Closing five of Somerset’s household waste recycling centres could lead to an increase in fly-tipping and end up costing taxpayers more money, local residents have claimed.

Somerset Council published proposals in January to close five of the county’s 16 recycling centres in a bid, saving £963,000, as part of a wider series of savings intended to balance its budget for the next financial year.

The final revenue budget – which was approved on Tuesday (February 20) – somewhat watered down the proposals, seeking to save the amount of money without committing to closing or reducing the service levels at any specific site.

But residents and parish councillors have warned that any reduction in service could lead to more fly-tipping in rural areas as motorists elect not to travel the additional distance to their nearest centre.

The county’s recycling centres are currently in the following locations:

  • Saltlands Avenue, Bridgwater (near the tidal barrier construction site)
  • Dimmer Lane, Castle Cary
  • Beeching Close, Chard (near the new enterprise centre)
  • Wedmore Road, Cheddar (near the current terminus of the Strawberry Line)
  • Blacknell Lane, Crewkerne (near phase one of the Crewkerne key site)
  • Brushford Road, Dulverton
  • Manor Furlong, Frome (near the Keyford Meadows development site)
  • Bennett Road, Highbridge
  • Mart Road, Minehead
  • Bancombe Road, Somerton
  • Farm Lane, Street (near Clarks Village)
  • Venture Way, Taunton
  • Higher Poole, Wellington
  • Dulcolte Hill, nr Wells (near the Strawberry Line active travel route)
  • Roughmoor, Williton
  • Artillery Road, Yeovil

BBC Somerset claimed on January 17 that Castle Cary, Cheddar, Crewkerne, Dulverton and Williton would be the five sites that would be shut down.

The council stated in its official budget proposals: “At this stage we cannot rule in or rule out the closure of any sites and won’t until we have completed our commercial negotiations.

“Any changes that impact the public service will be fully consulted upon.”

Drew Thompson, who lives in Castle Cary, organised a petition against the closure of the Dimmer recycling centre, which has attracted more than 1,600 signatures on the online petition site.

Addressing the full council in Bridgwater on Tuesday morning (February 20), Mr Thompson said: “We believe that the closure will increase fly-tipping in our beautiful Somerset countryside. This directly contradicts the council’s goal of a ‘greener, more sustainable Somerset’.

“As concerned residents, we cherish Somerset’s scenic landscapes. Keeping Castle Cary recycling centre open aligns with our commitment to maintaining the county’s natural beauty.

“Residents from those areas where site closures occur would need to travel further to their nearest operational site, would likely encounter longer queues to enter the sites caused by the condensing of the site network and may
choose to fly-tip as a result of either the further commute or access congestion.

“A budget has been allocated for picking up the trash, but this funding does not help citizens when fly tipping occurs on private land, where the landowner is responsible for cleaning it up.”

Mr Thompson said that the most logical closures would be Bridgwater, Crewkerne and Street, since these had “overlapping catchment zones” with other sites – meaning “the impact to the residents will be minimal.”

But Councillor Steve Ashton (who represents the Crewkerne division) disagreed, stating: “It is a well-used facility and without it being open people will have to travel further to dispose of their waste.

“This in turn could lead to fly tipping in our beautiful rural landscape and cause more expense to the council.

“We are being asked to recycle more to help the environment but shutting these recycling facilities would be making that more difficult not easier. Please rethink this plan.”

Councillor Peter Payne, chairman of Williton Parish Council, said that the proposal should be re-examined in light of significant housing growth in the village and the neighbouring town of Watchet.

Outline planning permission was recently formalised for up to 350 new homes on the A39 Priest Street in Williton, with legal agreements between the Wyndham Estate and the council being signed – making it likely that construction could begin within the next couple of years.

Mr Payne said: “Closing the recycling centre would be a contradiction of all that our Liberal Democrat-led council stands for, is illogical from an economic, geographical, facility and capacity point of view.

“Our road network is already exhausted and not fit for purpose, and any thought that Williton and the surrounding parishes’ residents would drive to Minehead for the recycling is dangerous to the environment and unrealistic.

“Williton and Watchet are likely to see upwards of 1,000 new houses in the future, and not only will that put more pressure on the regional road infrastructure, but it points to the Williton facility becoming even more strategically important and essential.”

Councillor Christine Daubney, chair of Dulverton Parish Council, concurred: “In the event that the Dulverton facility is closed, the nearest alternative site would be Minehead, which is situated 20 miles away and suffers from a lack of space and poor disability access.

“This would inevitably increase the carbon footprint of those travelling there from Dulverton considerably, due to the additional amounts of pollution going into the atmosphere and the additional fuel costs for residents.

“If all the visits made to Dulverton are transferred to Minehead, the additional numbers added onto the council’s highways equates to about 250,000 miles a year.”

Councillor Dixie Darch, portfolio holder for the environment and climate change, said that Somerset had a relatively large number of recycling centres and some cutbacks would be necessary.

She said: “Somerset’s current network of 16 sites gives us the best site per household/population ratio in the south west, apart from the Isles of Scilly.

“Given the massive pressures on the council’s finances, we have to look at savings from all services and our recycling site network has to be part of that.

“The closure of any sites would have an impact on the communities they serve, but we are faced with many unpalatable decisions.

“It’s worth noting that a third of authorities are understood to be considering site closures – lots of councils are in a difficult position on this.”

Ms Darch represents the Rowbarton and Staplegrove division in north-western Taunton, which is served by the Priorswood recycling centre in the neighbouring Taunton North division.

She added: “Commercial negotiations with our contractor are ongoing and reaching a critical stage.

“Until negotiations are complete, we can’t rule in or rule out the need to consider the closure of recycling sites.

“If final proposals include the closure of sites there would be consultation with the public before any decision is taken. That would, of course, include
opportunities for everyone to share their views and concerns.”

Regarding the risk of fly-tipping, she said: “Experience shows that householders rarely fly-tip. It tends to be rogue traders trying to avoid
commercial charges – for them the proximity of a recycling site makes no difference.

“When we have closed sites in the past, we saw some limited fly-tipping at the gates to sites, but this was short-lived.

“If we reach the stage of closing any site, this would be well advertised and alternatives publicised, along with the consequences of fly-tipping.

“There would be focussed monitoring to make sure any fly-tipped waste is picked up and, where possible enforcement action taken.

“As you would expect, the savings option includes some contingency to cover the cost of dealing with a certain degree of increased fly tipping, though we very much hope and expect this will not be needed.”