Bishop of St Albans – resources needed to ensure successful fly-tipping prosecutions

On 31st January 2019 the Bishop of St Albans, Rt Revd Alan Smith, asked a question he had tabled to Government on fly-tipping. The exchanges are below:

Fly-tipping

The Lord Bishop of St Albans: To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the impact caused by fly-tipping on areas of outstanding natural beauty, following reports that the Woodland Trust has spent over £1 million on cleaning up fly-tipping over the past five years.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord Gardiner of Kimble) (Con): My Lords, the impact of fly-tipping is grave wherever it occurs. It blights local communities and the environment, and tackling fly-tipping is a government priority. Defra’s recently announced resources and waste strategy outlines our approach to tackling waste crime, including specific proposals to prevent, detect and deter fly-tipping. This month, we gave local authorities and the Environment Agency powers to issue financial penalties to householders who fail in their duty of care and pass waste to fly-tippers.

The Lord Bishop of St Albans: I thank the Minister for his reply. Having said that, the statistics from local authorities show that over half of them have not had one successful prosecution for fly-tipping. They say that it is not about a lack of law, regulation or anything else; it is a lack of resource. They simply do not have the ability to use the powers they have already got. What can Her Majesty’s Government do to break through this impasse and address this terrible problem, which we face right across the country?

Lord Gardiner of Kimble: My Lords, I entirely agree with the right reverend Prelate. The fly-tipping and littering that we see in our country is unacceptable. One example is that of partnership. For instance, in his own diocese, the Hertfordshire Waste Partnership has brought together a range of organisations to agree on a common approach to tackle fly-tipping. It has seen a fall of 18% in incidents from 2016-17 to 2017-18. On local authority enforcement actions, there are over 300,000 investigations and a lot of hard work is going on. Partnership is the way that we are going to tackle this.

Baroness Young of Old Scone (Lab): My Lords, as chairman of the Woodland Trust, I can confirm what the right reverend Prelate said. This is a growing problem not just in AONBs but right across our woods and open countryside. It has got worse as local authority cuts have meant that waste disposal services are less readily available, particularly for green waste, which in many authorities is now charged for. As well as giving additional powers to local authorities, will the Minister seriously consider whether the resource constraints are a problem? The public also now need to be enlisted in much greater numbers to control this issue. Will he launch, together with local authorities, the Environment Agency and Crimestoppers, a public awareness campaign to ensure that the public report incidents—with vehicle numbers, where possible—and that, when they are approached by a white van man or a building contractor who will dispose of waste on their behalf, they personally check that that contractor is licensed and will take the waste to a licensed site? I commend to all noble Lords in the House today the idea of following the skip to the tip. It can be a very interesting journey.

Lord Gardiner of Kimble: I agree with a very considerable amount of what the noble Baroness has said. We need to educate people much more: one in five people consciously drop litter—one in four fail to tidy, or place, their litter—so there is a lot of work we need to do to educate. We are working with local authorities because we think that is the way forward. I would endorse the Great British Spring Clean of March and April as a way in which civil society can get much involved.

Lord Robathan (Con): My Lords, I am delighted to hear the Minister endorse the Great British Spring Clean, but will he get Her Majesty’s Government to encourage every school to get involved in it, so that children are educated? Before he answers that, I will endorse what the noble Baroness, Lady Young, said. As a member of the Woodland Trust, I think that fly-tipping is absolutely appalling, whether on Woodland Trust territory or anywhere else.

Lord Gardiner of Kimble: Again, I agree with my noble friend that there is a lot that needs to be done. It is worse in urban areas than rural areas, but wherever it is, it is unacceptable.

Baroness Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville (LD): My Lords, where fly-tipping occurs on local authority land, such as country parks, the ratepayer picks up the cost; where on private land, it is the landowner who pays. To what extent do the Government agree that the problem is related to the increased cost of waste disposal, reflected in the cost of skips, which are an additional burden to many small trade-related firms? Does the Minister agree that an approach to ease the commercial recycling and associated costs, plus the availability of suitable disposal locations, might help to alleviate the situation?

Lord Gardiner of Kimble: My Lords, the resources and waste strategy engages a lot of that area. Interestingly, although during the lifetime of this Parliament £200 billion is going to local authorities, although not ring-fenced, we clearly want to be looking at this. We have asked WRAP to look at these matters, because the evidence does not show that it is about resources; it is about using the actions that can be taken. There is a whole range of actions, with increased fines, that is going to be very helpful.

Lord Mackenzie of Framwellgate (Non-Afl): My Lords, given that a lot of fly-tipping takes place on private land—serious fly-tipping, at that—does the Minister agree that it would be useful to use more technologies such as discreet cameras with number plate recognition systems? Would he encourage the police to co-operate with landowners in this regard, and make it clear that when these people are detected the penalty deters them from making it worth while in the future?

Lord Gardiner of Kimble: The noble Lord is absolutely right. That is why, as part of the detect part of the strategy, we are developing a mobile app alongside landowners for reporting fly-tipping incidents. We are working with the Judicial Office, because we think that magistrates need to be effectively trained in environmental offences and take tougher sentencing and penalties.