Council bins boss quizzed by Cottingley residents

Leeds City Council’s head of environmental services was quizzed about the poor performance of refuse collection on the Cottingley Hall estate by residents at a meeting on 15 March.

John Woolmer attended the meeting of Cottingley Hall TRAC at the community centre following questions being raised at the Inner South Community Committee back in November. Residents complained that bin and bag collections were regularly being missed.

John Woolmer said a number of factors was contributing to the problems, but he accepted that the service needed to improve.

Cottingley Hall estate was designed to segregate cars and people with homes opening onto footpaths rather than roads. The regular crews know their way around the estate, but replacement crews struggle with the layout. In addition, many properties cannot have wheelie bins due to steps, etc and crews who don’t know the area often mis bag collections.

Bin crews have amassed a lot of extra leave, covering colleagues’ sickness absence through the Covid pandemic. All leave had be taken by the end of March, or lost. This had resulted in far more replacement crews working on the estate, but the problem should now improve. John Woolmer pledged to make sure at least one crew member on every collection was familiar with the estate.

Cllr Andrew Scopes (Labour, Beeston & Holbeck) suggested that crews should have a physical list of all bag collections and assisted bin collections which they would have to tick off. John Woolmer said this was impractical:

“Can you imagine the state of a sheet of paper that’s been in and out of a crew members pocket. This is hard physical work, these guys pull 10 tons of bins every day.”

Asked about moving to fortnightly green bin collections, John Woolmer said that this was going to be extended this year, but explained that such changes were very complex and have to be redesigned carefully and then introduced across the city. This is likely to happen later this year probably in the autumn.

The service redesign will also look at streets that are regularly blocked. Possible solutions are to use a smaller wagon, restrict parking and improve road marking. He said he couldn’t instruct a driver to go down a street they weren’t confident they could get in and out of safely. Some drivers are more experienced and confident handling such a large (and expensive) vehicle.

The TRAC committee offered to work with managers on the ground to ensure that the locations residents bring their bins to were accessible to the crews.

Asked about the attitude of some staff, John Woolmer said he would not tolerate abusive behaviour, but he needed information – especially the date, time and location – of the incident so that managers could follow it up. Most lorries are fitted with CCTV which can be reviewed, and then staff can be challenged.

Finally, John Woolmer asked if he could come back to a future residents meeting later in the summer by which time he hoped the service would have improved significantly.


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