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Stephen Hammond, the new Under-secretary of State for Transport with responsibility for the Highways Agency / Motorways replied to a question from Andrew Gwynne MP (Denton and Reddish, Labour)  on 1st March. He said:

“This arrangement has regard to the nature and use of the highway, and the need to limit disruption to traffic”.

This does not explain why main carriageway verges alongside hard shoulders are defaced by litter. They can be cleaned safely without any traffic management.

“The Act (Environmental Protection Act)  is supplemented by a code of practice which specifies standards of cleanliness and response times”.

S89 (1) of this Act says that the Secretary of State has to “ensure that the land” (i.e. the motorways) “is, so far as is practicable, kept clear of litter and refuse.”  S89 (7) says a code of practice is to provide guidance on the discharge of this duty and S89(7) says that those responsible have to have regard to it.

9.1 of the Litter Code of Practice  says that “Duty Bodies are expected to set their cleansing schedules so that they meet the duty to keep their relevant land clear of litter and refuse..”  but neither the Highways Agency nor their contractors set any cleansing schedules. Their contractors operate a purely reactive system deciding when, where and if to carry out cleaning based on their own inspections.

The response (or recovery)  times  Mr Hammond refers to “should” according to Code 6.5  “be regarded as a last resort as levels should be maintained above an acceptable standard at all times”. Yet the Highways Agency regard them as the sole criteria to which they, or rather their contractors,  have conform.

The absurdity of this approach is exposed when one looks at the Code’s last resort response time for motorway verges. It  is “28 days or as soon as reasonably practicable”. (See Litter Code page 21 and 23).  This means that, once spotted,  litter on a verge can be left in situ for 28 days – or longer if the contractor deems it not to be reasonably practical to pick it up within that time.

“Each grading specifies a response time for the removal of litter”

This is simply wrong. Last resort response times are set for each category of land (high, medium, low  intensity of use or special circumstance) not for each grade of cleanliness (A no litter, B predominantly free of litter etc). (See Litter Code Table 1 on page 20).

 “The agency undertakes a regime of sweeping and litter picking on the M60 and M67 motorways in compliance with the code”

The Agency do not do any litter picking as all such work is contracted out. What the Agency should be doing is inspecting the contractors work and taking remedial action when they fail to perform to specification.  On the M40 the Agency carry out no physical litter inspections . On some other motorways they perform Enviromental Amenity Audits but this process is badly flawed for the reasons explained here.

Further reading:

Our littered Motorways   Report to Mike Penning MP Under-secretary of State for Transport   22/11/2010

Motorway Cleansing Report to National Audit Office  13/03/2011

Motorway Cleaning – Management Failings at the Highways Agency   Report to Alan Cook, Chairman Highways Agency   12/09/2011

Highways Agency’s new Asset Support contract – not fit for purpose?   E-mail to Philip Rutnam, Permanent Secretary at the Department for Transport   22/10/2012


Peter Silverman
4th March 2013
(Phone number removed)


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