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Statutory Duty on litter mis-represented
No mention of decline is council spending on street cleaning
Nothing to be done about transferring trunk road cleaning to Highways England
I believe this debate was  stage managed by DEFRA

The debate had been instigated by Theresa Villiers MP

Read the debate in Hansard

In the meantime here are some snippets and [comment from me] 

Theresa Villiers MP:

… If we are to tackle the litter that we can see through our car or bus windows every day, we need to address the problem of divided responsibilities and introduce clearer lines of accountability. That point was made by Peter Silverman of the Clean Highways campaign, and I would like to take this opportunity to thank him for the briefing he provided for the debate and for his determined work to highlight these important matters.

… Will the Government consider reforming the law to provide that the body responsible for maintaining a road and the roadside is also the one tasked with clearing litter from that roadside? In particular, that reform would mean that Highways England had an increased duty to clear the litter around all the roads for which it is responsible, and it would make it much easier to combine work such as trimming roadside vegetation with litter picking, so clearance could take place more regularly and efficiently.

…. Section 89 of the 1990 Act imposes a statutory duty on Highways England and local authorities to clear litter and refuse from roads where they are the designated authority.  [What a pity TV did not say that the duty was to ensure, so far as was practicable, that the roads were kept clear of litter and refuse. Just saying it is to “clear” litter implies this can be done as and when the duty body gets round to it

This was particularly dissappointing as in my briefing not to her I had written

Sideling the Statutory Duty on litter

The cornerstone of the EPA 1990 was S89. This places a duty on local authorities, statutory undertakers such as Network Rail and London Underground as well as Highways England.

They have to ensure, so far as is practicable, that they keeptheir relevant land and highways (which includes the verges) clear of litter and refuse.

[NB “practicable” not “reasonably practicable” so cost should not be a balancing consideration]

I subsequently met with her in September and asked her why she had described the duty as one of having to clear litter and if her speech had been vetted by DEFRA and modified. She said that as everything was done in a hurry and she could not remember if it had been submitted to them

… a significant proportion of it will have blown off skip vans or lorries with open loads.a significant proportion of it will have blown off skip vans or lorries with open loads. I urge both the Environment Agency and Highways England to give higher priority to prosecuting that kind of waste crime.

…. it is also important to note that there is a shortage of overnight provision for HGV drivers, and finding more space for those kinds of facilities—including, of course, litter bins and waste disposal facilities—is an important part of a strategy to tackle roadside litter.

….. Fly-tipping is a serious crime that enrages those constituents affected by it. I believe that the police and prosecution authorities, including the Environment Agency, should pursue offenders more vigorously and seek the maximum penalties available for that crime.

 Therese Coffey MP Under- secretary of State at DEFRA

…. Dealing with litter is costly. In 2016-17, local authorities spent £682 million, or £29 per household, to keep our streets clean. In addition, Highways England spends at least £6 million a year on collecting litter from the strategic road network. Those funds could be better used to deliver the range of important services provided by our councils. [Council spending on street cleaning has fallen by 26%] 

.…The big change has been to make the owner, or more precisely the keeper, of a vehicle liable for littering offences committed from it, although I recognise that this power has already been in place in London councils for some time. However, I understand that only one London council uses it, and that is Wandsworth and not, sadly, Barnet.

Jonathan Lord MP

…. Does the Minister have a strong view as to the division of responsibility between Highways England and local councils? Local councils are ultimately responsible to their electorate. Ideally, I think Highways England should be responsible, but I wonder who is marking the organisations’ homework and what mechanisms we have for checking they are doing their job properly.

Therese Coffey MP 

… However, to respond to one of the questions my right hon. Friend the Member for Chipping Barnet  [Theresa Villiers] asked, we are not considering changing the law or the responsibilities at this time. [Big admission that the government intend to do nothing about transferring the responsibility for cleansing HE’s trunk roads from councils to HE]

…Highways England has removed more than 12,000 bags of litter in the past year from the 25 identified hotspots. It found that, for February to April 2017, customer reports of littering had reduced by 70%, as compared with the same period in 2016.  [But the statutory duty is not to allow large accumulations of litter to build up before removing them.  Also if you believe reports of littering have fallen by 70% them you will believe anything]

…..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. [But they have been saying this for decades. HE should clean all of their network themselves obviating the need for any co-ordination with councils].

Peter Silverman
23rd July 2018
updated 16th November 2018



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