Jayne Dowle: Enforce the litter laws everywhere, not just in towns

What is ebing done to stop the scourge of litter and flytipping?What is ebing done to stop the scourge of litter and flytipping?
What is ebing done to stop the scourge of litter and flytipping?
HERE'S a question for local councils. How is it that I can be pounced on by an enforcement officer in a town centre and fined £75 for dropping a sweet wrapper, but not be caught if I drive into the countryside and deposit three overflowing bags of litter by the side of the road?

Some of these enforcement officers are nothing more than petty dictators in hi-vis vests. They make traffic wardens look like angels, and reinforce the idea that Big Brother is always watching us.

What’s even worse is that these public servants now appear to be cashing in whilst criminals – there is no other word for it – scar our beautiful countryside in full knowledge that their selfish actions are rarely penalised.

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A report for the BBC’s Panorama programme has found that private enforcement officers contracted to local authorities are earning performance bonuses of up £1,000 for issuing on-the-spot fines to unwary pedestrians who infringe strict anti-litter laws in urban areas. This doesn’t seem right to me.

Not for a moment do I condone dropping litter. Anywhere. It is vital to sanction those who think they’re above the laws of common decency and respect. We’ve all seen teenagers who regard a shop doorway as the ideal place for a polystyrene take-away carton. I have been known to reprimand such offenders and point them in the direction of the nearest bin myself.

However, what about those who drive down a country lane and chuck a bagful of burger detritus out of their car window without a second thought? Where are the litter police handing out £75 tickets in their hi-vis vests then? Sitting in their nice warm offices counting their monthly bonuses?

Put simply, I don’t see why we should have one rule for the town and one for the countryside. If councils really are serious about reducing rubbish, they should venture away from the shopping precincts and pavements and look at the biggest picture. It’s no good pouring all their anti-litter resources into one area and leaving the rest of the borough to literally rot.

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Serious flytipping is a blight on the landscape. The accumulation of general litter lobbed out of car windows and left at the side of the road by irresponsible motorists is just as nasty. Where are the on-the-spot fines for this kind of offence?

And it’s clearly not enough to put up signs which say “fly-tipping is illegal” because people intent on dumping rubbish don’t read signs. In any case, it’s quite possible that the sign itself will end up obscured by piles of old mattresses and sofas and black bags full of vermin-infested horror.

For starters, I’d like to see the litter police taken out of their cosy town centre fiefdoms and compelled to patrol our highways and byways as a clear deterrent.

It would make sense. According to Defra, England’s local authorities already spend at least £36m every year cleaning up at least 700,000 individual fly-tipping incidents. What if this money was redirected into preventing these incidents?

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The countryside would be a much prettier place, and the actual police would have back-up. Do you think that on an average day your average police officer will prioritise the thoughtless builder depositing bricks and mortar waste in a farmer’s field over catching the bloke who has just robbed the post office? It simply doesn’t happen.

The main issue, it seems, is that fly-tipping falls into a category where responsibility is vague, to say the least. On private land, for example, the onus is usually on the farmer or landowner to dispose of what has been dropped.

This is time-consuming and costly. Fly-tipping is not only unsightly, it is dangerous to wildlife and detrimental to the rural economy. If you saw a load of waste spoiling the approach to a farm shop or visitor attraction, it might put you off going there.

I’d like councils to offer more support in this direction. I’d also like them to publicise the opening times and operational details of civic amenity centres with more force than at present. Our facility recently changed its entry requirements. There was some coverage of this in the Press and so on, but for many people its working practices remain shrouded in mystery.

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I’m not saying that publicising the opening times and residency qualifications more efficiently would deter every offender from throwing their unwanted TV in a ditch, but it can only help.

In this, social media could be a great tool. Your typical fly-tipper might not be bothered to read an imploring sign – even one designed by school-children, as in the field opposite where I live – but they will take notice of news which pops up in their Facebook feed.

It is surely not beyond the imagination of councils to find such innovative ways to get the message across that irresponsible attitudes towards rubbish are punishable, and that there are alternatives available. That, and send a posse of enforcement officers into the woods with their ticket books to really earn their money.