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Committee accepts recommendation from Clean Highways that the  Highways Agency and Transport for London should be made responsible  for the cleansing all of the trunk roads on their respective networks.

However a real opportunity has been missed to analyse the problem and to identify the reforms needed.

The C&LG Committee’s report was published on 14th March 2015.

While the Committee recognised thatEngland is a litter-ridden country compared to most of Europe, North America and Japan” and thatchange is needed”  I believe that a real opportunity has been missed to analyse the problem and to identify the reforms needed.

 

Keeping roads and highways clean

This section refers to the evidence provided by Clean Highways and concludes that the  Highways Agency and Transport for London should be made responsible  for the cleansing all of the trunk roads on their respective networks. In most cases, while these agencies are responsible for all other aspects of maintenance, the local authority has to keep them clean. The council’s contractor has to go in and pick-up the litter before the Highways Agency /TfL’s contractor can cut the grass. In many cases I have found that councils are unaware of their responsibility to clean these roads.

 

Missing the main point

What is glaringly absent from the report is any reference to the duty under S89(1) of the the Environmental Protection Act under which Local Authorities and the Highways Agency are required to ensure so far as is practicable that their land is kept clear of litter and refuse.

If England is a “litter-ridden country” then it implies that these bodies are failing to carry out this stringent legal obligation. They must be  failing to remove litter promptly and using the wide powers available to them to act against those who are responsible for creating it.

 

What the committee should have been looked at

Why some duty bodies such as London Underground and the central London Boroughs keep their land clean but others such as the Highways Agency (motorways) and most other local authorities do not?

Why there is no  scrutiny by central government of compliance by councils and the Highways Agency with their EPAS89(1) – duty to ensure land is kept clear of litter?

Why so may councils fail to issue  meaningful number of Fixed Penalty Notices for littering. One of the exiting developments in recent years has been the use by some councils of specialist contractors to issue these on-the-spot fines.  These schemes can self financing as the councils can retain the fines. They have been, in my opinion unfairly, criticized by the the Department for Communities and Local Government. It is a great pity that the Committee did not look into this area and, if they had been so minded, provide countervailing encouragement to councils.

Why the Highways Agency does not prosecute the owners of Waste Transport vehicles who routinely spill their loads along the motorways?

Whether EPA S91 –Summary proceedings by persons aggrieved by litter is fit for purpose?

Whether or not DEFRA’s Litter Code of Practice is fit for purpose?

Why on-the-spot Fixed Penalty Notices  are not given to juveniles and should the law be changed to facilitate this?

Is it acceptable that councils only spend on average 0.71% of their budgets (just £32 per annum per household) on street cleansing ?

What can be done to stop councils allowing residents to leave  bags of waste out in the street for collection, where their contents can be dispersed by vermin, in contravention of EPA S33?

Has this practice led to the idea that the street is now a general depository for waste?

Is this why incidences of fly-tipping have increase?

When highways cleansing is contracted out are councils and the Highways Agency making sure they get value for money?

What has been the effect of the legislation that came into force in 2012 enabling London Boroughs to issue penalty charge notices against the owner of a vehicle, whether or not he was in it at the time, if anyone in the vehicle allows litter to fall from it?

 

For easy reference I have extracted below some of the most significant paragraphs in the report

Key recommendations

Chewing gum

We are not, at this point, recommending a tax on chewing gum. However, this is the last chance for the industry to put its house in order. We recommend that our successor committee revisit this issue in one year unless it sees the industry making a much larger contribution to the costs of removing gum and staining and also encouraging its consumers to change their behaviour and achieving a significant reduction in litter. In this regard it should have larger notices about not littering on all its packaging, wrappers and adverts..

Cigarette litter

The tobacco industry itself must also do more. It should provide, free at the point of sale, portable ashtrays or ‘mini bins’ for the disposal of cigarette-related litter. The Government should ensure that a portion of any increase in tobacco levies is allocated to local councils to help pay for the cost street cleaning; and all public buildings must install receptacles for disposing of cigarette-related litter in those areas where staff congregate to smoke.

Fly-tipping

The Government should introduce a fixed penalty notice for fly-tipping for household items—the bulk of the incidents—and the industry must introduce a scheme to take away unwanted household appliances and furniture when replacements are delivered. Councils should foster partnerships with charities who are willing to collect such items free of charge.

Cleansing of All Purpose Trunk Roads

Responsibility for cleaning and maintenance of trunk roads is split between councils and the Highways Agency. Coordination has been poor. We are clear that responsibility for clearing litter and fly-tipping from all purpose trunk roads has to move over to the Highways Agency, and Transport for London in London.

Fixed Penalty Notices for littering

The Government must also assess whether the fixed penalty notice for litter should be increased from its current £80 maximum. We recommend that the Government collect data on the use of FPNs and the level and collection of fines and assess whether the maximum fine should be increased

National Litter Strategy

We recommend that the Government create a national litter strategy for England, with a clear framework for action, underpinned with a coordinating role for local councils within their respective areas.

Community Clean-up day

We support the introduction of a community clean-up day on 21 March. This should become an annual event.

Useful information and observations

Fly-Tipping

In contrast to litter, local authorities are required to input their data on fly-tipping into a Government database, ‘fly capture’, annually…. this year saw a marked
increase in fly-tipping following a year on year decline since 2006……  local authorities dealt with a total of 852,000 incidents of fly-tipping in 2013/14, an
increase of 20% since 2012/13. Nearly two thirds of these involved household waste.

The Government estimates that the cost of clearing of fly-tipping to local authorities in England in 2013/14 was £45.2 million….. analysis by The Guardian shows the top ten worst local authorities are dominated by London boroughs.

Mick Wright, former head of Waste Management at Luton Council, said fly-tipping had increased when the council started charging for the collection of household items.

Shaun Morley, Head of Waste Management at Wandsworth Council, [not in the top ten] said that despite the higher figures for London boroughs, his authority had seen a decrease in fly-tipping because of greater enforcement: “We have also introduced time bandings into our town centres where commercial [waste] can only be collected at a certain time of day. What we are finding is that, without that there, there will be bags out all day and there will be bags added to it from domestic properties”.

There has been a significant upsurge in the incidence of fly-tipping in England in the last 12 months. If this trend continues in future years, it will increase the burden on local councils and private land owners.

Chewing Gum

The LGA estimates that clearing chewing gum costs the average town centre £60,000 per year. On the basis of 936 towns in England this could add up to £56 million per year.61 Staining from the gum is particularly difficult to remove as it requires high pressure hoses.62 As a result of these costs some councils do not remove gum at all.

Fast-food litter

In the UK shop owners can be asked to tidy up their perimeter under the Street Litter Control Notices Order 1991,74 but this is not an ongoing obligation and is only used when there is an obvious problem. When we asked the Government whether it would be in favour of a general obligation on retailers to keep their  street fronts clear of litter, it said that it was not as “a lot of retail businesses are small businesses; […] they already contribute and pay charges through business rates”.

Legislation and its enforcement

Penalties for litter

Part IV of the Environmental Protection Act 1990 makes dropping litter a criminal offence subject to a fine of up to £2,500 on summary conviction in court. The Government reports that 5,500 people convicted in magistrates’ courts of littering in 2013, and the average fine was £140. However, because of the costs associated with going to court, most local authorities, who are responsible for enforcing this legislation, seek instead to impose a fixed penalty notice (FPN) for littering, which is a civil matter. The current FPN for litter is between £40 and £80, with the average fine being £75.79 There were 30,678 fixed penalty
notices issued in 2008–09, the last year for which figures are available, of which 19,039 were paid

New legislation in the Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act came into force in October 2014. It empowers local authority officers to issue Community Protection Notices (CPNs) against people who drop litter. They can also issue a CPN where litter has accumulated and is considered to be causing a problem for the community.

CPNs are intended to enable these authorities to deal with particular, ongoing problems or nuisances, (including accumulations of litter on public or private land) which negatively affect the community’s quality of life, by targeting the person responsible. The notice will direct the individual, business or organisation responsible to stop causing the problem. The test will be that the local authority or police officer believes the behaviour is detrimental to the local community’s quality of life, unreasonable, and persistent.

The Government has not collected data on the number of criminal cases, fines, FPNs issued or amounts collected since 2008/09. Without this information it is difficult to make an assessment of the effectiveness of FPNs, in particular, in meeting the policy objective to deter littering.

Penalties for fly-tipping

Fly-tipping is a criminal offence subject to a penalty of up to £50,000 or a 12 month prison sentence, or both, on summary conviction. The Government reports that local authorities dealt with over 852,000 incidents of fly-tipping in 2012/13 and carried out 425,000 enforcement actions. This resulted in only 2,000 prosecutions.

Keep Britain Tidy suggested that, since the majority of fly-tipping incidents were from a small van or constituted a single bin bag, it would be better if local authorities could issue a FPN for fly-tipping offences, as is currently possible in Scotland. As with litter, using a FPN would make the offence a civil matter. Camden Council also argued for the introduction of FPNs for fly-tipping which it said would “enable a more efficient enforcement regime”.

We accept that prosecution is often difficult and costly and as a result the number of convictions for fly-tipping is low. The Government should introduce a national fixed penalty notice for small amounts of fly-tipping, which would require the lower standard of proof required for a civil penalty.

Councils should be more proactively engaged with local voluntary groups and charities who may be willing to collect discarded goods from households free of charge to offset some of the costs to councils. In addition, we recommend that industry take away bulky items when they deliver replacements, as is already the case in relation to fridges. A charge should be built into the cost of the item to pay for this facility. Items included in this category would be televisions, cookers, washing machines, other large appliances, mattresses and sofas.

Keeping the Highways Clean

Clearing litter and fly-tipping from the roads in England is the responsibility of either local authorities or the Highways Agency. The Agency is responsible for keeping motorways and a small proportion of all-purpose trunk roads clean, while local authorities are responsible for the roads in towns and cleaning the majority of trunk roads. However, the Highways Agency is responsible for the maintenance of these trunk roads including maintaining verges and grass-cutting.

Clean Highways, a group focusing on legislation on litter, pointed out that before cleaning a trunk road a council would often have to get permission from the Highways Agency to close a lane. The Agency would normally insist the work was carried out late at night to minimise traffic disruption, but councils were ill-equipped to handle this work which often necessitated hiring crash cushion vehicles and signage.

Warwickshire Waste Partnership explained that despite repeated efforts local authorities had been unable to establish effective partnerships, coordination and communication with the Highways Authority and their contractors. It said that working with the Highways Agency was “a nightmare”.90 In addition, the costs associated with litter removal and implementing safe methods of working on trunk roads were disproportionately expensive for district and  borough councils. For example, an 11 mile section (5.5 miles each way) of the A46 on the edge of Coventry took five workers 17 days to complete. They collected 6 tonnes of litter
and waste at a cost of £22,000: that was £2,000 per mile.

In London, where Transport for London (TFL), rather than the Highways Agency, maintains trunk roads, Wandsworth Council said they had similar problems trying to coordinate clearing litter with TFL’s scheduled road works. Shaun Morley said there was “always a bit of conflict about who is responsible. And the lines are not as clear as they could be in some instances.

The Highways Agency said it would “certainly be open to discussions around taking on responsibilities and duties, but […] that would need an increase in our resource funding to enable us to take them on.

Dan Rogerson, the Defra Minister, said the Government was willing to look at this issue and would await our recommendations..

Hopkins, the DCLG Minister, agreed and said, “we have some well-paid and very clever people who work in local authorities. It does not take much more than a phone call to try to find a solution.

Littering and fly-tipping from vehicles

The Government has been slow to update legislation relating to litter thrown from vehicles and fly-tipping from vehicles. We recommend that it bring into operation before the end of this Parliament long overdue legislation in the Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Act 2005 providing for the seizure of vehicles involved in fly-tipping offences. We also recommend that it extend immediately to all local authorities in England, the powers in the Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill 2014 to impose penalties on the owner of a vehicle from which litter is dropped.

A Strategy for change

David Sedaris, author and broadcaster, told us that levels of litter were high in the UK compared to other countries…  The Government did not appear to share his view. Dan Rogerson, the Defra Minister, told us: “there is a pretty good standard across areas. […] We have not seen a problem
that is getting dramatically worse.”

We disagree. Not getting worse is not the same as acceptable. We take no satisfaction in it but the evidence of our own eyes, the photographs tweeted to us, and the evidence we took during this inquiry lead us to the conclusion that England is a litter-ridden country compared to most of Europe, North America and Japan. Change is needed.

Various witnesses advocated education as being an important part of any solution.

Defra, which has the policy lead for litter and fly-tipping,117 explained that its role was to set the standards, make sure the legislation was fit for purpose and
bring people together by working with partners in industry and in the voluntary sector. DCLG also has a role to play since the most important partner with responsibility for the bulk of street cleaning activities, and tackling litter and fly-tipping, are local councils. They also carry the bulk of the costs of clearing litter and fly-tipping.

The failure to make a noticeable improvement in litter levels in the last 12 years points to a lack of vigour, if not complacency, within Government over the past decade.

Peter Silverman
14th March 2015

 

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