Mission & progress

M6 J16 M_square“So depressing to start and end my work day with a drive up the M1 and A38 in Derbyshire.  Sickening amounts of litter and plastic.” NH

“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

See 150 comments like this  and  the video

Our mission is to find out why the litter legislation is not working and to get our motorway verges and local authority roads cleaned up.

We were featured in BBC1’s “Don’t Mess With Me ” on 28th November 2014. Here is the 7 minute clip:


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.


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 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.

This was in spite of his having raised the matter a year earlier in Parliament and having been given assurances by Roads Minister, Stephen Hammond  that performance issues had been addressed.

My analysis of the litter collection statistics for Area 10 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%!

Graph F

To see for myself what this meant on the ground I carried out a photo survey of the M6 and M67 on 8/9th March 2014.

These and other issues have been taken up in correspondence with Robert Goodwill on 13th, 21st, and 27th March and on 8th and 9th April 2014.


In my submission of 21st October 2013 and 27th February 2014 to the Commons Select Transport Committee inquiry into the Strategic Road Network (Better Roads)  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.


Infrastructure Bill

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 the Agency will become directly responsible for ensuring that their network is, 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.  It is hoped that he will bring a more professional approach  to the management of the Agency’s contracts.

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.

Litter fines

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.

Peter Silverman
28th July 2014


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