Brighton rot: Refuse collectors’ strike causes stink in Britain’s greenest city


A day trip to Brighton on the hottest day of the year should be a treat. But as the train pulls into the station, the words of the woman who answered the phone at the local Conservative Party office pop back into my head. “Bring a mask with you,” she said chirpily. “It's stinky.”

Her glee may be explained by the political stink-bomb that Brighton and Hove City Council, ruled by the Green Party, has been dealing with for the past month. An attempt to standardise council pay, which would see some binmen lose £4,000 a year, has led to series of strikes, both unofficial and official. With another five-day walkout this week, and the sun warming the piles of refuse littering the streets, the jewel of the South Coast is starting to smell. And after peace talks between the council and the GMB union broke down - residents have another week-long strike ahead.

An unmistakable tang wafts over the cobbled lanes of the city centre. Above, the squawks of seagulls are more menacing than usual. On most street corners, large communal bins spill lurid, rotting rubbish across the hot tarmac. This isn't a good look as summer rolls into a city that earns almost £1bn a year from tourism, and it is contributing to something else in the air: tension.

Ben Steers, a pub manager, became the focus of anger when he started a Facebook group calling on locals to clean up the streets. He says that he was accused of being a “scab” and “strike breaking”, so he closed it down. “I tried to do something which was nice,” he said. “People thought I had a political agenda, which I didn't.”

One florist, cleaning up outside her shop, says she had the rubbish bag she was holding ripped open by a man claiming to be a striking binman.

On St James's Street, the exploding bins are threatening the strip's al fresco dining scene. A large pile has taken root outside Cornel's Café. Manager Jason Martin began cleaning it up - but says he was warned off.

“I was tidying up because it was really bad - there were nappies on the pavement and I thought 'you can't have customers sitting out there drinking coffee with nappies lying around'. So I cleaned up a little bit and the ladies across the road in the bread shop said, 'Oh, you shouldn't be doing that, you'll be told off'.”

Down the hill at O'Fishly Healthy fishmongers, owner Kelly Yeardley is angry. It's 26C and the rubbish outside is attracting unwanted visitors. “My fish is fresh in today and there are flies in here - I never have flies and I've definitely never seen them this big. They're coming in off the rubbish bags.”

On the other side of the city, in Hove, retirees Alan Legge and Andrew Harvey  live in a bow-fronted Georgian house. The couple, who are members of the residents' association, took to the streets to clean up rubbish. Mr Legge says: “Am I a scab? No. I did a litter-pick but I can't change the bins. They do a marvellous job, when they do. But this is just disgusting.”

Up on “Muesli Mountain”, the nickname given to the liberally-inclined Hanover area, the situation is becoming politically acute. There is a by-election starting here, in what should be a stronghold for the Green Party. The city council is the only authority in Britain controlled by the party and, in Caroline Lucas, they have their only MP. But trouble is brewing.

“To do what they're doing to the bin collectors is just appalling,” says Ron Cavedaschi, an artist who displays a “Vote Labour” sign in his window. “It goes against everything that you'd imagine the Green Party would stand for and I will never vote for them now.” Phil Clarke, a teacher and the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition candidate, says the Greens have made “a pig's ear” of the situation. “There was absolutely no way the workers would take pay cuts of this magnitude lying down. The Greens had this coming.”

Ms Lucas has come out broadly in support of the GMB, so Jason Kitcat, the Green council leader, is widely held responsible for the mess - with an open letter from his party in the local paper calling for his resignation.

A GMB statement said: “We wholly recognise that Brighton is not a pleasant place to be at the moment, and we apologise to all residents for the state of our city and for the inconvenience caused to you by this disruption.  But we feel this is the only course of action left available to us to defend our wages. Therefore, if you would like to support us, the best thing you can do is to support us in our action - which means not carrying out the work that we would normally do.”

Penny Thompson, council chief executive, said: “We are working hard with our unions to reach an agreed settlement. Discussions are continuing. The proposals we've put forward are intended to achieve a fair and consistent scheme for staff across the council. This is an historical issue which needs to be resolved. Nevertheless I'm sorry for the disruption the strike is causing.”

Mr Kitcat refused to comment.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
peopleMathematician John Nash inspired the film Beautiful Mind
Arts and Entertainment
Reimagined: Gwyneth Paltrow and Toni Collette in the film adaptation of Jane Austen's Emma
Arts and Entertainment
Jesuthasan Antonythasan as Dheepan
Cannes 2015Dheepan, film review
Richard Blair is concerned the trenches are falling into disrepair
newsGeorge Orwell's son wants to save war site that inspired book
Arts and Entertainment
The pair in their heyday in 1967
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

Abuse - and the hell that follows

James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

It's oh so quiet!

The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

'Timeless fashion'

It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

Evolution of swimwear

From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine