THE CHURCH of England has made a rare intervention over the rising cost of rural crime to the country.
A major annual report published today by insurer NFU Mutual found that the financial impact of crime in the countryside has risen by 13 per cent to £44.5m. Bishop of St Albans, Alan Smith, the Church of England’s lead bishop on rural affairs, said the findings were “no surprise for those of us who are in touch with rural areas”.
He raised his concerns about fly-tipping in particular, criticising councils for failing to act and calling on the Government to take “drastic action” to combat the issue.
He said fly-tipping was “a problem I hear raised repeatedly in my diocese”.
“The Government claims that it has given councils sufficient powers to deal with the problem,” he said.
“Yet Defra’s own figures reveal that 51 per cent of local authorities have yet to have a single prosecution and there have been no fines imposed by 44 per cent of local authorities. If local authorities are not prepared to act then surely central government needs to take more drastic action to tackle this crime?”
The Bishop’s concerns about rural crime have been echoed locally by the Bishop of Ripon, the Right Reverend Dr Helen-Ann Hartley, who said the report showed crime happened everywhere and praised farmers for the imaginative ways they were protecting their businesses.
Speaking to The Yorkshire Post, she said: “That many farmers have responded creatively says much about their capacity to innovate, face reality and make-do.”
Dr Hartley said services in rural areas cost more to run and welcomed investment by North Yorkshire Police in tackling rural crime, which was having an impact.
She said: “So we need to bear in mind the picture across the whole of the UK, praise the provision to tackle crime but not be complacent in keeping a watch on how it affects isolated communities.”
Fly-tipping is one of the biggest concerns of people living in rural North Yorkshire, according to a separate rural crime study published last month.
Nearly half of people surveyed said they had seen evidence of fly-tipping in the last year, the National Rural Crime Network’s second National Rural Crime Survey showed.
The issue was also named as one of the six priorities of a new rural affairs strategy unveiled by the National Police Chiefs Council at a summit in Harrogate later that month.
Speaking at the time, North Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner Julia Mulligan, who leads the National Rural Crime Network, welcomed the strategies.
She said: “I’m really pleased to see fly-tipping in the rural affairs strategy. In the first instance they didn’t want to include it because they felt it wasn’t a policing matter but I feel it is really evident that the public feel the police need to respond.”
Earlier this year, Environment Secretary Michael Gove asked Mrs Mulligan to be part of an advisory panel looking at the impact of waste crime and the additional powers needed to tackle it.
A spokesperson for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) said: "Fly-tipping is an unacceptable blight on our landscape, which is why we have given councils the powers to hand out on-the-spot fines to fly-tippers, and made it easier for vehicles suspected of being used for fly-tipping to be stopped, searched and seized.
“Later this year, we plan to introduce new fixed penalty notices for householders who pass their waste to a fly-tipper, and we will continue to work with local partners to crack down on this inexcusable crime.”
According to Defra, 21 local authorities in Yorkshire have powers to issue fixed penalty notices to fly-tippers.
Six local authorities did not report issuing any fines in 2016-17: Barnsley, Calderdale, Hambleton, Harrogate, Ryedale and Scarborough, its statistics show.