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Copy of article by Graeme Paton in the Times of Monday May 18 2020,

Motorways are becoming “rubbish tips” because of the failure of highways chiefs to clear litter and debris, according to the former roads minister.

Sir Mike Penning said Highways England was breaching its legal duty to keep motorways and A-roads free of rubbish, leaving motorists to “drive through filth” every day.

He spoke after complaints about bags of rubbish, dead animals, old road signs and urine left in bottles on verges. Some drivers have reported seeing discarded mattresses, sofas, chairs, tyres and bed frames on the sides of roads.

In March, the government announced a record £27.3 billion package to maintain and upgrade the 4,500-mile strategic road network in England over five years. It included £6 billion for operations and maintenance, which is supposed to include litter clearance.

Highways England, the government-owned company, is obliged under the Environmental Protection Act to ensure its land is litter-free. It is supposed to hit targets on the proportion of the network that is “predominately free of litter” and contractors could face financial penalties for failing to do so.

However, Sir Mike, Tory MP for Hemel Hempstead and roads minister from 2010 to 2012, said Highways England was not being held to account.

“These are very difficult times but they do have a responsibility to keep the highways clear of litter and debris,” he said. “Frankly, at times driving in my own constituency and in other parts of the country it is like driving through a rubbish tip, and I just don’t think in normal times that this is acceptable.

John Read, founder of the Clean Up Britain campaign, said: “There are now fewer cars using the motorways than in the 1950s. It’s a unique and perfect time for Highways England to get motoring and start doing the job they have so wilfully neglected over the past decade.”

A Highways England spokeswoman said: “We clear our roads every day but our advice remains that the best way to keep our network clear is for drivers to dispose of rubbish responsibly.


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