This post relates to my application for a Litter Abatement Order against the Secretary Of State for Transport (SoS) over the littered state of J1 of the M40. For the background to this please go to the M40 J1 Denham Roundabout case study page.
I delivered a summons on 12th April requiring the SoS to appear at the Wycombe and Beaconsfield Magistrates Court on 9th May. His response was to get the Highway’s Agency’s contractors to carry out a clean up of the verges on 4th May. The contractor supplied photographs to the Treasury Solicitors Department (TSD) so that they could argue that an Abatement Order was no longer required.
Their assumption, and indeed mine, was that the outcome of the hearing would be as it was in my previous case against the SoS. Please refer to the M40 case study. In other words I would accept that there was no longer a need for an Abatement Order as the verges had been cleaned and the SoS would accept that, at the time of my complaint, the highway was defaced by litter and therefore pay my costs.
Indeed on 6th May I received a copy of a letter from the TSD to the Court along these lines. They said they would contend that their duty had been discharged and they would pay my costs.
However, when I visited the junction later that day I noted that, while the more accessible and visible areas had been cleaned, those now partly hidden by the spring foliage had not. The Litter Code of Practice says that some small items of litter are acceptable. However, I do not think that an abandoned refrigerator falls into this category!
At the hearing the TSD Solicitor was accompanied a Barrister and the Highways Agency’s M40 manager. She argued that she had not had time to verify my photographic evidence. The Magistrates said they would not consider issuing an Abatement Order at this hearing. The two parties, they said, would have to come to an agreement or there would have to be a contested hearing – and that would not be until October!!
We then had a recess during which we had a discussion to try to resolve matters. The SoS’s representatives offered to get the verges cleaned up again and to provide me with corroboration in the form of photographs and videos. This is when they showed me the photographs taken by the contractor on 4th May. I pointed out that as they were selective, this type of evidence could not be relied upon. I said I wanted to to do my own on site inspection after the work had been completed. They argued that this would not be possible for contractual and health and safety reasons but agreed to look into it.
We then returned to the court. The Magistrates agreed to adjourn the hearing until 8th June to give us time to reach an amicable agreement.
Hopefully the Highways Agency will now get their contractors to do a thorough clean up of the junction and allow me to verify their work.
An interesting thought:
The EPA requires the SoS to “ensure” our motorways are “kept clear of litter and refuse“
It does not say they should only be cleaned after a complaint is received, followed by a legal warning notice, followed by a complaint to a court for a Litter Abatement Order, followed by a hearing, followed by an adjournment, followed by…