Beyond potholes … addressing fly-tipping is an issue LibDems can campaign on in cities everywhere

Canvassing in the Hounslow by-election recently, I couldn’t help but notice old refrigerators, household waste, and builders’ rubble accumulated on the street corners and estates of Heston West. Residents were fed up and felt that they were being taken for granted. Statistically, Hounslow has the 2nd highest number of fly-tipping incidents in London. Even more depressing is that the Labour-run Council only bothered to issue 53 Fixed Penalty Notice fines for fly-tipping in 12 months. (Fly-tipping data for all UK Local Authorities is available here).

Fly-tipping is a real blight on the sense of pride everyone wants for the place they live. Council-run housing estates are especially popular locations for fly-tipping. Even worse, the daily exposure to stained mattresses, soiled nappies, and other waste constantly drags on the mental health and general well-being of the people living on them.

For Liberal Democrats getting serious about fixing urban fly-tipping is an opportunity to show city-dwellers what a community-minded approach can achieve. Our Heston West candidate has already adopted action on this blight as one of the major themes of his campaign. There is a lot Local Authorities can do about this problem, but only a few are doing enough. For challengers in Local Elections, this is an opportunity to demonstrate the difference a LibDem approach can make.

Two years ago in “leafy” Kingston there was a noticeable increase in fly-tipping during the pandemic. Statistically, Kingston is one of London’s least fly-tipped boroughs, but that is no consolation for people living with a problem in their area. Certain streets and locations of the borough received significant dumps of household waste/furniture and black bags. Housing estates and flats above shops especially had problems. Council Departments in Housing, Highways, and Parks were not working together, and issues were being handled poorly, frustrating residents and Councillors. And just Like Hounslow at that time very few Fixed Penalty Notices were being issued.

With the support of the LibDem Group, I initiated a fly-tipping task force. The task force brought together councillors, officers, and the vast amount of data gathered by the Council to identify ‘hot spots’. We then systematically set about fixing the worst areas through site visits and engaging with residents and local businesses. Each area had a slightly different problem and some issues were more difficult to resolve than others.

Overall there have been many wins. Some were quick fixes while others needed time to organize and test. Here are a few of them.

  • Establishment of a permanent Task Force where councillors can request resources to help solve problem areas.
  • Appointed two Enforcement Officers 100% dedicated to fly-tipping investigation and action.
  • The number of Fixed Penalty Notices issued per year went from single figures to several hundred.
  • Comprehensive data maps of fly tipping ’hotspots’ are generated so the Council monitors problem areas and allocates resources accordingly.
  • Multiple “fly-tipping hot spots” were eradicated by the introduction of bin stores, cameras or other measures
  • 10 Artificial Intelligence machine learning cameras were deployed on housing estates. Fly-tipping was reduced by 80% in Social Housing, where these cameras were deployed.
    • Our groundbreaking work is featured on the BBC Click technology show  BBC Video
    • This year, Vodafone filmed a case study featuring our work (see above). Lots of Councils are now contacting Officers to learn more as the technology rolls out nationally.
    • Educational activity and support from our waste contractor (Veolia) directly with residents in ‘hot-spot’ areas also had some positive impact

The challenge of fly-tipping is immense. The causes of it are complex and there are far too few resources available nationally or locally allocated to it. Nevertheless, this is no reason to ignore it when it impacts your community. Councillor and activists’ efforts in bringing people together with Council officers to fix problems together makes a difference. Our successes on fly-tipping were published widely as part of the 2022 Local Election campaign. Communities are able to approach and ask for support when faced with a problem. Making a difference and getting results is rewarded with a cleaner area and a demonstrable achievement that all the community can support.

Further Reading

Keep Britain Tidy: Beyond the Tipping Point

 

 

* John Sweeney is a LibDem Councillor in Kingston Upon Thames for Kingston Town Ward.

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11 Comments

  • nigel hunter 22nd Feb '23 - 11:04am

    Your ideas are sound. In addition where housing estates are concerned, council and otherwise, tenants could be informed that the tenant can be allowed up to 5 pick ups of bulky items a year.That could deter people paying money to ‘fly by nighters’ who just then dump it anywhere they want.
    Can councils give incentives to people to encourage them to bring used items to council dumps? ie vouchers, tickets for liesure activities that normally people have to pay for.
    However they are all sticking plasters to cover ‘wounds’ handed down from Central Govnt cuts in council budgets

  • Jenny Barnes 22nd Feb '23 - 11:22am

    Among the regular crisp packets,plastic bottles, sandwich containers, cigarettes, and generalised bits of cars that have dropped off (up to whole cars sometimes) that arrive in my small piece of woodland regularly, I now have 2 tyres. Normally I litter pick every month or so, and take the results to the local tip (aka “Community Recycling Centre 🙂 ) . However, tyres are chargeable at £5 each. So I’m considering passing the fly tipped tyres on to somewhere else.

  • John Sweeney 22nd Feb '23 - 1:00pm

    @nigel – On occasions, we have presented a truck to housing estates. It fills up pretty quickly. Three loads in one morning. The difficulty is that this only works when supervision is provided. Less reputable local builders can get wind of these schemes and use them to dump their commercial waste. On a borough-wide level, this is unaffordable at the moment.
    Many tenants have no transport so cannot visit the recycling center with or without incentives. It is often a few individuals’ households that cause most of the problem – stronger enforcement of tenancy agreements (which state duties regarding the disposal of household waste) seems to be the most affordable option given the state of Local Authority Finances! As a society, we are generating ever-increasing amounts of waste – food, packaging, and electrical. Councils bear the cost while manufacturers and retailers like Amazon keep the profits!

    @Jenny -unbelievable what you find in woodlands. I lost count of how many times someone would say “How did that get here? when discovering a car engine or wardrobe helping out on the Berrylands Nature Reserve locally

  • nigel hunter 22nd Feb '23 - 1:29pm

    It is exactly that ‘5 pound a tyre’ charge that deters people from taking stuff to the tip and just dump it anywhere.That is why incentives have to be given by councils to stop the dumping.

  • I think Nigel is on the right track here with respect to incentives.

    Recently, we replaced our ancient sofa’s, the supplier of the new sofa’s didn’t have a collection service and hence as these were too big to fit in my car hence the only solution was to use the Council’s collection service: £35 for up to 5 bulky items in a single collection. The only downside was that items had to be protected from wet weather and left for collection on the kerbside by 6:30am, which would be problematic for those who didn’t have access to fit and able helpers.

    Also, the list of items not collected effectively lists the top items dumped at the roadside, which combined with Recycling Centre’s charging (or in the case of Newbury needing a permit and pre-booking a slot) probably explains a lot…

  • Nonconformistradical 22nd Feb '23 - 2:52pm

    The OP refers a lot to cameras – fine, but that’s only going to be useful in urban areas.

    In rural areas there are unlikely to be cameras so the offenders are never caught.

    I agree that doing the right thing – proper disposal of rubbish – needs to be made easy and affordable. In practice it can sometimes be difficult and expensive.

  • Great article and excellent work by Kingston Council.

    Flytipping really is a serious problem in far too many places.

    You can check out the figures for your council here:

    https://www.gov.uk/government/statistical-data-sets/env24-fly-tipping-incidents-and-actions-taken-in-england

  • Ian Manders 22nd Feb '23 - 5:56pm

    While I take the point about the difficulties of tackling fly-tipping in huge rural areas, I think there are many rural fringes/suburban/urban council areas like Kingston where the “Task Force Model” on cracking down on fly-tipping could be applied. I know it has made a big difference here in Kingston and residents value how speedily the council reacts when they report a problem.

  • John Sweeney 22nd Feb '23 - 10:10pm

    @Roland – Some Council’s charge and some do not. In Kingston at the moment we do not charge residents – but there is pressure to start charging for building waste . Commercial builders should be disposing of this by law . Charging residents who bring building waste to the recycling centre would be unpopular with DIYers. Residents are instead restricted to 12 visits a year . It is not too difficult to get more if needed but this does weed out commercial usage.

    An appointment booking system has proveD to be popular with most – residents in nearby street no longer endure engine idling air pollution at weekends – as the usual traffic queue outside is replaced with a nice orderly flow of cards

    @Nonconformistradical Rural areas have a different problem for sure. Though we did a lot of things alongside installing cameras. I think the rural challenge is tougher.

    I do have Officers who push back against my desire to make rubbish disposal cheaper and easier for all. It will require an increase Council costs and resources at a time when costs are already rising and budgets are being cut.
    So once again Local Govt will pick up the tab and get the blame for a lack of a national strategy. In some way the easier you make it for people to dispose of rubbish the more they will generate. I’m still trying to figure out what’s the right approach.

  • Roland – this also applies to people who live in apartment blocks where leaving stuff outside in the car park for collection ( even assuming that you are able to get it outside in the first place) is banned. Residents in a large local authority near me, are then refered to private firms who charge a lot of money.

  • @John Sweeney – I wasn’t complaining about having to pay for the bulk collection service – I think there needs to be charge just so that the service is not abused. My complaint was more about ensuring the service was accessible, my current service assumes people can comply with no option for people to indicate “I need assistance”.

    Although, as from April, we will be having to pay a wholly separate charge (its a standalone service contracted for via its own website – just so the council can claim they haven’t increased council tax by as much as they really have!) for biweekly green bin/garden waste collection. So I expect to see more green waste being fly tipped in the coming months.

    Building waste is tricky, given the overlap with DIY’ers, currently, the rule is cars only, vans = trade waste. However, I have run foul of the rules over eWaste by upgrading my computers and the parents computers and rocking up with 6 computers etc. in the boot of the car…

    It would be interesting to see whether given the emphasis on recycling whether the tips can be made more cost neutral, by an increase in volume etc. rather than imposing arbitrary restrictions on usage. It does seen strange that the collection centres are loss making, yet the businesses they supply are profitable…

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