FORCING people in Ards and North Down to book appointments in Household Recycling Centres (HRCs) saved the council more than £100,000 in two months.

That’s according to a new report prepared by Ards and North Down Council officials, who state that the mandatory booking system has already proved a huge success from their point of view.

During the first two months of the rubbish regime’s operation, states the report, the amount of waste brought into HRCs to be buried as landfill fell by more than two-fifths.

And the amount of recycling collected at the borough’s nine recycling centres fell by 15% over the same period.

That resulted in the council saving £102,000 in landfill fees and recycling costs.

If the drop in landfill continues for a full year, say officials, it would see the council save more than half a million pounds by the end of next summer.

The cash savings mean the appointments-only system is ‘delivering on strategic outcomes’, officials add, arguing it should therefore stay in place.

In total the council collected 1,100 tons less waste in September and October this year compared to the same period last year.

That equates to a 27% drop in the amount of rubbish deposited at HRCs over the first two months of the new regime.

Fly-tipping incidents were up, with 103 recorded incidents in September and October compared to 58 in the same period last year – but even that high figure was only slightly above the previous 2023 peak of 100 incidents recorded across January and February.

In fact, fly-tipping has regularly fluttered up and down since 2020; aside from some clear spikes in the problem during Covid lockdowns, there’s little apparent rhyme or reason for its peaks and troughs over the past few years.

As a result, council officials argue that there’s no proof the HRC booking system caused the recent rise – though September’s fly-tipping figure is the highest seen since the lockdown of early 2021.

Officials add that there’s no evidence the appointments-only regime has resulted in more people misusing their grey bins either.

The report advises that although 65% of HRC slots across Ards and North Down aren’t being used, during the Christmas holidays it may still be worth increasing opening hours at centres in Bangor, Newtownards, Holywood, Comber and Portaferry to meet a predicted spike in demand.

It’s known that Bangor is already much more highly in demand than the other HRCs, with a particular rush for weekend slots.

Officials think that extending opening hours at those five HRCs, if not all nine, until 8pm on December 27 and 28 as well as January 2 would deal with increased demand that usually hits around Christmas.

The new booking system hasn’t gone down well with everyone, with a 4,000-strong petition against it handed in by North Down MLA Alex Easton, and a second objecting petition coming from Portaferry Women’s Institute.

Officials have already dismissed Mr Easton’s petition as around two-fifths of the names come from outside Ards and North Down, while the WI only had 23 people sign their document.

State officials: “Whilst some level of opposition to the introduction of the new access booking system for HRCs has been received, most notably through the submission of two petitions, the council has also received many expressions of support and satisfaction with the arrangements.”
The report on HRCs was due to be debated at a council meeting that got under way shor

]tly after this newspaper went to press last night.