This is how Lancashire's tips will work when they first reopen - and it will be very different
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Measures will include having to book a timeslot to visit the sites – by phone or online – along with temporary restrictions on the types of waste which will be accepted.
Not all of the 16 facilities are likely to reopen at the same time, to allow staff to monitor usage levels and the effectiveness of arrangements to ensure social distancing.
The Local Democracy Reporting Service understands that the plans being made by Lancashire County Council predate the government announcement and were designed to ensure that the authority was ready to act if ministers revised what constitutes an "essential journey" during lockdown – or for when lockdown restrictions are eventually eased.
In common with other shire authorities, County Hall has kept its tips closed since movement restrictions were introduced last month. Coronavirus-related legislation defines four broad categories of essential journey – and dumping rubbish is not one of them.
However, recent guidance from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) advises councils that they can continue to operate their tips, provided social distancing can be achieved. That has led several local authorities in the North West to reopen their own waste sites or put plans in place to do so shortly.
The Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick told the Commons on Tuesday: "The government published advice to councils on how to ensure the safety of refuse collections on 7th April and today I am announcing that I'm asking councils to plan the organised re-opening of household waste collection sites.
"I expect this to happen over the coming weeks and will be publishing amended guidance shortly."
Commenting on the proposed operational changes, prior to the government announcement, County Cllr Albert Atkinson, cabinet member for technical services, rural affairs, and waste management, said: “We’re keenly aware of how much people value our recycling service, and want to be able to visit the sites again to dispose of their excess waste.
“We must keep them closed for now as the terms of the government lockdown make clear that the current priority is to prevent the spread of the virus, and does not consider a trip to a recycling centre to be an essential journey.
“We’re grateful for people’s patience and understanding, and for keeping hold of any excess waste for now which they can’t dispose of using their household waste collections.
“However I also want people to know that we’re just as keen as they are to see the sites reopen, and are putting in place arrangements for this to happen as soon as we reasonably can once the government gives the go-ahead.
“I also want to prepare people to expect a much more limited service than they’re used to when the centres initially reopen due to the need to operate them in a way which enables social distancing. Managing the way people move around the site means we’re also likely to need to put some restrictions on the type of waste people can bring on each visit to begin with.
“As we will need to limit the number of people visiting at any one time, there will need to be a booking system, and we will have to carefully control the way people access the sites, which means we won’t have the resources to open them all immediately.
“We’re currently ironing out the full details, and I would I ask people to watch this space. However we’re aiming to be in a position to provide the service again as soon as we can, which means people may start to see some activity on the sites as we reconfigure the way they work.”
Last week, more than half of Lancashire’s district councils wrote to county council leader Geoff Driver calling on him to reopen the centres, amid concerns over an increase in fly-tipping. At the time, he responded by asking them to reflect on the potential impact of such a move on the NHS.
County Cllr Driver also warned that the police would probably be needed to facilitate any reopening.