Martin Hannan: Locals-only rule is rubbish idea

Bottles can all be recycled no matter where they come from. Picture: Getty
Bottles can all be recycled no matter where they come from. Picture: Getty
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Passing through Penicuik recently, I thought I would do my civic duty and drop off some empty bottles at the local recycling facility in Bellman’s Road.

The two centre operatives on duty were friendly and helpful enough, but I was amazed when they asked me if I was from Midlothian. No, I replied.

“This centre is for Midlothian residents only,” they said, pointing to a sign which said exactly that. The sign was inside the complex, not at the front gates, and right above it was a CCTV camera.

“They’ll get your number and go chasing you,” said one of the workers. He was joking, I think, though I’ve been lying awake at night waiting for the Midlothian Homeland Security SWAT team kicking in the windows.

I double-checked later by calling Midlothian headquarters and yes, the centre is indeed for “Midlothian Council Residents” as the sign says.

How ludicrous is that? Does it matter if a bottle originates from Edinburgh or Penicuik? It’s hard enough getting people to recycle anything without local government bureaucracy going mad and making it difficult for recyclers.

Obviously, councils don’t want lorries and vans full of recycling to arrive from all other parts. For a start, it would surely ruin all those target figures the penpushers so jealously guard – you know the type, the “Midlothian recycled 89.7885 per cent of cardboard deposited here” claims which are usually quite spurious and totally incapable of verification.

But a few bottles and cans and some newspapers recycled by a concerned citizen from another area is surely not a thing about which councils should be getting their pantaloons in a fankle.

The problem is basically the competition that still goes on between councils. When they should be co-operating on a whole host of issues, they still fight each other for resources. They are all it across local government, and one council is as bad as another.

In a time when the cuts imposed by the Westminster government are really damaging public services and when council workers have had pay cuts – a one per cent rise is a cut in real terms when inflation is taken into account – councils should be working together all the time to reduce costs and share resources. Yet they can’t see the big wood for their local trees, so is it any wonder that local government reorganisation – reducing the number of councils by more than half, I’m told – is under consideration?

The funny thing is that Edinburgh and Midlothian are indeed co-operating on a massive zero waste treatment plant to be built at Millerhill.

The idea is that everything that can’t be recycled will be treated and turned into an energy source rather than landfill.

Up to 200 lorry loads of waste will go into the centre via Whitehill Road each weekday, and that will require a great deal of patience and forbearance on the part of residents in south Edinburgh and north Midlothian.

The project is necessary and vital and will save money for both councils in the long term as they will not have to pay landfill tax after the plant starts work in 2017.

Not only will it give Edinburgh and Midlothian a leading environmental edge, but two councils will co-operate and make things better for their populations – the way it should always be.