One morning, a few weeks ago, I arrived at Winterfold to find the scene above. Nearly half the car park was covered in builder’s waste.
Winterfold is one of my favourite places near where I live. When I’m walking the dog, if I have time, it is where I choose to be. It is quiet, beautiful and has some spectacular views.
It is also, literally, my thinking space. Somewhere where I can escape the rush, the hustle and bustle of daily life and wander with only the thoughts in my head for company. Often I’ll see no-one, say nothing out loud. It might only be an hour and not quite every day but it is time I have come to value a lot.
Arriving at the car park that morning to large piles of junk and rubble, my heart sank. Even the kitchen sink was there. My first response, as it is too often, was one of indignation and frustration. I am not as good at controlling my feelings of anger as I would like. I’m certainly no Jedi.
But Winterfold is a lovely place and even anger can’t last long there. As I began walking the anger dissipated. I began reflecting.
Why would someone dump their rubbish there?
It wasn’t laziness. Winterfold is a good 10 minutes drive from all but a handful of houses. Whoever had left their rubbish there had made the effort to drive up there, probably in the middle of the night to take advantage of the cover of darkness. More likely, the motivation was money.
To dump the rubbish in this car park was free; to take it to a community waste site would have cost money. And because of very recent changes made by our local councils, it would have cost more money this month than it would just a few months ago. Decisions have been made to shorten the opening times of local refuse sites. But more impacting, strict conditions have been put in place restricting what type of waste can be dumped there for free.
Some of the changes have been dressed up as changes for improving recycling behaviour. If this were the real reason, it should be commended. Anything that can encourage society to think about what we commit to landfill and the damaging long term impact this has is great. It may be inconvenient but it is necessary. But in reality, and it is openly acknowledged, the main reason for the changes was lack of money. A wider squeeze on budgets means there is less money to go around.
A sticking plaster solution?
So with less money for the local dumps and the recent changes, what were the consequences? Instead of playing the new charges to dispose of commercial waste, certain people now have an increased motivation to get rid of their waste elsewhere. It certainly wouldn’t be my way of doing things. However, everyone is trying to survive and everyone’s boundaries about what is acceptable are different.
In fact, when the new decisions were taken to impose the new charges, the consequences were probably considered. The people who changed the policies on the local dumps are not stupid. It is easy to critique decisions that we are not part of as being ill-considered or driven by ignorance but in reality it is nearly always more complicated than that. In this case, there was probably a cost-benefit exercise undertaken and while it may have been recognised that fly-tipping would increase, it was probably globally cheaper to accept this and the associated costs of cleaning up fly-tipping sites.
It could be argued that the financial costs are not the only costs to consider, and that my (and many others’) diminished enjoyment of Winterfold (and numerous other sites) is an additional cost that may not have been taken into consideration and is hard to value. But in reality what was the alternative?
Probably budgets really have been cut. I am not a politician and neither have I done any kind of research on how much the central government has paid to local governments recently compared to historically. But if they have been cut then the money will have been spent elsewhere. There are many worthy causes. Who’s going to argue that a refuse site should not impose charges if the alternative is having to shut down the maternity unit of a local hospital, or increase class sizes in the local school.
Restricting refuse sites is not a sticking plaster solution, it is making the best of the situation. The larger problem is living in an economy where it is accepted that we outsource many services to central governments and third parties. Or rather, it is not the way that the economy operates, but the fact that running such an economy always costs more than people are prepared to pay in taxes to fund it.
And that is a complex problem. Do I have a solution? Very funny. No-one has a solution. No-one has every had a solution. No government has every had a solution. Any claim otherwise is simply a denial of facts. All that anyone can ever do is move the limited money collected in taxes between the multitude of areas where that money needs to be spent. Something will always be neglected. And somewhere down the line this will manifest itself in small acts like fly tipping. If you aren’t actively campaigning for higher taxes (for all), there really is no point getting angry.