“Motorway (and other) roadside litter is a disgrace to the country. Keep up the good work”. AF
“Whole journey on the M6 from Junction 18 to 13 was blighted by litter”. JR
“My husband and I traveled from Manchester down to north Wales and the litter was unbelievable” – CM
“.. same problems down south on the M27 & M3. Simply dreadful. Have to complain all the time” – RN
- To find out why the litter legislation is not working and advise the Government accordingly
- To get our motorways and main road verges cleaned up.
Duty to keep land clear of litter
Under the Environmental Protection Act S 89(1) duty bodies such as the Secretary of State for Transport (motorways) and local councils (local roads & parks etc) are required to ensure, so far as is practicable, that their land is kept free of litter and refuse. In doing this they have to have regard to the Litter Code of Practice issued by DEFRA. Please refer to EPA S89(1) and the Litter Code of Practice.
Motorways and the Highways Agency
The Highways Agency are responsible for maintaining the strategic network of motorways and trunk roads in England. However responsibility for cleaning of most of the trunk roads on this network lies with the relevant Local Authority.
The network is divided into 25 areas. Each area employs a maintenance contractor / service provider. Routine tasks such grass cutting, barrier repairs, gulley cleaning and litter-picking are paid for in the form of a fixed annual “lump sum” regardless of the amount of work carried out.
A 2009 report, “Roadside Litter”, prepared for the Agency by Atkins stated that “There are frequent complaints from the public about litter”. It criticised the Agency’s litter assessment process, recommended the Agency take responsibility for cleaning the network’s trunk roads and that Agency staff be authorised to issue litter fines. None of these recommendations seem to have been taken on board.
In March 2010 Mike Penning MP, then in opposition, initiated a Commons debate on Motorway Litter in which he described our motorways as being blighted by litter and said that the legislations was not working.
However, in his subsequent two years’ tenure as Roads Minister with responsibility for the Highways Agency no steps were taken to remedy this situation. Instead, he was obliged to reduce the Highways Agency budgets as part of the 2010 Spending Review.
Mike Penning was replaced by Stephen Hammond who was replaced by Robert Goodwill who has just been replaced by John Hayes. Four different Roads Ministers in just over 4 years!
Highways Agency’s new Asset Support Contract / Area 10 (Manchester/ Liverpool)
To help cut costs Mike Penning oversaw the development of a new service provider contract. This “Asset Support Contract” is gradually being rolled out as the various area contracts come up for renewal.
In April 2012 I wrote to him highlighting its defects and recommending that its implementation be suspended.
In November 2012 the contract for Area 10 was awarded to Balfour Beatty Mott MacDonald.
In January 2014, Andrew Gwynne MP for Denton & Reddish in Manchester, wrote to the Agency and new Roads Minister, Robert Goodwill, with photographs of the deplorably littered state of the M67 which runs through the heart of his constituency and demanding action.
I have recently published an analysis of the litter collection statistics for Area 10. This showed that for every 100 bags of litter per month collected by the previous contractor BBMM were only picking up 43 – a fall of 57%!
In spite of the the incriminating photographs, the dramatic decline in litter picking and the fact no financial penalties were applied to BBMM when they failed to carry out any litter picking in their first two months on the job, he still felt that there had been no breach of EPA S89(1).
House of Commons Select Transport Committee
Please also refer to my submission to the Commons Select Transport Committee inquiry into the Strategic Road Network (Better Roads) of 21st October 2013 and 27th February 2014 in which I presented evidence that the Highways Agency’s continuing mismanagement of its contractual relationships with its service providers is putting the Secretary of State in breach of his EPA S89(1) duty.
M40 – some good news
Back in the winter of 2009/10 the M40 was in a similar state to Area 10 today. After I issued a Warning Notice under EPA S91 to the then Secretary of State for Transport in February 2010 new procedures were introduced and, albeit it gradually, the motorway has been brought up to a standard which is in my opinion now compliant with EPA S89(1). (See Legal action leads to transformation of M40).
If the M40 can be brought back from the brink then so can Area 10 – and all of the other motorways which are currently sub-standard.
The Infrastructure Bill 2014 -2015 the Highways Agency will become a government owned strategic highways company. Under clause 107 Section 89 of the Environmental Protection Act 1990 will be amended so that any strategic highways company will become responsible for ensuring that the highways for which it is responsible are, so far as is practicable, kept clear of litter and refuse.
In preparation for this Colin Matthews, the former CEO of Heathrow Airport has been appointed Chairman of Highways Agency. This is a welcome move as he has an excellent reputation. It is hoped that he will bring a more professional approach to the management of the Agency’s contracts.
As a 100% government owned company, the new organisation will be subject to the Freedom of information Act and the Environmental Information Regulations.
Commons’ Committee to look into litter
The Communities and Local Government Select Committee has started an inquiry into litter. It brief is to look at how significant a problem littering and fly-tipping is, and whether current government policies are adequate and give local authorities enough autonomy to tackle the problem. I will be submitting evidence to them.
Governmental to do list
Environmental Protection Act
DEFRFAs Litter Code of Practice should be revised. The current edition is confusing, contradictory and open to misinterpretation.
An EPA Compliance Board should be set up responsible directly to Parliament with powers to act against duty bodies who fail to comply with their duties under the Act including the S89 (1) - duty to keep land clear of litter.
This should obviate the need for citizens to apply to the courts for Litter Abatement Orders under S91, a process that has proved to be largely unfit for purpose.
The board could also act against Councils who breach of EPA S33 by encouraging residents to leave bags of refuse outside of their property for collection – a major source of litter on residential roads.
Highways Agency’ strategic network
One of Colin Matthews’ first tasks should be to examine whether the Highways Agency’s new Asset Support Contract is fit for purpose.
Before incorporating the Highways Agency responsibility for cleaning all of their trunk roads should be transferred away from relatively dis-interested and ill-equipped local authorities to the Agency who are responsible for all other maintenance work on these roads and are well equipped to do the job.
Also, it needs to be made clear who will monitoring the new company’s compliance with EPA S89(1) – Duty to keep land clear of litter and refuse.
A specific code of practice needs to be devised to define safe working practices for roadside litter clearance.
A considerable amount of the litter on high speed road arises from poorly contained, usually netted, waste transport vehicles. All such vehicles using high speed roads should be mechanically sealed.
The government should support, instead of criticising, the use of contractors by Councils to issue on-the-spot litter fines. More on this.
They should consider making the offence of dropping litter subject to the civil law. Councils are unwilling to give on-the-spot fines to under 18s as they know that, if it is not paid, Magistrates would be unwilling to give the young person a criminal record. Councils also have to be mindful of their responsibilities under the Children’s Act 2004.
28th July 2014