closures didn’t affect him as he always recycles on a Sunday morning and nobody had yet asked him for money. I didn’t note his departure but was surprised to see him return a bit later and when I mildly enquired ‘Hello, back again?’ he replied ‘Yes, I had to go and get some *%$8ing money!’ I think we can safely say we gained a convert to our cause.
One man stopped and spoke to us as he left and he still had his load of hardcore in his trailer. Apparently they wanted £14 to accept it as recycling and he simply wasn’t going to pay. We didn’t ask how he now planned to get rid of it. Another driver told us that he had been told he would have to pay to recycle tiles but simply dumped them and drove off saying they could see him in court before he would pay. Yet more people stopped and requested additional leaflets to distribute. It seems that the public are incensed by the County Council’s policy on recycling but their protests are falling on deaf ears.
At 1pm the site closed but Dave and I hung on for 10 minutes and predictably two would be customers turned up only to be disappointed to find the site closed. It goes without saying that they gratefully accepted a leaflet and pledged support. All in all it was a very enjoyable three hours in the warm July weather and given the level of support we received from the public I think we may count it a success.