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Neglect of street cleaning – Aberdeenshire

On October 21, 2015, in Local Authorities, Scotland, by PeterSilverman

Briefing Note on Street Cleansing

pdf version

From: Aberdeenshire Environmental Forum
To: Aberdeenshire Community Planning Partnership


Aberdeenshire Environmental Forum (AEF) has expressed concern that the 5 year Strategic Plan of the Aberdeenshire Community Planning Partnership (ACPP) makes no mention of the importance of street cleansing to many aspects of Community Wellbeing. Following a series of communications, Ritchie Johnson, Director of Communities invited the Forum to submit this briefing note.

Executive Summary

Street cleansing:

• statutory requirement to keep streets clean
• a forgotten service diminished, at best, to litter clearance of ‘big bits’
• widespread public criticism of standards over protracted period
• acknowledge impact on public health – physical and mental
• linked to low level crime and incivilities
• significant contributor to ‘broken windows’ syndrome
• impact on road safety especially for pedestrians and cyclists
• impact on localised flooding
• impact on tourism
• impact on economic investment


Members of Aberdeenshire Environmental Forum (AEF) have noted with concern the absence of any reference to street cleansing in the latest Annual Report and 5 year Strategic Plan of Aberdeenshire Community Planning Partnership ( ACCP). We are of the view, supported by many on social media and in the responses from the Partnership’s own public feedback system – the Aberdeenshire Citizens’ Panel (ref. Viewpoint 21 + 33) that the level of street cleansing performance by Aberdeenshire Council is far from satisfactory from a number of perspectives. It has been so, for some considerable time and is deteriorating.

Since the creation of unitary authorities in Scotland in 1996, street cleansing has become the ‘forgotten service’ of local authorities and, as a consequence, the significance of the impact of the service on many aspects of life has been lost. One of the prime drivers for the CPP system is to identify and address priority issues in an holistic way. It will probably surprise most readers to be told that the Street Cleansing service, or the lack of it, impacts adversely on many facets of modern community life.

At this point it is important to highlight that street cleansing is very much more diverse a service than the myopic focus on the ‘trending’ topics of litter and fly tipping so beloved of politicians and the media. Litter is but the visible tip of the street cleansing iceberg.

Public Health

In the middle of the industrial revolution in the 1800’s with people moving from the country to inadequate and slum conditions in towns, public health was poor and many died as a result of a wide range of diseases. Part of the problem was that waste was disposed of into the street. Scavenging Districts, the forerunner of local authorities, were established to remove the filth from the streets. Whilst no one is advocating that the problems are anywhere near that scale, it is internationally accepted that dirty, unkempt streets have an adverse impact on the physical and mental health of residents. Community Wellbeing suffers and residents gain the impression, if only subliminally..… if the Council clearly don’t care… why should I ? This can pervade their attitude to many facets of their lives with consequential impact on health and social services. This has been recognised in the ‘Broken Windows’ syndrome which is vital in a preventative agenda so beloved of politicians.

Roads and pavements

Even if there was never another piece of litter dropped, a street cleansing service would be required to address the general debris that falls on streets from winds, traffic and many other sources. Grit and detritus, if not swept up on a regular basis, gets washed into road drainage systems causing chokes which lead to localised flooding with potential for property damage and road traffic accidents. Choked gullies are expensive to clear, may actually require specialist jetting units and on occasion, radical and even more expensive drainage replacement interventions are needed.

Accumulations of detritus such as those visible across Aberdeenshire and Scotland can obscure road safety markings in addition to causing slip / skid hazards to road users including pedestrians. With the new transportation priority on encouraging cycling, the cyclists are particularly at risk.

Aberdeenshire Council has comprehensive winter emergency plans appropriately costed and budgeted which can include the deposit of thousands of tonnes of grit on icy roads but there is no provision to remove the residue of that material at the end of the season.

Road channels and pavements are frequently seen to have a build-up of detritus and debris which act like a ‘window box ‘for weeds. In addition to the unkempt visual impact, the roots of these weeds damage tarred surfaces requiring earlier and expensive replacement. Weeds require to be treated with weed killer at added cost plus the burden on the environment of the sprayed chemicals.

Aberdeenshire Council have a legal duty to keep the streets clean as far as practicable. The Code of Practice on Litter and Refuse – COPLAR underpinning the legislation, was introduced in 1991. It recommends the regular updating of plans and policies etc., essential in an area of growth such as Aberdeenshire. After 19 years, Aberdeenshire Council still has no policy on street cleansing, any Service Plans or standards. It has no Litter Plans and has not carried out the recommended detailed zoning of streets in consultation with communities. In another ‘litmus test’, the Council has 18 members of staff authorised to issue fixed penalty notices for littering and has issued only two in the past five years.

Aberdeenshire Council have not challenged these criticisms and have stated that they are too busy with other ‘waste’ related commitments to be able to address the changes required. The waste related changes within the Zero Waste Plan for Scotland continue up to 2025. Will we have to wait a further 10 years to have the deficiencies addressed?


While a good quality environment including clean streets is the right of every resident and business of Aberdeenshire, the absence of such undoubtedly has an impact on other priorities of the ACPP of encouraging economic investment and attracting tourists.

The perception may be that the picture is not as bad as is being portrayed here. To some extent that is not unexpected as members of the ACPP are experts in their own disciplines and do not have the training, knowledge and experience to observe the conditions of which the above descriptions are but brief highlights. In addition, the deterioration in standards of street cleansing has been gradual over many years and as such, lay observers have become immune to the lowering of standards.

In a recent publication from the Improvement Service which is promoted by COSLA, SOLACE and others, Aberdeenshire Council claim the streets to be 100% clean. Even the most nonchalant observer would raise an eyebrow at that. Ask Bear Scotland, the contractor who maintains the Trunk road network in the north east that Aberdeenshire Council is supposed to sweep clean.

This briefing note presents a criticism of both the standards of street cleansing in Aberdeenshire and of the lack of appreciation within the ACPP strategic plans of the diverse impact that such standards have. Neither is acceptable and combined, they reflect poorly on the CPP.

AEF recommends that CPP members commission a thorough examination of the diverse relationships and impacts street cleansing can have on the wellbeing of a community. If the findings at policy and operational levels are as suggested, then it would, in our view, be reasonable to have the significance of street cleansing appropriately recognised within the Strategic Plan with pressure placed on Aberdeenshire Council and others having such duties, to clean up their act – literally and metaphorically.

In highlighting these issues and making this proposal, we are fully conscious of the very difficult financial position that all public bodies face in the coming years. Many of the deficiencies identified are simply not down to lack of finance. However, it is clear that additional resources will probably be required once the scale of the task has been identified. In terms of the adage used in COPLAR – if you don’t measure it you can’t manage it. Only when there is a full and comprehensive understanding of the scale of the issues, can appropriate Plans etc. be developed to deliver a good quality street cleansing service that meets legal requirements and the expectations of the public who pay for it.

George Niblock FCIWM
Convenor, Aberdeenshire Environmental Forum
29 July 2015


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