Another year, another Medway bin crisis
Plus the Chatham Library mystery, Osborne declares for Chatham, and more.
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Another year, another Medway bin crisis
Benjamin Franklin once said that nothing was certain beyond death and taxes. In Medway, it might be possible to add a third thing to that list: a chaotic refuse collection service over Christmas.
Unusually, the biggest problems didn’t occur between Christmas and New Year this time around, as a change in scheduling seemed to make that part run rather more smoothly than usual.
Instead, the descent into chaos came this week with entire areas missing collections and others facing refuse workers turning up on unexpected days of the week.
At the start of the week, things seemed to be going okay. Collections this week were due to be a day behind thanks to the bank holiday, but by Wednesday it became clear that something had gone horribly wrong.
A Medway Council statement made it clear that collections on that day had been missed, and on a scale big enough to put out a statement. One thing that was clear from the statement though was that Medway Council were blaming contractor Veolia for the debacle, suggesting they had been unable to empty the trucks fast enough at their transfer station.
Veolia used to run Medway Council’s entire refuse service, but the collections contract was taken in-house and awarded to Medway Norse in 2019, with Veolia maintaining the disposal and sorting processes. How much oversight Medway Council has over their provision remains unclear.
So how bad did things get? Anyone who has ever spent any time in a local Facebook group will know that people never know what day to put the bins out around public holidays, so this sudden update from Medway Council on social media unsurprisingly didn’t reach the majority of residents.
Even if it did, the vagueness of what was going on hardly inspired confidence in when to put things outside. For residents usually expecting collections on Tuesday or Wednesday, collections would be made “by Saturday”, which is a lot of days to cart your rubbish out to the street and then bring it back in again each night as Medway Council helpfully requested. Unsurprisingly, waste already on the street remained out, and others just didn’t bother putting any out at all. Residents expecting collections toward the end of the week were told to not even bother trying, and that crews would get to them next week instead.
All of which might have been okay under the circumstances if not for the messy scenes that followed. Residents who delayed putting rubbish out after being informed of delays found collections were made on their usual days, often before they got up, leaving crews taking away very little. Other areas found collections being made to some properties, which Medway Council later clarified were flats with communal bins and homes with vulnerable residents, but no one knew they were coming to put anything out.
Taking my own street as an example, recycling was collected on the correct day, despite the warnings of ‘by Saturday’, but regular refuse was only taken from the few houses that put their rubbish out, and not the communal bins at the flats, leaving them overflowing presumably for another week.
While a slightly chaotic service over a busy time of the year is likely to be expected, this has been exceptionally messy from a communications point of view. The perception of chaos wasn’t helped by sending out the portfolio holder for waste, Cllr Simon Curry, to film an apology video about the situation that looked like he was reading a statement he hadn’t seen before, perhaps written by his captors.
Whether Cllr Curry has dropped the ball in his oversight of the service, or Veolia have dropped the ball in terms of their contract provision will need to be made clear, as will the usual ‘lessons learnt’ to try and avoid a repeat next year.
Of course, rival political parties are jumping at the opportunity to criticise the administration for letting it happen. The Conservative opposition seemed to revel in the mess, even calling it a ‘Medway bin crisis’, language we’ve been using for years under their watch. Rochester and Strood MP Kelly Tolhurst was even harsher, accusing Labour of wrecking the service in six months, seemingly ignoring the repeated missed collections and rubbish in the streets in previous years of Conservative administration.
Whether or not the service will get back to normal next week remains to be seen, but as ever, questions will need to be answered about how this happened in the first place.
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Medway Council attempts to make Chatham Library mysterious
Another confusing Medway Council communications decision this week followed the closure of Chatham Library, which has been closed since before Christmas and will remain closed for an undefined period.
Why? The council, for some reason, didn’t seem particularly eager to reveal that little bit of information, instead citing ‘unforeseen circumstances’. A statement initially claimed the library would remain closed ‘until further notice’. This was subsequently updated to ‘early January’ (so around now), but still with no information as to why it was closed in the first place.
This was eventually resolved by cabinet member Cllr Tristan Osborne eventually popping up on his own social media to explain that the heating in the building was suffering issues, with the boiler being repaired and a delivery of oil being awaited.
Quite why Medway Council initially chose not to share this relatively straightforward information with residents is baffling given the prominence of the library as it uses a Contact Point for local services.
Osborne declares for Chatham
Still, it was nice that Cllr Osborne could spare the time to update residents about Chatham Library as he would have had other things on his mind this week.
On Tuesday, he formally put himself forward to be the Labour candidate for Chatham and Aylesford in the coming General Election.
Cllr Osborne has fought the seat before, coming second to incumbent MP Tracey Crouch by a mere 11,500 votes. Those were different times though, and Labour will be hoping to make breakthroughs in seats like this if they want to form the next government.
His campaign launched with a slick campaign video featuring Tristan talking about why the country needs a Labour government, a delightfully handmade logo, and, er, some footage of the neighbouring Rochester and Strood constituency.
🏆 Nominations are now open for the 2024 Pride in Medway Awards. You have until 22 January to put any community champions you might be aware of forward for an award.
🏘️ National Highways have requested that a proposed development of 240 homes in Hoo be delayed for a further transport assessment to be carried out. They are concerned about additional pressures being placed on the nearby M2.
🛒 B&M is set to open in Rainham. The store will replace the former Wilko store in February.
🩺 Medway Medical Centre GP practice in Gillingham has been rated inadequate and placed in special measures. The move follows inspectors finding serious failings at the practice that could put patients at risk.
🐋 A dead whale washed up on the beach at Cliffe. Efforts to remove the carcass were hampered by the weather and a lack of road access to the site.
Events this week
🎛️ The latest Kicking Against Nothing gig from upstart promoters The Big Cheese Company is tonight (Fri 5 Jan) at the Nags Head in Rochester. Entry is free and features experimental noise acts from across the UK.
🎨 It’s the final weekend to visit the Winter Open at Nucleus Arts. The exhibition, across their Chatham and Rochester sites, features a wide range of art from different disciplines, featuring established artists and first-timers.
📷 It’s also the final week of the Upon the High Street exhibition at Rochester Art Gallery. The exhibition features street photography by Joshua Atkins and Daniel Loveday capturing the landscape and people of Chatham High Street.
Can you help us?
🥕 We’re still looking to speak with anyone with an allotment plot in Medway, or anyone with experience being on the waiting list for one.
Email firstname.lastname@example.org if you can help out with the above, or if you have any stories that might interest our readers.
Our paid supporters receive extra editions of Local Authority every week. This week, we started the year by interviewing Richard Pemberton of Medway Fit about how running clubs like his can help people get fit, the benefits of Parkrun, and lots more. We also published our first Gills column of the year by Ben Hopkins, looking at the year ahead at Priestfield.
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