herald

Friday 9 December 2016

Waste firms at loggerheads over Coveney plans to cap new charges

Environment Minister Simon Coveney will meet with firms about the rising costs
Environment Minister Simon Coveney will meet with firms about the rising costs
A Greenstar bin truck making collections

There is a rift among waste management companies over a proposal by Environment Minister Simon Coveney to cap bin charges under the new pay-by-weight scheme.

It comes as the minister was due to meet with the Attorney General to discuss what steps he can legally take to address the fiasco.

The new scheme is due to begin on July 1, with some customers saying their bills will soar.

It is unclear if Mr Coveney will now push ahead with plans to cap the amount waste companies can charge for bins under the new scheme.

There has been a disjointed response to that proposal, which arose following marathon talks with the industry on Friday.

"The minister will meet with the Attorney General and is keeping all his options open," a spokesman said.

Challenge

He said that he wasn't aware of any threat of a legal challenge to a cap on charges.

"Ideally what the minister wants is that nobody pays any more than they did in the previous 12 months," he said.

"He's taken the weekend to reflect on Friday's meeting and he will be meeting again with the industry early in the week, either Monday or Tuesday," he added.

Mr Coveney wants to work with the waste industry to find a solution, the spokesman said.

There was a mixed reaction in the industry to the proposal of a 12-month cap, benchmarked against what the customer paid the previous year.

A senior official in one waste company, who did not wish to be named for fear of being seen as heading the industry response, described the reaction from waste companies as "disjointed".

"I think we are not all speaking with one voice here. But, most of the companies are against a charge cap.

"There is no threat of a legal challenge to such a cap yet, and we are still positive that a solution can be found on this," he said.

"From our point of view, we favour a system where the customer can choose to stay on their current scheme or go to pay-by-weight.

"Hopefully they will see that on pay-by-weight money can be saved," he added.

The Government is desperate to avoid another Irish Water-style crisis and Mr Coveney's ministerial colleagues are understood to have demanded he deal with the growing pay-by-weight fiasco promptly.

Tanaiste Frances Fitzgerald did not respond yesterday when asked if she preferred to see a cap imposed on charges.

Spirit

"Minister Coveney will be addressing that in detail in the coming days so I'll leave it to him," she said.

"Clearly, as a Government, what we felt is that it was very important that the spirit of the legislation was followed through in its implementation.

"It was intended that over 85pc of households would see a reduction in their charges."

She also refused to be drawn on whether a regulator could be established to oversee the waste industry, as has been called for by opposition TDs.

Meanwhile, Social Protection Minister Leo Varadkar said Mr Coveney was "very much on top of the issue".

"What none of us wants to see is the waste companies take advantage of the new regime to hike charges," he said.

A complaint has been lodged with the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (CCPC) by south Dublin councillor Mark Ward in relation to the reported price hikes.

"The waste management companies seem to have increased their prices in unison. I have reported this to the CCPC," he said.

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