While the efforts of the Communities and Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles to defend and revive weekly bin collections have been widely reported less the Government have also abolished state powers for town hall bin inspectors to enter homes and gardens to inspect bins. Powers originally intended to tackle large-scale fly-tippers were twisted under Labour to allow town halls to spy on local residents.
As a House of Commons Library note explains:
Section 180 of the Environment Act 1995 grants the Environment Agency and local authorities (and a number of other authorities) with specific powers to investigate offences under specific environmental legislation. This includes powers to investigate illegally deposited waste and ways in which household waste is disposed of.
These powers were originally only available to the Environment Agency until the Environment Act was amended by the Anti-Social Behaviour Act 2003. This provided waste collection authorities with powers of investigation in relation to offences under section 59 of the Environmental Protection Act 1990. Section 59 of the 1990 Act covers powers to require the removal of fly tipped waste.
The Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Act 2005 provided a further amendment by extending the powers of investigation to cover anything under Part 2 of the Environmental Protection Act 1990. Part 2 provides the basis for most of the waste legislation in the UK.
For the state to have the power to invade private property and rifle through rubbish on the most trivial of pretexts did show the casual disregard for civil liberties under he Labour Government.
This has now changed. The Protection of Freedoms Act 2012 received Royal Assent in May 2012. Schedule 2 was commenced in July 2012. The Schedule removes the power of entry exercisable in relation to collection of household waste from domestic property.
Hefty fines for minor innocent mistakes such as putting an item in the wrong bag have been scaled down. A test of "harm to local amenity" has been introduced before criminal sanctions can apply.
Under the Labour Government pensioners who failed to close their bin lids faced larger fines than shop lifters. Mr Pickles thought that was wrong. I am pleased he has managed to do something about it.