Take a tip: councils often powerless against fly-tippers

CROYDON COMMENTARY: For all the T-shirts, grandstanding and threats of dire consequences if anyone gets caught dumping rubbish in the borough, Stuart Collins, the cabinet member responsible for the state of our streets, this week all but admitted the council is powerless when it comes to prosecuting those responsible for the “Grand Canyon” of rubbish left on public parkland in Ashburton and on the Purley Way in the last fortnight.

Rubbish strewn along the Purley Way. But by who?

Rubbish strewn along the Purley Way. But by who?

“The problem has always been proving, to the level needed in court, that travellers were responsible,” said Councillor Collins, probably managing to prejudice any resulting case in the process.

“This particular community think they can get away with it.

“They’re quite well up on the law and they’re not stupid. They don’t leave things around that can be traced back to them.”

So don’t expect any prosecutions any time soon.

Here, Purley resident TOM VOUTE, who has a background working in waste management, outlines the fly-tipping dilemmas facing local authorities

It often starts when businesses get their rubbish disposed of on a “cash in had – no questions asked” basis. That is already unlawful and starts the sequence of events which leads to fly-tipping.

Then there’s the matter of ownership of the land where the rubbish has been tipped.

If you travel on the top deck of a bus going past the site of the Royal Mansions on London Road, demolished after the fire damage in the riots, you can see how behind the hoardings this site has become an area were illegal waste disposal is taken place. Never mind the politics; this is clearly a health hazard with a risk of soil contamination in a densely populated area of town.

This is not just a matter for the council. Who owns the site now? The site owner also has a responsibility to stop this from happening.

And then you have to prove the case against those responsible for fly-tipping, “beyond reasonable doubt”.

It can be extremely difficult to get the evidence to make a prosecution for fly-tipping. If you are lucky, you have CCTV footage, or photographs which clearly show the offending vehicle’s registration, or reliable statements from several witnesses from which the criminals can be identified in the act of committing the crime.

Without that, you have to engage in very time-consuming (and therefore expensive) forensic efforts, trying to find among the fly-tipped rubbish something which indicates the source of some of it. That might be an envelope with a name and address, or other bits of paperwork, though none of that is conclusive evidence that the named person or business did the dumping.

The scene in Ashburton park over the weekend. The council has cleared the site, at public expense. But who dumped it?

The scene in Ashburton park over the weekend. The council has cleared the site, at massive public expense. But who dumped it?

The collected evidence must be robust enough to stand up in court to make a conviction possible, just as for any other criminal prosecution. Because this is a serious, and criminal, matter.

There is an even bigger issue behind it all. Fly-tipping happens on a massive scale in this country. The main legislation which aims to control it was created in the mid-1990s. This legislation requires that all waste transactions and transport (except at the point of collection of domestic waste) must be documented to form an audit trail, and that waste carriers must be licensed. According to the law, amateurs and unlicensed operators, the “cowboys”, cannot collect and transport waste.

Unfortunately, this also got caught up in the political ideology of deregulation and public expenditure cost-cutting with the result that

a) nobody has a statutory duty to monitor ensure that this legislation is actually complied with, and

b) nobody, neither the Environment Agency nor local authorities nor anybody else, has been allocated the proper resources to enforce the law.

In particular, it has been left unclear whether the Environment Agency or the local authorities are responsible for the prosecution of fly-tippers. In practice, local authorities must respond to the concerns of local voters. The Environment Agency is not under any such democratic pressure.

You might argue that commonsense suggests that it ought to be the police who should have the statutory duty to investigate and prosecute these criminal offences. Fly-tipping can be part of a pattern or organised crime and when it gets seriously out of hand, it will involve highly toxic and hazardous waste.

But the outcome of successive governments’ fashion for deregulation and their refusal to face up to the true cost of combating fly-tipping and illegal waste disposal is that the matter has been dumped on under-resourced local authorities.

It is a national issue, with about a million cases reported each year, and an untold number unreported incidents. It is a much bigger issue than one just for local councils to deal with, yet without the political will at national level to deal with it effectively at source, matters will only get worse.

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This entry was posted in Ashburton, Crime, Croydon Council, Fly tipping, Refuse collection, Stuart Collins, Waddon and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Take a tip: councils often powerless against fly-tippers

  1. Nick Davies says:

    Does anyone know how much it costs to clear up the mess, and conversely how much is raised by charging for ‘trade waste’ at the dumps? If you make it easy to get rid of stuff people are surely less tempted to fly-tip or to pay others to do it for them.

    Could we please have a cost:benefit analysis of opening the dumps to trade waste and operating them at times people want to use them, like evenings and weekend afternoons.

    • An excellent idea. Common sense really. Makes you wonder why no one at Croydon Council has thought of it. Oh…

    • tomvoute says:

      Opening hours and waiting times are just as important for traders.

      We should charge them fair prices for their waste disposal, but make it convenient. I suggest it should be well worth it for the council to ask the local traders what they think.

  2. marzia27 says:

    Residents have eyes and ears: if they used them, fly tipping would disappear.
    The people who collect rubbish for cash in Shirley are not travellers.

    • Some excellent ideas above. Here’s one from me. The Council have in the past done test purchases of cigarettes and knives to tackle shopkeepers who break the laws concerning sales of such items to minors.

      It would surely be easy to arrange a similar “sting” of, as marzia27 puts it, people who collect rubbish for cash.

      • tomvoute says:

        All exellent ideas, but we must bear in mind that rubbish collected from outside Croydon (sometimes from some considerable distance away) can get fly-tipped in Croydon, and conversely rubbish collected by dodgy operators in Croydon can end up fly-tipped outside Croydon in another council’s area.

        This problem cannot be solved just at local authority level.

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