The saga of bins on the Broads that’s raising concerns about tourism and the environment

Norwich yacht station.; Photo by Simon Finlay

Norwich yacht station.; Photo by Simon Finlay - Credit: EDP pics © 2011(01603) 772434

It may not be the most glamorous of issues, but it is one causing concern. As the holiday season begins, Broads correspondent Lauren Cope looks at the ongoing problem of the loss of bins on the waterways.

Rubbish at Potter Heigham following GYBC move to stop waste collections on the Broads

Rubbish at Potter Heigham following GYBC move to stop waste collections on the Broads - Credit: Archant

When did it start?

In 2012, a change in the law classified rubbish from hire boats as commercial, rather than domestic.

District councils are responsible for collecting domestic waste, and in the past Norfolk County Council (NCC) disposed of it.

But the changes - which said the polluter, the landowner, must pay - saw NCC withdraw the service and, with the bill now in district councils' hands, they began to withdraw collections.

Hickling Broad.Picture: James Bass

Hickling Broad.Picture: James Bass - Credit: Eastern Daily Press © 2015

Now, with cash-strapped councils struggling with the costs, there are fears more could be lost, with little idea of how they should replaced.

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What happened next?

Great Yarmouth Borough Council was the first to go - by June 2014, they had stopped collecting from 10 waterside locations, with reports soon after that rubbish was piled up next to overflowing bins.

At the time, the borough council said the £15,000 cost of collecting the bins was too steep.

Since then, Broadland and South Norfolk have withdrawn some and North Norfolk has debated following suit.

What are the main concerns?

A key worry is that the sight of litter piling up near the Broads may put holidaymakers off booking breaks in the area.

But aside from it being unsightly, families with young children, particularly babies in nappies, may be deterred by a struggle to find somewhere to put their rubbish.

While many boat hire firms offer facilities, these are generally for customers only.

Tony Lumbard, a Ludham Parish Councillor who organised a public meeting with parish and district councillors and the Broads Authority last month, said: 'You can't keep a week's worth of rubbish on a boat, it's just not practical.

'The sight of litter on the Broads is not part of an enjoyable holiday.'

But he said the most significant issue was the environmental impact, with the possibility of threatening wildlife species and plants.

'Unfortunately, if people don't have anywhere to throw their rubbish, some will find a place,' he said. 'We see things floating on the water and the impact on the environment could be horrendous.'

How many bins are there now?

According to the Broads Authority, there are currently 24 facilities which are run by local authorities, six of which the authority considers to be 'at risk'.

The six are in North Norfolk's district and include Hickling and Ludham Bridge. There are other bins provided by boat hire firms for customers.

Where are the worst affected areas?

Tony Howes, of the Broads Hire Boat Federation (BHBF), said the body was not aware of key problem areas, but said the issue was likely to worsen during the holiday season, when schools break up for summer.

A report from the Broads Authority in February this year said there had been a noticeable increase in rubbish at Great Yarmouth and Norwich Yacht Stations, while the River Waveney, with no waste facilities downstream of Burgh St Peter, was another area for concern.

Who should pay?

The Broads Authority maintains that it should not have to pay for collections on land it does not own.

Chief executive John Packman said he was 'extremely concerned' by the situation.

He said: 'While we are not a member of the Norfolk Waste Partnership because we are not a waste authority we are keen to contribute to a sensible solution to protect the special qualities of the national park for the sake of everyone who lives in and enjoys the Broads and to ensure the multi-million pound tourism economy isn't impacted.'

He said rather than being used by hire boat users alone, the bins were used by 'private boaters, walkers, picnickers, land visitors, anglers and residents' and 'local pubs, shops and businesses'.

Parish councils have said their modest budgets could not cope with having to pay for collections and that villages should not bear the burden.

Mr Lumbard said: 'You can't expect the parishioners to pay the bill for every bit of rubbish that is brought by tourists - many in the villages don't actually live in the Broads area and are in wider districts and they shouldn't have to pay for it.'

Mr Howes said, in the BHBF's view, the best outcome would be to encourage district councils to pick up the bill where possible.

'The federation has taken the view that we can't overrule a government decision,' he said, 'and so in that acceptance we have to try to persuade the district councils to take on the responsibility.'

But councils fear their already over-stretched budgets may not cover the responsibility, which is beyond their statutory duty.

What happens next?

In short - more discussions.

Talks are ongoing between various district and parish councils, the Broads Authority, Norfolk County Council and the Environment Agency.

Paul Rice, North Norfolk District Councillor for Catfield, Hickling, Ludham and Potter Heigham, said: 'It is key that we resolve this so we don't have a problem in a major tourist area - we are looking for a sensible solution that suits as many people as possible.

'There has been an idea that we aren't working to solve this but it isn't the case - everyone is keen to get this sorted.'

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