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Litter Strategy for England - a critique

HM Government – Litter Strategy for England April 2017

Summary of measures from DEFRA Minister Andrea Leadsom

Litter Strategy Q & A April 2107 prepared by DEFRA

The government have taken over 2 years to digest and consult on the C &LC Select Committee’s report which concluded that England was a litter ridden country.

Incomprehensibly the resultant Litter Strategy  makes no reference to the statutory duty of councils and Highways England to ensure, so far as is practicable,  that they keep their land and  highways  clear of litter and refuse.

It does not therefore consider whether they are making sufficient use their  powers to deter littering or whether they are investing sufficiently in litter collection. [Councils only spend on average 58p per week per household on street cleansing].

It carefully avoids any criticism of central  government and their associated institutions . It does not look at why prosecutions for large scale fly-tipping by the Environment Agency (EA) have fallen by 75% over the last decade or why both Highways England and the EA fail to prosecute waste transporters who allow their loads to blow onto the highway.

Let us now look at what the Litter Strategy has to say on key litter issues.  Extracts from the strategy will be in mauve and from Mrs Leadsom’s summary in orange.

Fixed Penalty Notices for littering

…. we have also published a consultation document which seeks views on whether the fines for littering and related offences should be increased (to £150).

Why one might ask was this not dealt with during the two years of deliberation and consultations

My understanding is that an increase may lead to lower payment levels and more prosecutions as a result. It is not a win-win situation. What is needed instead is:

  1. An order of magnitude increase in the number of fines issued to be achieved by
  2. the use of plain-clothed  enforcement officers who are
  3. encouraged to focus on hot-spots where litter is frequently deposited enabling them
  4. to operate with a vastly higher level of productivity than the highly visibilbe uniformed patrols currently in use. This will lead to
  5.  significant surpluses for councils to be used on more litter picking thus creating a virtuous circle.
  6. However to work properly (and at a lower cost) we need to introduce of a civil law option so that fines could be issued to juveniles. Most councils refrain from issuing FPNs to young people because prosecuting them for non-payment would mean their getting a criminal record for what might be dropping a packet of crisps.

Where councils choose to use a third-party enforcement service, they should avoid an approach based on arbitrary targets for the number of fines issued..,

I would be in favour of the officers employed by the contractors to be incentivised to encourage high productivity /high reward regime but with strict standards and quality controls. officers should be licensed by an independent watchdog. Those failing to meet the required standard should lose their license.

.. we also propose that arrangements which allowed the majority of councils to use the income from fixed penalties for environmental offences for “any of their functions” be extended to all councils.

…  that fixed penalties should only be issued when it is in the public interest to do so, and when it is proportionate to do so. Our policy is clear that under no circumstances should councils view the use of fixed  penalties for these offences as a means to generate income.

These last two statements are contradictory. If you use the income (the surplus after covering direct costs) for any function then you have to generate it in the first place.

Surely it is always in the public interest to fine someone who litters no matter how small (in proportion to the fixed fine) the item or items dropped is. Are they saying a cigarette end is to small an item to justify a fine?

The government need to come off the fence and encourage councils to go for a zero tolerant attitude to littering and not worry about the tiny minority of incidences that will receive criticism in the popular press.

Litter blown form waste transporters onto the Highway

There are no proposals to deal with this major source of litter on our high speed roads but as a point of information it states on page 56 that:

Material falling or coming out of a vehicle carrying waste is an escape of waste. Producers of waste also have a duty to ensure vehicles do not leave their site inappropriately covered or sealed. This can be enforced by local authorities or the Environment Agency under Section 34 of the Environment Protection Act 1990.60

The Environment Agency’s last such prosecution  was in 2004 (fine £5,000 + £15,000 costs). They say they are not now funded to carry out this work.

When these offences occur on their network prosecutions can, and should in my opinion, be made by Highways England but they choose not to do so.

Action in this area would produce a massive return in terms of litter reduction as operators appreciate the costs of not properly sheeting their vehicles.

Highways England network (motorways and certain trunk roads)

Pages 57 and 58 deal with “Highways England and the strategic road network”

In July 2016 one of the co-authors of the strategy, DEFRA Minister Lord Gardiner, had stated in the House of Lords “I am very conscious that many people from abroad see how filthy our motorways are and wonder about us”.

Another co-author, Transport Minister John Hayes wrote in his preface  “I want to do more to battle against litter and graffiti scarring our motorways, trunk roads, roadside facilities, and other places nearby”

In a meeting with HE CEO Jim O’Sullivan in  February 2017 it was minuted that John Hayes emphasised that HE’ strategy on litter does not appear to be working, as the amounts of litter he has seen on roads is quite appalling.

In spite of these expressions of concern  there is no indication in the the body of the document that there is any major issue  with litter on the HE network. It simply says somewhat meekly we will continue to work closely with Highways England to identify opportunities for improvement in the cleaning of the Strategic Road Network 

Much of the section deals with issues of co-ordination between HE and local authorities in those cases were the latter are responsible for litter picking HE truck roads.

Some of the statements are  positively misleading.

We will also consider how Highways England’s Performance Specification can drive
better litter cleaning, and will consider developing a revised litter cleaning KPI for the next
Performance Specification period.

KPI stands for Key Performance Indicator. KPIs were set by the DfT in the Performance Specification section of their Road Investment Strategy for Highways England. There is no “litter cleaning KPI”.  If you go to page 152/160 of the Road Investment Strategy (p24 of the Performance Specification) you will see that the only Environmental KPIs are for “biodiversity” and “noise”.

In fact in its 160 pages the RIS makes no reference to litter or tto HE’s statutory duty

The authors of the strategy are implying that the DfT have set a KPI / target for HE on litter when they clearly have not done so. It is possible that one of the reasons the motorway are filthy is that no KPI target was set for litter by the DfT.

We also propose to reallocate responsibility for managing relevant cleaning activities from any
local authority that is not fulfilling its statutory duties on the road network. We will consider
how to provide a mechanism to recover the cost of these activities from local authorities,
and if needed, will put in place powers for the Secretary of State to make this transfer of
responsibility and funding. 

A mention of a statutory duty (hurrah!) but only in the context of local authorities. The case for transferring the responsibility for cleaning those truck roads on the HE network  where the local authorities have the statutory duty to keep them clean to HE  is irrefutable but requires some work by the DfT.  The government have claimed that this would require primary legislation. This is not correct. The powers are already in place and have been used in the past.

Local authorities who have the misfortune to have HE trunk roads running through their areas are not given specific  funding to clean them. No mechanism to recover the costs is required. All that is needed is the provision of extra funds to HE.

Measures in the new Strategy include: Working with Highways England to target the 25 worst litter hotspots across our road network to deliver long-lasting improvements to the roads that are often the gateways to our towns and cities.

Free access to Council Household Waste & Recycling Centres

Government’s view is clear: DIY waste is classed as household waste if it results from work a
householder would normally carry out. A number of local authorities have introduced
additional charges for the deposit of waste which local authorities categorise as ‘waste other
than household waste’.

Measures in the Strategy include… Stopping councils from charging householders for disposal
of DIY household waste at civic amenity sites – legally, household waste is supposed to be free
to dispose of at such sites – reducing one of the drivers of fly-tipping.

These statements are both  defective.

Under legislation introduced in 2012 DIY waste effectively is no longer classified as household waste and Councils are no longer required to allow its residents to dispose it free of charge at disposal at civic amenity sites (aka HWRCs). See HWRCs – Household waste & recycling centres for more on this.

There are no measures in the LS aimed at stopping councils from charging for this service. See my e-mail to Mrs Leadsom



Litter strategy ‘a missed opportunity’ to tackle fly-tipping on farms


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