The Government has responded at last to the report by the Commons Communities and Local Government Select Committee on Litter and Fly-tipping .
I have the following concerns:
Denial of responsibility by central government
In para 5 of their response they say:
The Government is committed to localism and the transfer of power to local communities.
This is particularly relevant in dealing with litter and fly-tipping problems, which require a
local approach, tailored to the characteristics of the area and the community in which the
problems occur. The role of central government is to enable and support this local action:
providing a clear legal framework of rights, responsibilities and powers, setting national
standards, and (where possible) ensuring that the costs of dealing with litter issues are
passed to those responsible for causing the problem.
Wrong. The problem is a national one. The same issues occur in every local authority area across the country whether we are talking about fast food litter or fly-tipping. Seemingly nobody in central government wants to get a handle on the problem. No one is committed to sorting it out at a national level. That is why the problem persists.
We already have a legal frame of rights and responsibilities. Section 89(1) of the Environmental Protection Act requires councils and Highway England to ensure, so far as is practicable, that they keep their land free of litter. But there is no one at the centre policing their compliance with this legislation. That is why the problem persists.
Down grading the problem
In paras 42 and 43 they counter the Committee’s conclusion that England is a litter-ridden country by quoting figure saying 72% of people in the UK think that there is “not much” or “no” litter. Maybe the survey was carried out on Kensington High St.
They go on to say that successive Local Environment Quality Survey for England (LEQSE) findings have also shown that the vast majority of England is “predominantly free of litter and refuse”.
This excuse mentality at the centre of government is why the problem persists.
Highways England’s trunk roads
In most cases the local authority has to litter-pick the verges of these high speed roads while HE carry out all other maintenance tasks. The local authority contractor is supposed to come in any remove litter before HE’s contractor cuts the grass. The committee had accepted my recommendation that HE should clean theses roads.
In reply the Government said:
“… to make HE legally responsible for litter collection on all the roads that they operate ….. would need primary legislation and would include complicated alterations to funding arrangements that would reduce the resources available to local authorities”
Wrong. It would not need any legislation. The government already have powers to transfer cleansing duties from a local authority to a highways authority e.g. Highways England under EPA86 (11).
There would be no net reduction in funds available to local authorities if the funding was taken only from those councils who were being relieved of the unwanted burden of cleaning these national routes. Combining litter picking with the other maintenance work would generate substantial economies and result in more not less funds being available to local authorities.
Litter fines – criminal & civil law
In my submission to the Committee I had made the case for making the offence of dropping litter a civil one to be dealt with in the same way as a parking offence. On-the-spot Penalty Notices could then be given to juveniles, the burden of proof would be lessened and the costs of progressing non-payment would be reduced. The option to prosecute under the criminal law could be retained for serious case.
The Committee did not consider this because they were mistakenly under the impression that the current Fixed Penalty regime was already subject to the civil law.
Missing the main point
What is glaringly absent from the report and the Governemnt’s response 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.
14th December 2015