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This is the A404 linking the M4 and M40. It is one of the All Purpose Trunk Roads (APTRs) which, with the motorways, constitute the national network of strategic roads managed by Highways England.

Bizarrely, while HE are responsible for all other aspects of its maintenance, each local authority along its route has to keep it clear of litter.

This means that before HE’s contractor can cut the grass on this verge Wycombe District Council’s contractor has to come along and pick up the litter. Another APTR, the A27 on the south coast passes through 7 different council areas.

Highways England do have the responsibility for cleaning some APTRs. This arrangement should be extended to cover all such roads.

There are parallel situations in London where TfL  maintained roads, such as the North Circular, have to be cleaned by the Boroughs and in those parts of the Shires where County Council maintained roads have to be cleaned by the District / Borough / City councils.  In London responsibility for cleaning TFL roads should be transferred to TfL. In the Shires responsibility for cleaning dual carriageways and roads without pavements should go to the County Council. The District / Borough / City councils should howver retain responsibility for other roads (residential & commercial etc). (Local Goverment structure overview).

Those roads could then be cleaned by specialist teams protected by blocking vehicles moving seamlessly from one local council area to the next without the need for liaison between two different bodies. This could be done on a continuous and repetitive basis working 24/7 (apart from the rush hours) to maximise the use of the vehicles.

 

Time line

In their  2009 Road Side Litter Research Strategy prepared for the Highways Agency the consultants, Atkins,  found that:

… often Local Authorities did not know which trunk roads they were responsible for litter picking. They pointed out that, to avoid traffic delays, work on certain roads had to be carried out at night which was often not a viable option for LAs. LAs, they said, often did not have staff trained in the necessary traffic management procedures. LAs did not see trunk roads as a priority and preferred to concentrate their limit resources on urban routes. Transferring the responsibility, they said, would lead to increased effectiveness and efficiency.

The May 2015  Communities and Local Government Select Committee in their report on Litter and fly-tipping in England stated in Section 5: 

55.Clearing litter and fly-tipping from the roads in England is the responsibility of either local authorities or the Highways Agency [now Highways England]. 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.

56.Clean Highways, a group focussing 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”. 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. Tim Harbot from the Highways Agency said they did try to coordinate with local authorities and “institute litter forums, whereby we write out to local authorities and invite them to come to sessions where we try to debate how we are going to do things better”.

57.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”.

58.The Local Government Association (LGA) suggested that a national approach to keeping key trunk roads clean and clear would be more efficient as it would combine the road closure function of the Highways Agency with that of clearance. 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.”

59.Dan Rogerson, the Defra Minister, said the Government was willing to look at this issue and would await our recommendations, but he also noted that it should not take “a huge amount of effort” for local authorities to work with the Highways Agency. Kris 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”.

60.It should be possible for local councils to coordinate with the Highways Agency or Transport for London to enable easy access for road and street cleaning. However, this is not happening. Nor are we convinced this is the most efficient approach to street cleaning since it is difficult to organise and it is not cost-effective for local authorities to have staff working through the night. It would be much better, and cost-effective to remove the anomaly which gives the Highways Agency, and Transport for London in London, responsibility for maintaining trunk roads and another body responsibility for cleaning them. We understand that a proposal to transfer cleaning responsibilities for all purpose trunk roads to the Highways Agency has been under consideration by the Department for Transport for some time.  We recommend that the Government make the Highways Agency responsible for cleaning trunk roads and make the necessary budget adjustments. Similarly, we recommend that responsibility for cleaning trunk roads in the London area should become the responsibility of Transport for London.

In their December 2015  response to the Committee’s report the Government stated that:

….to make Highways England 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.

On 3rd May 2018 Roads Minister Jesse Norman in answer to a question from Layla Moran MP said that:

… he had asked the DfT to assess what additional funds would need to be made available to introduce a transfer of responsibility for the removal of litter on trunk roads from Local Authorities to Highways England.

In an 18th July Westminster Hall debate on litter which she had initiated Theresa Villiers MP raised the question of the problems caused by these divided responsibilities with DEFRA Minister Therese Coffey.

She was told that the government were  “not considering changing the law or the responsibilities at this time”.

So the recommendations are still on the governmental back -burner.

 

Changes to the law are not required

The government’s claim that primary legislation / changes to the law would be required is simply wrong.

This is because they already have powers to transfer cleansing duties from a local authority to a highways authority (e.g. Highways England) under EPA86 (11). The Secretary of State can issue an order without reference to Parliament.

Indeed the Highway Litter Clearance and Cleaning (Transfer of Responsibility) (England) Order 2009 was used to transfer responsibility for several APTRs from a number of local authorities to the Highways Agency.

This point was acknowledged by Marcus Jones, Minister for Local Government on 8th April 2016 in reply to an e-mail from Kevin Hollinrake MP

I was surprised therefore a DEFRA minister Therese Coffey was seemingly unaware of this on July 2018.

 

No need for complicated  changes to funding arrangements / No reduction in LA resources

My understanding is that a local authority does not receive additional government funding if it happens to have an APTR passing through its area.  If the responsibility for keeping it clear of litter is passed to HE then there would be no funding to recover it.

Additional funding would of course need to be forthcoming for Highways England.

The complications arise because Highways England have no meaningful cleansing procedures which could be costed. Funding for cleansing is lumped in with that for general maintenance. HE receive no specific funding from the DfT for cleansing and do not pay their contractors specific amounts for it. The contractors do not employ specialist litter pickers. One contractor described it as a “fill in job”. No one knows what it currently costs never mind what it would cost if it were done properly.

I have submitted an information request to the the DfT for the results of the costing exercise requested by Jesse Norman in May. I suspect it has been shelved but we will see.

 

Collaborative working

Improving collaboration between Highways England and local authorities is presented as the alternative to changing responsibilites as illustrated in the following staments by ministers:

Chris Mole, Roads Minister March 2010 :

To counter litter on trunk roads, the Highways Agency works collaboratively with local authorities, whose responsibility it is to collect litter from such roads.  For example, when the Highways Agency has traffic management in place on trunk roads for other works, if practical it notifies the relevant local authority so that litter picking activities can be planned to coincide with that so that disruption to the travelling public is minimised.

5 years later the CLG Select Committee concluded that this was not working. The Government then came up with:

Marcus Jones, Minister for Local Government April  2016 :

The government company Highways England (formerly the Highways Agency) is currently pursuing a policy of collaborative working with local authorities and is identifying best practice to roll out across the country. ….  Highways England’s Midlands region signed a partnership agreement with a number of local authorities in December 2015 which formalised a collaborative approach to working to clear litter. This is already delivering results from widespread sharing of equipment and resources.

DEFRA Minister, Therese Coffey July 2018 :

Highways England has also been working to improve collaboration between its contractors and local authorities, including by enabling local authority litter pickers to access roads for which they are responsible while Highways England has closed them for routine maintenance, which makes it easier to clean high-speed roads. I am sure Members will agree that is a sensible move.

Therese Coffey is repeating what Chris Mole said in 2010 and presenting it ( i.e. providing access when roads are closed for maintenance) as a “sensible move” as if its something new that the government has come up with. What happened to the Midlands experiment?

 

Statutory duty /cleansing during maintenance

The statutory duty under EPA S89 (1) is to ensure, so far as is practicable, that the highway (which includes the verges) are kept clear of litter and refuse.

If one wanted to paraphrase it one might say it is to “keep the highways clear of litter”

However government invariably describes it as one of  having to “remove” or “collect” litter from, or “clean” the highway. For example in the July debate Therese Coffey said “Highways England is responsible for cleaning alongside motorways.. “.  (Please refer to Dumbing down the statutory duty.)

This implies that you can allow accumulations of litter to build up on a verge as long as you clean them up /remove them when you next get round to maintaining that section. If it has grass that needs cutting that would be twice a year. Otherwise it could be years before it is dealt with.

“Keeping the highway clear of litter” on the other hand implies that cleaning has to take place on a regular basis so that accumulations do not build up – regardless of other maintenance tasks that may be required.

 

Evidence from Councils

I have assembled on a separate post evidence from councils and residents  illustrating the difficulties presented by the current absurd division of responsibilities.

Please also refer to:  Councils unaware of responsibility to clean trunk roads and motorway roundabouts

 

Peter Silverman
18th September 2018

 

 

 

 

 

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