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.

News
In 2006, Pluto was reclassified as a 'dwarf planet'
scienceBut will it be reinstated?
Voices
voicesI like surprises - that's why I'm bringing them back to politics, writes Nigel Farage
News
Destructive discourse: Jewish boys look at anti-Semitic graffiti sprayed on to the walls of the synagogue in March 2006, near Tel Aviv
news

As anti-Semitic attacks rise, Grant Feller re-evaluates his identity

Arts and Entertainment
Adam Levine plays a butcher who obsessively stalks a woman in Maroon 5's 'Animals' music video
music'Animals' video 'promotes sexual violence against women'
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
News
people Biographer says cinema’s enduring sex symbol led a secret troubled life
News
newsGlobal index has ranked the quality of life for OAPs - but the UK didn't even make it into the top 10
News
people

Kirstie Allsopp has waded into the female fertility debate again

News
The moon observed in visible light, topography and the GRAIL gravity gradients
science

...and it wasn't caused by an asteroid crash, as first thought

News
people
Life and Style
food and drink

Savoury patisserie is a thing now

News
Researchers say a diet of fatty foods could impede smell abilities
scienceMeasuring the sense may predict a person's lifespan
Sport
footballArsenal 4 Galatasaray 1: Wenger celebrates 18th anniversary in style
News
Gillian Anderson was paid less than her male co-star David Duchovny for three years while she was in the The X-Files until she protested and was given the same salary
people

Gillian Anderson lays into gender disparity in Hollywood

News
peopleStella McCartney apologises over controversial Instagram picture
Life and Style
Laid bare: the Good2Go app ensures people have a chance to make their intentions clear about having sex
techCould Good2Go end disputes about sexual consent - without being a passion-killer?
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Head of IT Change – West Sussex – Up to £60k DOE – Permanent

£55000 - £60000 Per Annum plus excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions...

IT Services Team Leader

£35000 - £40000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client, a prog...

KS2 Teacher

£90 - £120 per day + tax deductable expenses: Randstad Education Leicester: Ke...

Foundation Teacher

£90 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Leicester: Our client is seeking to app...

Day In a Page

Italian couples fake UK divorce scam on an ‘industrial scale’

Welcome to Maidenhead, the divorce capital of... Italy

A look at the the legal tourists who exploited our liberal dissolution rules
Tom and Jerry cartoons now carry a 'racial prejudice' warning on Amazon

Tom and Jerry cartoons now carry a 'racial prejudice' warning on Amazon

The vintage series has often been criticised for racial stereotyping
An app for the amorous: Could Good2Go end disputes about sexual consent - without being a passion-killer?

An app for the amorous

Could Good2Go end disputes about sexual consent - without being a passion-killer?
Llansanffraid is now Llansantffraid. Welsh town changes its name, but can you spot the difference?

Llansanffraid is now Llansantffraid

Welsh town changes its name, but can you spot the difference?
Charlotte Riley: At the peak of her powers

Charlotte Riley: At the peak of her powers

After a few early missteps with Chekhov, her acting career has taken her to Hollywood. Next up is a role in the BBC’s gangster drama ‘Peaky Blinders’
She's having a laugh: Britain's female comedians have never had it so good

She's having a laugh

Britain's female comedians have never had it so good, says stand-up Natalie Haynes
Sistine Chapel to ‘sing’ with new LED lights designed to bring Michelangelo’s masterpiece out of the shadows

Let there be light

Sistine Chapel to ‘sing’ with new LEDs designed to bring Michelangelo’s masterpiece out of the shadows
Great British Bake Off, semi-final, review: Richard remains the baker to beat

Tensions rise in Bake Off's pastry week

Richard remains the baker to beat as Chetna begins to flake
Paris Fashion Week, spring/summer 2015: Time travel fashion at Louis Vuitton in Paris

A look to the future

It's time travel fashion at Louis Vuitton in Paris
The 10 best bedspreads

The 10 best bedspreads

Before you up the tog count on your duvet, add an extra layer and a room-changing piece to your bed this autumn
Arsenal vs Galatasaray: Five things we learnt from the Emirates

Arsenal vs Galatasaray

Five things we learnt from the Gunners' Champions League victory at the Emirates
Stuart Lancaster’s long-term deal makes sense – a rarity for a decision taken by the RFU

Lancaster’s long-term deal makes sense – a rarity for a decision taken by the RFU

This deal gives England a head-start to prepare for 2019 World Cup, says Chris Hewett
Ebola outbreak: The children orphaned by the virus – then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection

The children orphaned by Ebola...

... then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection
Pride: Are censors pandering to homophobia?

Are censors pandering to homophobia?

US film censors have ruled 'Pride' unfit for under-16s, though it contains no sex or violence
The magic of roundabouts

Lords of the rings

Just who are the Roundabout Appreciation Society?