Campaign to Protect Rural England – Newsletter from their president Bill Bryson
24 May 2011
Without wishing to embrace presumption, I’m going to assume you’re aware that I write for a living. This means that for much of the past 20 years I’ve essentially worked by myself. One of the most commendable parts of this arrangement is that when I find something that needs doing, I can just get on and do it.
One aspect of working on Stop the Drop I’ve found difficult is just how long a perfectly logical, well-thought-through solution to a litter-related problem can take to be considered by those who should be doing just that.
I’d like to give you an example.
As part of a wider strategy to reduce litter, effective enforcement is imperative. Having the legal right to say ‘You have been seen throwing litter, this is illegal and you are now subject to a fine of up to £80’ is an effective way to change litterers’ behaviour. In other words, if someone throws a £1 drinks can on the ground and it ends up costing them £81, they’ll probably think twice about doing it again.
Just over five years ago the Government passed some legislation that gave local councils new and improved powers to deal with litter, including better powers of enforcement. This new Act (which, for the technically-minded amongst you, is the Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Act (CNEA) 2005, a much-needed update to the Environmental Protection Act 1990) was generally considered to be a Good Thing. Councils got to work on putting these new powers into practice and were pleased to find that, by and large, they worked.
The one exception to this was littering from vehicles. Unfortunately, the CNEA had done nothing to make the existing law workable. It’s possible to see litter being thrown from a moving car and it’s possible to make a note of the number plate but it’s almost impossible to provide any proof of which person in the car threw the litter. So, when councils write to the car owner telling them they’re subject to an £80 fine, that person can shrug, say it wasn’t them and there’s nothing more that can be done without huge amounts of councils’ time and money being spent.
For many years, 100+ councils have said repeatedly that the law doesn’t work. And they haven’t just sat back with arms folded and a resigned or petulant look. They’ve discussed solutions between themselves and agreed on the one that would work best – make a small change to the existing law to ensure the owner of a vehicle from which litter is thrown is responsible for the act in the first instance – a precedent for which is set by the speeding, seat belt and fly-tipping laws. The person would then be legally obliged to pay the fine, unless of course they didn’t throw the litter, in which case they can nominate the person who did.
Local councils, the Local Government Association, CPRE and Keep Britain Tidy have consistently talked to the Government about this and have been right to do so. Keep Britain Tidy estimates that seven out of 10 pieces of litter blighting the countryside are dropped from cars. In 2009, the AA found in an online poll of over 8,000 drivers that 75% thought roadside litter was a serious problem and 94% thought it spoilt their local community. I have no doubt you’d agree, had you been asked.
However, it wasn’t until early last year that the Government’s lawyers confirmed any amendment to the existing law would need to be done via a relevant Act of Parliament. Fortunately for us, one of those has presented itself this year in the shape of the current Localism Bill, which deals directly with local authority powers.
So, after years of waiting for this moment (often thinking fondly of my personal and most fortunate ability to take prompt action when it’s needed), I am asking you to join CPRE in supporting councils and putting an end to this vapid debate. Please get in touch with your MP as soon as you possibly can and ask them to write to Defra Minister Lord Henley to ask him to support a change to the law on roadside litter through the Localism Bill.
As ever, CPRE has made this easy for you and created a nifty online action. You can take a look at its new website at the same time.
If this small and utterly reasonable change to the law is made, the result will be clear. Local councils can finally have a law that works; effective enforcement strategies for roadside litter can be developed; there will be less mess on our streets and in our hedgerows; and councils can start reducing their £858,000 street cleansing bill and put that precious money towards something else.
I will be eternally grateful for any support you can offer.
Very best wishes
PS. Stop the Drop’s own Will Gates works very closely with Peter Silverman – a tenacious and inspirational individual – on litter abatement orders. Peter has recently gone head to head with Defra’s Secretary of State on the state of England’s highways. Peter’s website provides some fascinating information about what he’s been up to and the significant progress he’s making.
PPS. The Marine Conservation Society has published a beautiful-looking report that contains some extremely concerning results. Do take a look at the results of its annual BeachWatch event and, in particular, tell all your friends that flushing things like cotton buds away in the comfort of their bathroom can lead to these items ending up in the ocean. So they must stop it.
Campaign to Protect Rural England
128 Southwark Street, London, SE1 0SW
Tel: 020 7981 2800, Fax: 020 7981 2899
CPRE fights for a better future for the English countryside. We work locally and nationally to protect, shape and enhance a beautiful, thriving countryside for everyone to value and enjoy. We’re a grassroots organisation, with more than 200 local groups, a branch in every county and 55,000 members and supporters.
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