WIDESPREAD rumblings of discontent have greeted the announcement that Woking and Surrey Heath councils’ garden waste collection service has been suspended “for the foreseeable future”.

“You’ll be aware from news reports that the national shortage of HGV drivers is continuing to worsen. It is now impacting a wide range of businesses and organisations and the situation is not expected to improve for some months,” said a statement from Joint Waste Solutions (JWS), who manage waste and recycling services in the two boroughs, as well as Elmbridge and Mole Valley.

“We are working closely with our waste collection contractor Amey to minimise disruption to collections as much as possible and prioritise the key services of food waste, rubbish and recycling.”

The chronic shortage of HGV drivers is being blamed on several factors, including the effects of Brexit and the pandemic.

JWS says it is undertaking a range of measures, such as incentivising drivers with recruitment and retention bonuses, and lobbying the government to take steps to help resolve the shortage.

“Members of the bin crews are being trained to become drivers through an in-house scheme, but the backlog of driving assessments and tests due to the pandemic has slowed the progress,” a spokesman added.

The fortnightly service skipped its first collection in July and found it difficult to restart, suspending the service during August and September.

Annoyed residents have flooded local web forums with their grievances, concerned that garden waste that has built up over the summer is now too heavy to remove and take to a tip, and is already beginning to compost in their bins.

“All it will mean is more individuals travelling in cars to the community waste centres in droves. So more carbon emissions from polluting vehicles going up into the atmosphere and just when Woking Borough Council declare a climate emergency only last year,” said Tom Bradbury from Knaphill.

There have been calls for a one-off collection to clear the backlog, but – due to the lack of drivers – this would likely be at the expense of recycling bins, meaning an extra impact for residents, said Cllr Kevin Davis, WBC portfolio holder for waste and recycling.

“In response to requests from fellow councillors and residents, at the absolute minimum we are aiming to perform a one-off collection while we look to implement a reduced service over the initial winter period,” he told the News & Mail on Tuesday. “We are reasonably optimistic that we will be able to achieve something here and I expect to continue discussions over the rest of this week to understand exactly what is possible. That is the minimum outcome we are aiming for.

“We will provide subscribers with information regarding the compensation arrangements we are putting in place for those subscribers that have stayed with us. We now have a better understanding of the likely longer-term impact and so can keep residents better informed of what we are doing, and how we intend trying to put right the disruption of this service. Subscribers that wish to cancel now will receive, pro-rata, their money back, plus the value of each missed collection over the past six weeks.

“I apologise for this, Woking, along with numerous other authorities, continue to be affected by the national shortage of HGV drivers and we are doing our very best to get the service up and running again,” added Cllr Davis.