Senior council leaders proposing to shut Kent rubbish tips are “in denial” about the strength of opposition to the plans.
Kent County Council Liberal Democrat group leader Antony Hook said the only people who do not realise the issue of closures is “dead” are in the Conservative cabinet.
The top table at KCC suffered a recent rebellion amongst Tory members when members voted 28 to 21 to drop the scheme to shut four household waste recycling centres (HWRCs) in the county.
At yesterday’s Environment and Transport Cabinet Committee, senior KCC members asserted that closures are not off the table and that other ideas are being considered before any proposals go out to consultation.
The shutting of four HWRCs has been on the table as cash-strapped KCC attempted to find £1.4m in savings.
According to its auditors, Grant Thornton, KCC must find £86m in efficiencies to balance the books against a background of squeezed government budgets and spiralling costs.
Cllr Hook said: “The tip closures are dead. Twenty-eight Conservatives oppose it and all of the opposition members.
“That’s a big majority of Kent County Council members. The only people who do not realise the tip closures are dead are in the Conservative cabinet, who are in denial.”
The closures have prompted a massive backlash and a planned consultation, due to start in the summer, was put on hold.
Environment deputy cabinet member Cllr Tony Hills admitted “we have had a few challenges” but added “all along we have planned for recycling centres closing”.
He added that the consultation has been placed on hold while other ideas are being considered.
He said that savings have to be made in order to avoid KCC issuing a section 114 notice, which is effectively an admission it is bankrupt.
Conservative deputy cabinet member for finance Cllr Harry Rayner said: “It’s quite clear the HWRC situation is still being looked at in great detail and we will go out to consultation. There is still a significant budget saving to be found there.”
Tory opponents and opposition members have been on alert since the rebellion inside the Conservative group in case the closures return in some form.
One Tory backbencher said: “The plans are dead and the official line is that they will come back and, perhaps, they will. But there will just be another rebellion.
“The issue of tip closures is so toxic on the doorstep these days that we are offering an open goal to the opposition.”
Another Conservative member said he would be happy if the KCC could come up with commercialised revenue creation schemes, such as selling waste to a third party, rather than closures.
He added: “We have to explore other options, rather than closures.”
Lib Dem councillor Ian Chittenden said: “So here we are, telling everybody that the centres are saved and it seems that they are not. I think that an explanation is needed as to what is going on. The communication has been pretty dire.”
KCC later issued a statement announcing a delay in the consultation on Household Waste Recycling Centres (HWRCs).
Kent County Council’s leader, Roger Gough, said: “We are confirming a delay in the launch of our public consultation on how we plan to manage our Household Waste Recycling Centres in the future.
“The budget for 2023/24 agreed by KCC Members in February identified the need to fill the budget shortfall this year from both spending reductions and increased income.
“These savings are necessary to produce a balanced budget, as the cost of services provided by KCC have risen by more than £200 million.
“The financial pressures on the county council remain severe and we have therefore got to continue to look at making savings from every area of our work.
“However, it has become clear that further conversations are needed and this will require a delay to the consultation timeline.
“All options are still on the table. No timeline for the public consultation launching has yet been confirmed.”