According to the latest published figures there were 936,000 “fly-tipping incidents” dealt with by local authorities in 2015/16 – a 4.0 per cent increase over 2014/15. Apparently for 2016/17 there was a further increase of seven per cent – taking the total to over a million.
The number of prosecutions for 2015/16 was a pathetic 2,000. Even more pathetic are the levels of fines for those culprits that are convicted. The total value of the fines was £677,000. That comes to an average of £338.50 a time.
What makes matters worse is that there is far more fly-tipping that is not shown in these figures – particularly in rural areas. That is because often the old fridge – or whatever the item might be – is dumped on someone else’s land rather than the public highway. Two thirds of farmers report having been victims of fly-tipping. Then legally it is the responsibility of landowner to clear up. They have the cost and inconvenience of taking the item to the tip and paying the charge. That is unfair and the rules should be changed.
The Environment Agency – that most useless of Quangos with a huge budget – clearly hasn’t given much of a priority to this problem.
As I have argued before it would help if Councils had the incentive provided by keeping fines from prosecutions.
The Government’s Litter Strategy includes just a page on fly-tipping. I wouldn’t mind the brevity, if the content wasn’t so weak – “a further consultation…extra funding to the Environment Agency…producing guidance for local authorities on their responsibilities…chairing and supporting the National Fly-Tipping Prevention Group.”
The fines need to be much higher. The Fixed Penalty Notice has been increased to £400 – which is still not enough.
That also leaves the question of prosecutions. While there is no maximum fine, the average needs to be several thousand pounds – not a few hundred. The way to achieve this would be to have a minimum fine – of, say, £1,000. That request should be made to the Sentencing Council by Michael Gove, the Defra Secretary (or by the hopeless Environment Agency if they can stir themselves into any positive activity). The Council might respond that to be proportionate, fines for other offences should be increased too – fair enough.
They might also argue that a fine imposed should reflect the means of the offender. I suppose there could be a higher fine for a wealthy offender. Of course there is already the procedure for those on low incomes to pay in instalments. But if, for whatever reason, the Sentencing Council feels it can’t agree to a big increase in fly-tipping fines under the current legislation then the law needs to be changed. Parliament must bring in minimum fines.
As Ann Marie Morris highlighted in a recent Commons debate, at present, the principle that the polluter should pay, is not present. The woefully low fines and infrequent enforcement mean there is a strong incentive to fly-tip.
For local authorities there should be the financial benefit of keeping revenue from fines – which should offset taking the responsibility of removing for free, items fly-tipped on private land as well as on public land. Greater use of CCTV would help in getting the number plates of the culprits. Councils should also encourage lawful waste disposal by making this as cheap and convenient as possible.
Better information would help. Keep Britain Tidy says:
“Our research has identified that 47% of people don’t know that they’re legally responsible for checking the waste-carrier licence of the person taking away their waste. They can be prosecuted for failing to do so, particularly if the waste is subsequently fly-tipped.”
More investigation could be made into those advertising an offer to take away waste to ensure they are licenced.
Finally, there is a huge variation in how seriously local authorities take this issue. For example, Brighton and Hove Council has taken no enforcement action at all against fly-tipping in recent years (both under the current Labour administration and the previous Green Party administration). It has not even issued a warning letter.
Wandsworth Council has issued 1,969 Fixed Penalty Notices against fly-tipping in the past year. Lambeth has issued nil. Is that because fly-tipping does not exist in Lambeth?
It is time for the Government – both locally and centrally – to get serious about fighting this growing national blight. Over to you, Michael Gove.