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
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
News
i100
News
Budapest, 1989. Sleepware and panties.
newsDavid Hlynsky's images of Soviet Union shop windows shine a light on our consumerist culture
News
In humans, the ability to regulate the expression of genes through thoughts alone could open up an entirely new avenue for medicine.
science
News
Williams says: 'The reason I got jobs was because they would blow the budget on the big guys - but they only had to pay me the price of a cup of tea'
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
A sketch of Van Gogh has been discovered in the archives of Kunsthalle Bremen in Germany
arts + ents
2015 General Election
May2015

Poll of Polls

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

Austen Lloyd: Corporate Tax Associate - London

Excellent Package: Austen Lloyd: CITY - HIGHEST QUALITY INTERNATIONAL FIRM - A...

Austen Lloyd: Senior Law Costs - London City

Excellent Package: Austen Lloyd: CITY - EXCELLENT FIRM - We have an outstandin...

Austen Lloyd: In-House Solicitor / Company Secretary - London

Excellent Package: Austen Lloyd: IN-HOUSE - NATIONAL CHARITY - An exciting and...

Austen Lloyd: Commercial Property Solicitor - Exeter

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: EXETER - A great new opportunity with real pot...

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

Paul Scholes column

The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee