A HUGE increase of rats is making Newbury town centre a serious health risk.
This is the alarming claim following of an in-depth investigation by West Berkshire’s Labour spokesman Richard Garvie.
Mr Garvie reported that the problem was so bad that refuse collectors were logging every rat they saw and noting the location.
They told Mr Garvie that a large increase of rats was noted after it was decided to move weekly waste collections to once a fortnight.
He said: “I’m horrified by what my inquiries have uncovered. Reduced funding for environmental health is clearly the main reason for the disturbing increase of rats and vermin in Newbury.
“Penny-pinching is putting the public health at risk. My enquiries leave me in no doubt that West Berkshire Council cutbacks are chiefly to blame.
“One refuse collector said that he saw up to 20 rats in Newbury town centre last month, having seen only an occasional one a month before collection times were changed.
“[They] have told me that the potential health implications are huge. They are convinced that environmental health cuts are to blame, which prompts me to call on the council to act quickly before people fall ill.”
Some “irresponsible retailers” also suffered a stinging rebuke from Mr Garvie for the way they are disposing of waste.
He said that a prime example was what was happening behind some premises near the canal, a natural habitat for vermin.
“During my enquiries, I was advised to visit this area and I saw rubbish and waste that had been dumped outside the back door, and large rats scurrying away.
“There is a desperate need to tackle this rat invasion and clean Newbury’s streets, and I’m urging the council to start immediate talks to deal with what I regard as a crisis.”
Mr Garvie added that his attention was first drawn to the problem when contacted by the producer of an investigative TV programme.
He said: “I was asked if I knew anyone who would like to help with the TV investigation, and shortly afterwards I met a refuse collector who told me how bad the rat problem was, and I shall be passing this information on.”
West Berkshire Council said that it had received a limited number of complaints about vermin since changes were made to collection times.
Spokeswoman Peta Stoddart-Crompton said: “Since changing the frequency of rubbish collections in October 2011, we have experienced very few complaints regarding concerns over vermin.
“Research and experience from other local authorities and national organisations indicate that vermin do not increase as a result of fortnightly collection changes.”