LOCAL people are being blocked from the council’s Household Recycling Centre (HRC) booking system for using it too much, a senior politician says.

That’s despite the official in charge of Ards and North Down Council’s new appointments-only regime previously promising that ‘householder access is guaranteed’ and claiming that usage limits are ‘an urban myth’.

But several locals have already been barred from the online system until next year, which alderman Stephen McIlveen says is happening due to a hard and fast cap on the number of times people can use it.

The IT booking system is automatically striking out residents if they book 12 slots in a single calendar year, he states, and won’t let them back on until January 1st of the following year.

Mr McIlveen complains that goes directly against pledges made by council officials, who claimed that the system would only flag potential overuse for investigation – but instead it’s skipping straight to sanctions and blocking people.

Banned locals can still get HRC slots by phoning the council. A dedicated HRC phone line is only open from 9am to 4.30pm on weekdays, however, and closes to the public on evenings and weekends.

According to Mr McIlveen, several people across the borough have already been hit by the system bans despite the new regime only running for three months.

With 12 trips to the dump in a single year hardly being an unfeasibly high figure, he expects the problem to get worse as time goes on.

“When the booking system was outlined to councillors, there was no mention of a point at which residents would be prevented from using it,” he said this week.

“We were advised that overuse would be flagged up to council officers who could then check more closely on the waste being deposited. Our understanding was that this would take place on site. 

“The rationale appears to be addressing officers’ obsession with commercial waste being dumped at our HRCs.

“There is no question that the affected people I have come across so far were clearly using HRCs for household waste; one resident had been clearing leaves in a large garden, for example, something that was never meant to have any restrictions on it.”

Although he accepts that improper use of HRCs has to be checked out, Mr McIlveen feels that the new system has lost focus on the people who both use and paid for the HRCs – the citizens of Ards and North Down.

“The online system itself is an inconvenience for them, but to then punish residents for recycling appropriately is unacceptable,” said the DUP man.

“Given the small numbers involved, it should not be out of the question for thorough checking of what is being left on site, given that this should be part and parcel of the job being carried out by HRC staff anyway. Ratepayers are paying for additional staff to actually carry out these checks, after all.”

Mr McIlveen raised the booking system bans with the man in charge of the council’s waste regime, environment director David Lindsay, during a meeting last Wednesday night.

Two months ago, Mr Lindsay publicly promised the council that automatic bans would not be imposed and dismissed suggestions that there were hard and fast annual limits on the number of times locals could use HRCs.

At the time there were persistent whispers that residents would only be able to use the facilities a total of six times per year.

Maintaining that residents would be able to use HRCs as often as they like, Mr Lindsay said: “The issue about the six [visits per year], that’s just an urban myth.

“Use is being recorded and monitored by the system, but normal legitimate householder use is guaranteed.”

People who visit HRCs a lot more often than usual would be investigated, he said, as that could be a sign that they’re actually business owners improperly dumping commercial waste in the centres.

Mr Lindsay did not directly address Mr McIlveen’s complaints about the HRC bans during last week’s council meeting, though speaking in general terms he stated that the system is still in its early days and officials continue to tweak it.