Litter on motorways and trunk roads

M6 J16 M_square

J16 of M6 in of Area 10

Highways England (Highways Agency prior to 01/04/2015)  have a legal duty “to ensure that the motorways are, so far as is practicable, kept clear of litter and refuse”.  As evidenced by your feedback it would seem that duty is being ignored.

Their network is divided into 23 areas. The maintenance work, including cleansing, is contracted out to private sector companies.

In March 2010 Conservative MP, Mike Penning, initiated a Parliamentary debate on “Motorway litter” in which he described them as being “blighted by litter”. After the election in May of that year he was appointed roads minister, in charge of the very same motorways.

Sadly he was not able to do anything about the problem.  The topic was not even mentioned in the Highways Agency’s subsequent Annual Reports. Instead he had to oversee expenditure cuts under the 2010 Spending Review. 40% was cut from expenditure on routine maintenance which includes cleansing. Existing area contracts were renegotiated and a new Asset Support Contract was rolled out as existing area contracts came up for renewal.

One of the first areas to operate under the new contract was Area 10 which covers the Manchester and Liverpool conurbations. Balfour Beatty Mott MacDonald took over on 4th November 2012. By February 2013 the litter had accumulated to such a level that Andrew Gwynne MP, whose Manchester constituency is dissected by the M67, felt obliged to submit parliamentary questions to Mike Penning’s replacement, Stephen Hammond. In spite of assurances that things would improve they did not and in January 2014 Andrew sent incriminating photographs of M67 to Stephen Hammond’s successor, Robert Goodwill, to prove the point.

I later found out that for the first two months of the contract BBMM carried out no litter picking whatsoever and that the average number of bags of litter they collected per month declined by 57% compared to what the previous contractor had collected. No financial penalties were applied.

In their Litter Strategy document, published in April 2014 the Highways Agency proudly reported that “.. the amount of litter on our roads has reduced by approximately 25% since April 2011”. However this is based on the number of bags of litter collected – not the amount of litter deposited. It simply means that 25% of the litter is now being left under the bushes.

In April 2015 the Highways Agency became Highways England, a government owned company. In advance of this measure Colin Matthews, the former boss of Heathrow Airport, was appointed Chairman on 1st September 2014.

In October 2014 I submitted a briefing note to him pointing out the failings of the new contract and criticising the Agency’s management culture. In December the Agency suspended the procurement of the outstanding tranche of area contracts pending a redesign of the contract. In January it was announced that the Chief Executive for the last seven years, Graham Dalton, would be leaving the Agency in June 2015.

Jim O’Sullivan,  previously Managing Director of the Airports Division at Heathrow was appointed as the new Chief Executive of Highways England with effect from 1st July 2015.

I am currently working on a number of initiatives with HE covering:

Service provider contracts

I have asked that the revised contact should specify specific cleansing frequencies and that the delivery of this service should be monitored by the Agency.

I have recommended that they go even further and take the highways maintenance function in-house i.e. away from their contractors. Subsequently a decision was made to take at least one area in-house.

Prosecuting waste transport companies

I have suggested that HE start prosecuting the operators of waste transport vehicles that allow their contents to spill on road. This is a major source of litter on the network. I believe they have powers to do this. HE have denied this but agreed to obtain legal advice. MP Kevin Hollinrake has written to HE CEO Jim O’Sullivan on this issue.

Safe litter picking

I want to see motorway vegetation cut back and pathways created so that operatives can safely pick litter down to the  edges of the hard shoulder or carriageway.

I have had some success. HE have finally got their M4 contractor to cut back vegetation on the J8/9 island so that it could be litter-picked.

I have proposed that the bottom sections of off-slip roads could be safely litter picked without traffic management when the lights bring the traffic to a halt. This is being resisted by HE.

Trunk road cleansing

I have argued that Highways England should take over the cleaning of all of trunk road verges on their network. Under the current regime ill equipped local authorities have to pick up the litter before  HE’s contractor can cut the grass.This proposal now has the support of the Commons Communities and Local Government Select Committee.

I understand that the additional funding is now available for maintenance.

Recent correspondence with the Highways Agency

Briefing Note to Colin Matthews – 3rd Oct 2014

Report to Highways Agency Chief Exec – 11th Feb 2015 (1)

Report to Highways Agency Chief Exec – 20th Feb 2015 (2)

Report to Highways Agency Chief Exec – 2nd Mar 2015 (3)

Report to Highways Agency Chief Executive – 12th March 2015 (4)

Response from Highways Agency  to my report of 11th Feb – 17th March 2015

Report to Highways Agency Chief Executive – 22nd March 2015 (5)

Reply to Highways England’s response of 17th March – 8th April 2015 

HE response to meeting with new contract details – 21st May 2015

My reply to HE – 25th May 2015

HE response  – 15th June 2015

E-mail to HE Chairman – Councils not aware of ATPR cleansing responsibility  – 29th June 2015

E-mail To HE Chairman – Barbara Keeley MP – HE down grade duty of litter -Use of LCOP response times – 7th July 2015

E-mail to HE Lead on Litter – Enforcement powers – Avoiding need for traffic-management – 9th July 2015

Email from Kevin Hollinrake MP to HE CEO Jim O’Sullivan 16th September 2015

E-mail from HE in response to mine of 7th July – 13th October 2015

E-mail to HE CEO – Cleaning slip roads – Performance measuring – Litter accumulations – Oct 30th 2015

Earlier reports and correspondence with the Highways Agency and the DfT

How the M40 was cleaned up

Highways Agency web site

Highways Agency links

Transport Focus

Peter Silverman
20th September 2015


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