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Obfuscation by the Highways Agency / DfT

On October 18, 2013, in DfT, Highways Agency, by PeterSilverman

Obfuscate = To obscure or darken, to perplex or bewilder

Instead of addressing the issues the DfT / Agency’s response seems to be to put up the shutters. They have refused further information requests from Peter, and now from myself. They simply contradict any embarrassing facts that are brought to light and fail to address positive suggestions“. Andrew Gwynne MP to highways minister Stephen Hammond MP

Avoiding any reference to the duty to keep the network clear of litter

Neither the Highways Agency’s 13 page  Envi­ron­ment Strat­egy nor their 21 point ‘Man­ag­ing our Approach to Envi­ron­men­tal Per­for­mance’ doc­u­ments makes any reference to their EPA S89(1) duty.

They describe their Responsibility for clearing litter from motorways and roads as follows:

“The High­ways Agency cur­rently col­lect the equiv­a­lent of more than 180,000 sacks of lit­ter over the course of a year from motor­ways and major A roads in Eng­land. This has reduced from around 250,000 sacks annu­ally as at April 2011.”

“The Envi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Act of 1990 makes a dis­tinc­tion between spe­cial roads, which are the respon­si­bil­ity of the Sec­re­tary of State; and trunk roads, which are the respon­si­bil­ity of the local authority.”

In this letter to Linda McGeachie  the Agency says:

“the Secretary of State for Transport has a responsibility under the Environmental Protection Act 1990 to collect litter on motorways”

The duty is not just to collect litter – it is to ensure, so far as is practicable, that the network is kept clear of litter and refuse.

Refusal of legitimate information requests.

The Agency had refused four information requests made by me  in April / May 2012 on the ground that they were “manifestly unreasonable” under Regulation 12(4)(b) of the Environmental Information Regulations. This was overturned by the Information Tribunal.  Judge Angus Hamilton’s decision of 14th July 2013 stated: “Mr Silverman’s campaign was a decent worthwhile campaign with a serious aim and purpose which was of general benefit to the whole community.

In spite of this reprimand just 6 weeks later on 20th August the Agency refused other requests  from me on the very same grounds.  I was accused of using the Environmental Information Regulations “to force the Agency to give credence to my obsession about litter picking“.

On 6th July 2013 I had requested a copy of the Agency’s new Litter Strategy which I had been told had been signed off  in June.  After the 20 day statutory period had elapsed and I had not received a response I requested that the Agency carry out an internal review. The 40 day statutory maximum to respond to such requests expired on 7th September without any response from them.

Andrew Gwynne MP has requested the same information and has also been refused.

Spin and excuses

I have been told more than once that “Litter clearance  inevitably involves traffic management” e.g. in this letter from Mike Penning MP . The implication is that conning off lanes will cause delays for the motorist. However most motorway litter lies on main carriageway verges and  is cleared, although not often enough,  by two-man teams working from a vehicle progressing along the hard shoulder without any traffic management.

The same letter says “Litter clearance is a dangerous task“. The implication being that less frequent litter clearance will prevent injuries. But surely safety measures should be in place to ensure that workers are never put at any undue risk.

In an answer to a question from Andrew Gwynne MP motorways minister Stephen Hammond said” Under the Code of Practice for Litter and Refuse, the locations along the M67 motorway through Denton and the M60 through Denton and Audenshaw are currently ranked at Grade B (predominantly free of litter and refuse apart from some small items).” But who made the assessment?  If, as I suspect, it is the service provider the information is of no value as, in effect, the provider is marking his own homework. To resolve the matter I have asked for copies of the supporting documentation and have been refused.

According to this newspaper article: “Bosses at the Highways Agency have launched a crackdown after a staggering 172 sacks of rubbish were collected from the junction at Denton last month“. A more informative headline would have been.” Highways Agency incompetence leads to accumulation of 172 sacks worth of rubbish at important motorway junction”.

This Highways Agency article claims that their “Bag it and bin it” campaign has reduced motorway littering by 28%. This claim is based on the fact that the number of sacks of rubbish their contractors collect has fallen from 250,000 in 2011 to 180,000 in 2012. Another explanation is that the same amount of litter is being dropped but less of it is being picked up.

Passing the parcel

E-mails raising important issues are commonly passed to another person who then avoids the issues raised. This is exemplified in the unhelpful reply  to my last  e-mail to the Permanent Secretary.

Examples highlighted by Andrew Gwynne MP

Andrew Gwynne MP’s e-mail to motorways minister Stephen Hammond of 21st October 2103 highlights a number examples of Agency/DfT obfuscation including:

Refusal to accept that is that the Agency does not routinely conduct physical checks of  M40 verges to check cleanliness.

Refusal to accept that the M25 service provider knows in advance which random 5km sections are to be audited by the Agency.

Claiming that slip roads are not included because it might be unsafe to inspect them when the inspections take place from a moving vehicle in a traffic lane.

Ignoring other criticisms of the M25 auditing process.

He finishes by saying:  “Instead of addressing the issues the DfT / Agency’s response seems to be to put up the shutters. They have refused further information requests from Peter, and now from myself. They simply contradict any embarrassing facts that are brought to light and fail to address positive suggestions“.

 Peter Silverman
21st October 2013


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