CUTS to recycling centre opening hours have been blamed for a sharp increase in fly-tipping in South Somerset.
Figures released by the government show that while there was a national decline in fly-tipping of around nine per cent during 2011/12, reported incidents in South Somerset had increased by 55 per cent during the same period.
The five districts that make up Somerset Waste Partnership picked up a £150,000 bill for clearing up after fly-tippers. Somerset County Council reimbursed the partnership with £48,000 to cover the additional cost of the rise.
The figures came a week after Somerset County Council voted against proposals to reverse their decision to reduce opening hours at local recycling centres on Sunday afternoons. At the same full council meeting, Liberal Democrat opposition councillors also urged the Conservative Administration to scrap its "tip tax" at four waste centres in Somerset, including Crewkerne Recycling Centre.
Liberal Democrat county councillor Paul Maxwell said: "These figures are sad but certainly not surprising. Liberal Democrats have long warned that the Conservatives' decision to cut opening hours and introduce entry charges at local recycling centres would increase fly-tipping and lead to a huge decline in the amount of waste recycled. Sadly we've been proved correct.
"Let us hope that this latest set of statistics from the government comes as a sharp wake-up call to the county's Conservative bosses. It's both the local tax payer and local environment which are continuing to pay the price of their mismanagement."
A spokesman for Somerset Waste Partnership said although Defra's figures show a rise in local fly-tipping incidents, its statistics show an overall fall across the county in the first six months of its 2012/13 period.
"A major proportion of larger-scale flytips, which inevitably cost the most to clean up, are made up of commercial waste. These have not have been affected by changes at the Recycling Centres which are principally provided for household recycling and waste. Several of our centres will however take in commercial waste for a competitive charge if an outlet is required," he said.
The spokesman said changes to opening times and charges, implemented in April 2011, met its £1.9million savings target. No further changes are planned for opening hours at recycling centres in Somerset.
Councillor Derek Yeomans, chairman of the Somerset Waste Board, said: "With fly-tipping levels across the county falling in 2012/13, as we predicted, we expect the bill to be lower for the current year, including an aggregate of around £38,000 paid by Somerset County Council to district councils to meet their reducing overall costs.
"Most critically, Somerset's councils have throughout worked closely together to ensure the district councils do not have to pick up any extra financial burden as a result of the savings reluctantly made by Somerset County Council, and to jointly tackle the criminal and anti-social behaviour that lies behind the problem."