Recent Posts

The government routinely ignore the statutory duty on litter or, if they have to mention it, dumb it down/ misrepresent it. This is particularly so in the context of Highways England.

I have concluded that this is part of a tacit policy by officials to mislead Ministers, Parliament and the country.

Under S89(1) of the Environmental Protection Act Local Councils and Highways England have to ensure, so far as is practicable that they keep their highways clear of litter and refuse.

This means cleaning with sufficient frequency to prevent accumulations building up – a process successfully employed by the central London Boroughs and London Underground. Elsewhere the duty is widely ignored – particularly by those responsible for our high-speed roads and motorways.

The duty is not to:

“Collect” or “remove” litter (i.e. as and when you get around to it), or to

Comply with DEFRA’s Litter Code of Practice, its last resort response times or its gradings.

Yet, when it is not side-lined or ignored altogether, this is how it is invariably portrayed.


We list on this post several examples of Highways England describing their duty as one of complying with the Litter Codes response times

The duty and its failure as a policy should have been the focus of the government’s recent Litter Strategy for England. Instead the only reference to it is tucked away on page 60 in a discussion of the Litter Code of Practice.

Highways England’s own Litter Strategy imakes no reference to their statutory duty instead saying “We are responsible for litter collection on motorways and some trunk roads

A ministerial briefing for John Hayes MP when he became the minister responsible for HE stated: “Highways England ….  is responsible for clearing litter on all England’s motorways….”

Nick Harris, HE’s Operations Director, wrote to Ms Crawford saying “under the terms of the Environmental Protection Act we are responsible for the management and removal of litter on the motorway network and some trunk roads”.

In an e-mail to me of 18th Feb 2018 he referred to clean-ups being programmed  “in line with recommendations from the Environmental Protection Act”.

Andrew Jones,  Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport) said in the H of C in reference to HE “It has a duty to adhere to the code of practice on litter and refuse, which is part of the Environmental Protection Act 1990..”

Jesse Norman, Under Sec. of State at the DfT wrote to Claire Perry MP saying: “Highways England is responsible for collecting litter on motorways and a small number of trunk roads. ….. Highways England complies with the gradings set out in the Code of Practice on Litter and Refuse 2006”.

Again, Jesse Norman in the  H of C Jan 2018  said: “Highways England is responsible for complying with the mandatory legal requirements under the Environmental Protection Act 1990, which includes removing litter on England’s motorways and some trunk roads”.

In a letter to me the DfT wrote say “.. the government will review the mechanism by which councils and other land managers can be held to account for maintaining their land to the standards set out in the Code of Practice … “

The DfT laid out its performance specification for Highways England in its Road Investment Strategy. This makes 130 references to “environment”, 31 to “biodiversity”, 35 to “noise” and 21 to “air quality”.  It does not however make a single reference to “litter” never mind the EPA S89(1) duty. “Clean” is only used in reference to air / fumes.

In the RIS Environmental Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) were laid down for “noise” and “biodiversity” but not for litter. [See pages 22 -24 of Part 3 – Performance Specification of the Road Investment Strategy].

Roads Minister Jesse Norman was unaware of this when I met with him on 2nd July 2018. I explained a KPI could be added at any time. In their follow up communication of 14th August 2018 of the DfT said they would introduce “a robust metric”  for the next RIS beginning in 2020 to give “time for HE to prepare for delivering it”.

However in their subsequent October 2018 Draft Road Investment Strategy there is no mention of introducing a KPI for litter. All they say under Environment is that “we want a wider range of issues to be monitored”.

I wrote to the Permanent Secretary at the DfT on 23rd January 2019 pointing out that that this was further evidence of what I saw as a tacit policy to dumb down Highways England’s statutory duty on litter in order to deflect criticism of their blatant  failure to comply with it.

In June 2019 the DfT stated in reference to litter “There is currently no key performance indicator as part of the Road Investment period (2015 – 2020). This is due to Highways England having a statutory duty under Section 89 of the Environmental Protection Act 1990 to ensure, so far as is practicable, that its land and highways are kept clear of litter and refuse”.

In June 2020 DfT Minister, Rachel Maclean stated in a written answer to Andrew Gwynne MP about litter on the M67:

“Highways England have confirmed that any restoration measures are required to take place within the timescales set out in the Code of Practice on Litter and Refuse. This states that any areas with special circumstances that falls below grade B, such as carriageways, verges and central reservations of motorways and trunk roads, must be restored back to grade A standard within twenty-eight days or as soon as reasonably practicable. Highways England expect to remove litter from the entry slip road within the next three weeks”.

In their e-mail to Philip Swift of 11th January 2021 (see Don’t mention the statutory duty) HE stated:

“…under the Environmental Protection Act 1990, Highways England are responsible for litter collection on England’s motorways and some A roads….“

“We aim to keep our roads clean and tidy in accordance with The Code of Practice on Litter and Refuse”.

“Our overall approach to reducing litter on network is set out in our Highways England Litter Strategy”.

“In addition picking litter is not a good use of time or taxpayers money and better used to fund other road maintenance”. 

More evidence


Comments are closed.