Should Oxfordshire council tax payers pay to use the county’s seven recycling centres? Currently only businesses and people who drive vans have to pay.

Central government austerity measures mean the county council has to save £350,000 annually on the household waste recycling centre budget of £1.2bn.

But legally the local authority can’t charge us, so on Tuesday the Conservative-led county council voted to lobby the Conservative Government to change the law and allow charging.

It’s political war within the Conservative Party because the Government is standing firm.

A spokesman said: “We encourage Oxfordshire county councillors to support the wishes of local people, many of whom believe every household in England has a basic right to use recycling centres to dispose of household waste free of charge.

“Introducing these charges to local taxpayers will not only inconvenience local residents and reduce recycling, but actively harm the environment by encouraging fly-tipping and backyard burning.

“That’s why we changed the law to ensure that such services are provided free of charge to householders. And any introduction of stealth charges will be in clear breach of legislation.

“We recognise that local authorities are best placed to listen to local people and decide what is best for their area. With this in mind we are working with local authorities to promote good practice in recycling and initiatives which make recycling easier for people.”

The county council is in the middle of a consultation exercise with the public which runs until October 5 about the future of its recycling centres. Will the seven centres be reduced to three or four?

Council leader Ian Hudspeth has warned that these austerity cuts could lead to the council providing ‘statutory’ services only, which means the seven recycling centres could be reduced to just one.

Kevin Bulmer, a Conservative councillor who proposed the charging motion passed on Tuesday, said: “The argument goes to this question: Is it reasonable to ask people to pay to use the recycling centres if the choice is between losing them or paying to use them?

“It would not have to be a big charge because last year around one million people used the centres. So a one pound charge per visit with concessions would easily cover the £350,000 shortfall.

I asked him about fly-tipping as a consequence of charging. “Fly-tipping is mostly the result of white van man using it as a semi-commercial activity. Most Oxfordshire people will take their rubbish a bit further and even pay for it rather than fly-tip.”

John Howell, Tory MP for Henley, argues that reducing the recycling centres and charging could lead to an increase in fly-tipping. “This proposal is bad news. Residents would have to travel long distances to alternative recycling centres.

“The closure of Oakley Wood (recycling centre in Benson) will have a potentially detrimental effect on peoples’ willingness to recycle.”

The debate has created strange bedfellows. Labour councillor Steve Curran is the shadow spokesman for environment and economy. He agrees with David Cameron’s Conservative government. He said: “Charging for recycling is a rubbish idea. Recycling should be free for people and within a reasonable distance of where they live.”

What do the public think? The social media response is clear. Jacqueline says: “We already pay (for recycling). If this happens we will end up with rubbish dumped all over. Then loads of money will be spent on clearing it all up. Big mistake yet again by overpaid people in charge.”

Steve Evans is adamant: “It is hard enough to be able to dispose of rubbish and unwanted items as it is. The recycling centres that do exist are intimidating places, (some) operated by dictatorial contractors wanting to search your rubbish.

“The council should encourage the efficient and safe disposal of waste, not make the residents of Oxfordshire feel like criminals for wanting to throw something away that is no longer any use to anybody.

“I once left a bag of rubbish sticking out of my bin. As a result I got two printed leaflets posted to me and had a personal visit from a council official to give me advice on recycling. Now that is a waste of tax payers’ money.”

Peter Thompson, chairman of Oxford Civic Society, said: “I do think it unfortunate that some centres may close. I know from personal experience that centres such as the one at Redbridge in Oxford provide a well-used facility, and closure will not only cause inconvenience but will probably result in more fly-tipping and lower recycling, so the closures could well be counter-productive – a short-sighted, short-term expedient.

“On the other hand, I would rather see savings made in this way than in further cuts to welfare services for children and the elderly. I would even more rather not see any of these services cut, and the Government lobbied to fund our civilisation properly.”

Where do you stand? Should we take recycling centre charges or closures lying down or not?