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Strengthen the laws on litter and make them work

Comment 9th July 2010

 

We need a major change in public thinking on fly tipping and litter led very energetically by the Government just like eventually led to a change from the norm in the last century on heavy drinking and driving, which used to be common place.

Existing laws do address waste on public land and establish a clear duty for Councils to clear it up within 48 hours following complaints. However, the law needs to be more effective and used very energetically rather than merely residing on the statute book.

As it stands, the laws is too light handed giving Councils every excuse to adopt limited and insufficiently robust efforts to deal with it. A few Councils are decidedly proactive but most quite the opposite. What laws there are allow resolution but only when the persons responsible can be identified. Where they cannot, you may find instances of fly tipping and litter left there permanently.

A very great concern is that there is no sufficiently applicable law, so action cannot be taken on private land unless the waste clearly is a health hazard.

So, what we need is:

1) That the law requires all people acting in a private, company or public role to be required unceasingly to adhere to certain minimum standards including their behaviour in regard to fly tipping and litter.

For example, such provisions need to cover your neighbour who at present can dump whatever he likes in his front garden or his back garden and turn it into a refuse dump with virtual impunity. If you are unfortunate enough to live in an area where this is prevalent, the value of your property will be affected but you have no means of compensation for any resultant loss. Why should you even have to put up with an unsightly mess in spaces to the front or the rear, in or away from public vision, even so that just looking from your upstairs window you have no choice but to see private property turned into an unsightly waste tip? Why cannot it even be made obligatory that the grass is regularly kept mowed and tidy instead of being allowed to turn into a weed infested mess as often is allowed to happen?

2) The law must be strengthened and worded clearly and unambiguously so that councils and rural authorities not only have the power but also the clear duty to clean up or have cleaned up all public and private land in urban, rural and unpopulated country areas regardless of who is responsible for leaving it there. This must include whatever has accumulated in the past and not only deal with future violations.

A few, very few enterprising councils have used people on Community Service Orders to clear up and this would be very effective if used land in urban, rural and unpopulated country areas as the norm.

3) The legal right for appointed officials to enter private land for the purpose of inspecting it for alleged unreasonable fly tipping and litter or complaints to that effect, such that a legal order must be issued, not merely may be issued, for its removal regardless of who is responsible for leaving it there within a designated time period. The officials must also be held legally liable if failing to do this when the circumstances justify it.

4) Harsher penalties for offences on fly tipping and litter affecting those on whose land the problems occur regardless of whether they are the parties responsible for leaving it there and a legal duty that will ensure these penalties are enforced rather than merely being on the statue book. A light touch is precisely the opposite of what now is needed.

Footnote – In order to further put this into perspective, led me add this.

Starting with concerns locally, I proceeded through my MP, then Joan Ryan to investigate the laws affecting fly tipping and litter and with her help took it to ministerial level and exchanged written and verbal discussion with others including the then minister Joan Ruddock to no avail.

I wrote to the officer in charge at my local council (Enfield), MPs. MEPs, the London Mayor (Ken then Boris) and members of the London Assembly, various organisations like the Campaign for the Protection of Rural England (CPRE) and others. The majority of the few who did reply regarded my proposal as unfair that people on private land have to clear up even when it may be an inherited problem and not demonstrably their fault. They are right, but which is better, to leave it there or clear it up once and for all? The situation is out of hand so that it is more important to get the job done  than being fair.

Organisations like Keep Britain Tidy and Bill Bryson’s CPRE are too reasonable for their efforts to make sufficient difference. We need it to be dealt with as a national emergency for, like climate change (whether man made or mainly due to natural causes) fly tipping and litter has now become so bad we are contaminating the whole planet.

The situation worldwide is so bad that there is a slick of waste – not the only one – estimated to be twice the size of France in the South Pacific with wild life attempting to eat plastic waste from it  they believe to be food. This is now beginning to contaminate the food chain.

Why does this matter?

 

This is a national emergency.

The situation worldwide is so bad that the food chain is beginning to be contaminated

Past instances of fly tipping and litter are likely to become a permanent scar especially in rural areas.

A very great concern is that there is no sufficiently applicable law, so action cannot be taken on private land unless the waste clearly is a health hazard.

Existing laws need to be changed so that they are more effective and more actively used.

At present they are too light handed giving Councils every excuse to take too little or no action.

On private land, a dump currently can be left in a front or back garden with virtual impunity.

Measures are needed to deal with waste even when the persons responsible cannot be identified.

The value of property is affected when the area is blighted by fly tipping and litter.

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