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Nigel says: February 10, 2017   I’m staggered and depressed by the amount of verge side debris, your site shows this is common all over the UK. Roadside litter is a disgrace; it puts us to shame against so many other countries. See more of your feedback






In 1987 Margaret Thatcher vowed to do something about the rising tide of litter.  Three years later the Environmental Protection Act 1990 became law.

Under Section 89 Duty to keep land and highways clear of litter duty bodies were required  to ensure, so far as is practicable, that their land and  highways were kept clear of litter and refuse.

Highways England (motorways and most trunk roads), all local authorities (other roads, parks etc.) and London Underground are duty bodies.

The use of the term “practicable” as opposed to “reasonably practicable” is significant. With the latter cost is a relevant consideration. With the former it is not. (See the 2 minute video “Duty to keep highways clear of litter”)

There were three significant flaws in the EPA (1990) arrangements:

  1. No additional funding was provided.
  2. No organisation was charged with the task of policing compliance with the S89 duty.
  3. The code of practice issued by DEFRA under EPA S89(7) was crafted in such a ways as to offer a reduced standard based on response times and reasonable practicalities. It has become a book of excuses.

In 2015 a Commons Select Committee concluded that that “England is a litter-ridden country compared to most of Europe, North America and Japan”.

This is not surprising since local authorities on average spend under 60p per week per household on street cleansing. This is less than 1% of their total expenditure. In contrast, we happily spend 5 times as much per household on hair dressing and beauty treatments!

There are however some shining examples of duty bodies taking their statutory duty seriously. London Underground and the central London boroughs litter pick with sufficient frequency that accumulations are not allowed to build up.

Our main roads and motorways are possibly in the worst state of all. Local authorities pay less heed to through roads where there are usually no residents to complain about their condition. Please refer to Roadside litter complaints. Some Councils have admitted that they only plan to clean their high-speed roads twice a year.

The government’s response (Dec 2015) to the Select Committee’s report:

  1. Characterised the problem as a local one for local government (buck passing).
  2. Pointed out that successive Local Environment Quality Surveys had  shown that the vast majority of England is “predominantly free of litter and refuse” (denying the problem).
  3. Agreed to develop a national litter strategy ( i.e to produce yet another piece of paper).

The litter strategy was leaked to the press in January 2017. The 7 point plan includes only one measure of any substance.

No additional funding is promised.

Judging from the press reports there was no mention of what the Minister in charge of the strategy, Lord Gardiner, had described as our filthy motorways.

In April 2015 under the Infrastructure Act the Highways Agency, an executive branch of the Department for Transport was turned into a semi-independent government owned company – Highways England. I wrote to the incoming Chairman pointing out the HA’s failure to comply with EPA S89, the defects in their area service provider contacts (no clear specifications and no meaningful monitoring) and their  culture of spin and excuses.

Environmental Key Performance Indicators were set for Highways England by the DfT for noise, biodiversity and air quality -but not for litter.

In July 2016 HE agreed a new style contact with their service provider for Area 7, the East Midlands. For the first time, they specified what the cleansing frequencies should be. However, this was to be only once a year for the M45 and parts of the M1.

The Office of Rail & Road and Transport Focus are funded by the DfT to the tune of £4.3 million pa to monitor and investigate how HE exercises its functions.

The ORR  say that assessing Highways England’s compliance with this EPA S89 duty is outside the scope of it’s functions.

Transport Focus have published 57 reports on the HE network. None have mentioned litter. There is also no reference to litter anywhere on their web site. This, they say, is because “relative to the many other things that determine a road users’ satisfaction with their journey the problem doesn’t feature highly”.

A major contributor to roadside litter are spillages from skip lorries and bulk waste transporters. This 30 second video shows what is happening on a regular basis. However the Environment Agency have only prosecuted one such offending company since Jan 2000 and that was at my instigation.  Highways England obstinately refuse to accept that they can and should prosecute these offences.


This page I have tried to examine what has gone wrong and why. Only by recognising this can we attempt to put things right. This task is covered in my Key recommendations page

Peter Silverman
13th February  2016


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