Monday, 14 May 2018

Getting a Grip on Fly-tipping

Why do people fly-tip and what can be done to prevent it? These are two burning questions that most councils across the country face. Peterborough is no different.

Why do people fly-tip?

A fly-tipped chair on a residential street in Orton Goldhay
A fly-tipped chair on a residential street in Orton Goldhay

The easiest and most obvious answer is 'because they are lazy'.

As explanations go I think this is far too simple.

Perhaps people feel abandoned by local government and disenfranchised from society and have simply stopped caring about the state of the streets where they live. I see evidence that points to this all around the city. I'm sorry to say there are several examples of tenants and homeowners alike dumping rubbish immediately in front of their own homes in our communities. Of all the kinds of fly-tip that I see, this type makes me the most anguished. I want people to feel happy in their homes, not to turn them into rat-infested, eye sores that affect the quality of life of people who live near them.

Some fly-tipping is done by residents who don't understand that leaving unwanted stuff on the pavement for the council to collect isn't how the systems works. Fixing this should be relatively easy through education and leaflets in various languages (in some countries leaving your rubbish on the pavement is completely acceptable).

A lot of fly-tipping isn't done by residents at all, at least, not directly. Unlicensed waste carriers are known to knock on doors in Orton and offer to take away larger items of rubbish for a small charge. These unlicensed traders then illegally dump the rubbish on streets and in rural areas around Peterborough (in places without CCTV where they think they won't be caught). In the past two weeks alone there have been at least two instances where fly-tippers who don't live in Orton have come to Orton Goldhay for the sole purpose of fly-tipping.

Four fly-tipped fridges
Four fly-tipped fridges. How did they get there? Read on.

Catch them if you can. The three male occupants of this white van were seen fly-tipping
four fridges on a residential street in Orton Goldhay.

In one instance (see above), three men were seen getting out of a white van and dumping four fridges (one of them full of rotting food) on a street in Orton. In another, a large quantity of tyres were dumped opposite a sheltered housing complex. It is highly likely that whoever these items belonged to did not imagine that the person they paid to take them to the recycling centre would dump them on our streets.

A pile of tyres fly-tipped in Orton Goldhay.
A pile of tyres fly-tipped in Orton Goldhay.
Did local residents do this? I don't think so.

The final group of fly-tippers are those residents who do it deliberately because they think everyone else does it and that they won't get caught. Included in this group are the landlords who don't clear out the rubbish from their properties before allowing new tenants to live there. The people who move in are left with the responsibility of getting rid of the rubbish. Clearly this is not fair.

Why is fly-tipping such a big problem today?

Fly-tip in Orton Goldhay
Fly tip in a wooded area in Orton Goldhay

The way we live has changed drastically since I was a child 40 years ago.

Back then, we didn't have cheap, mass-produced furniture to the degree that we do today, and the standard of living was far lower. You would do all you could to look after your possessions because replacing them was costly. Furniture was built to last back then. It was expensive because it was well-made. You wouldn't dream of getting rid of a chest of drawers unless it was completely unusable. My dad made my childhood rabbit's hutch out of an old chest of drawers. My mum made me a pair of lurid green trousers out of a pair of curtains. My dad made my brother a go kart from off cuts of wood. My mum made me a hobby horse from the same material. That's what we did back then: we made the most of everything we had because we couldn't easily afford to buy new things.

Add to this the great pressure we are all put under now to buy the newest and very latest thing. Holding onto something for a long time and getting the most use from it that we can is no longer 'fashionable'. We are all put under pressure (especially our children) to own the very latest model or to follow the very latest trend, which leads to enormous pressure to throw away things that have not come to the end of their useful lives.

We need to acknowledge to ourselves that the way we live has created the fly-tipping epidemic. We buy too much new stuff and we don't look after the stuff we already have. The wartime culture of 'make do and mend' is entirely lost on us now. We are mass producing and buying more than we need and a lot of it is plastic. What we no longer want no one else wants either... or do they?

Orton Sellers
Find Orton Sellers and stuff on Facebook

'Buy and Sell' pages on Facebook are doing a great deal to keep used goods in circulation and preventing them from becoming fly-tip. Here in Orton we have a fantastic group called 'Orton Sellers and Stuff' which was set up six years ago by local resident Sharon Bellamy. The group has nearly 3000 members. Here local people have created a secondary market, buying, selling and gifting unwanted goods to one another. Without Orton Sellers I think the problem of fly-tipping in Orton would be a great deal worse.

Without doubt, fly-tipping worsened when Peterborough City Council took the decision a few years ago to charge for the removal of unwanted large items from people's homes. The council needs to cover its costs by either increasing council tax or charging for certain services. Some residents feel that it's right to charge for services that only some people use, such as the doorstep collections of bulky items and brown bin waste, services that the council does not have a statutory obligation to provide. However, doing so affects older and disabled people and people who don't have cars disproportionately and these are also the people who are less likely to be able to afford to pay the additional charges. So should we all pay a lot more more council tax and eradicate fly-tip from our streets or do we accept that people in less affluent areas will continue to live surrounded by rubbish? This is the question we're all struggling to answer. Does being elderly and isolated and on a low income and unable to drive or carry heavy items mean you have to pay to have your rubbish removed from your home, while someone fit and strong who can drive to the recycling centre does not have to pay?

A snapshot of fly-tipping in Orton Goldhay

On Saturday, I joined a couple of a residents on a walk around the part of Orton Goldhay that falls within Orton Waterville ward. We noted all instances of fly-tipping and reported them to the council for removal. We spotted 36 separate instances of fly-tipping this area alone. Here's some of it...

fly-tip collage
Fly-tip collage

Why didn't the council's free doorstep collections trial work?

A few months ago, Peterborough City Council re-introduced free doorstep collections for bulky waste as a time-limited trial. Unfortunately, this proved to be an expensive failure. While all the slots were taken up, the impact on fly-tipping was minimal, while the council claims it lost £40,000 in revenue by not charging for the collections.

I haven't seen a breakdown of the figures for Orton Waterville, nor do I know the metrics the city council uses to measure success/failure. What I do know is that the city council made a rotten job of letting the right people know about the free collections. It's my belief that news of the trial only reached people who read the local newspaper and who already have the means to get their waste to the recycling centre. Very little was done to get the message out to the people who really needed the help and those most at risk of falling prey to fly-tippers. It did help people, it just didn't help the right people.

I'm one of the Orton Waterville parish councillors who pioneered the introduction of bulky waste collection points here. These collections, which are free at point of use to Orton residents, happen for two hours on a Saturday morning every few months in the small car park behind the Orton Centre.

The parish council has offered this popular service a number of times now. It is paid for via the parish council 'precept' which is a quantity of money raised via the council tax that we all pay to the city council. In effect, it is paid for by you.

I produce a free newsletter to let residents know what I'm doing at their councillor. It is called 'Orton News' and it goes through every letter box in the ward. In 'Orton News' I always include details of the forthcoming free bulky waste collection points. In addition to this I invite any residents who need help getting their things to the static collection point to contact me and I will help them if I can. My partner and I hire a van (at our own expense) and invite older and disabled people who need help getting their large items to the collection point to contact me. Often, these residents tell me that they've had rogue traders at their door and one can only imagine how many people make use of their services because they can't easily make use of the free collection point.

By leafleting all homes in the area and offering practical help to people who can't get their items to the collection point we are stopping rogue traders who fly-tip from doing so much business in Orton.

I wish the council had taken this approach when advertising its trial of free doorstep collections. The information needs to reach the people who are vulnerable to approaches from rogue traders who fly-tip, not people who are quite capable of disposing of their rubbish in a responsible way.

To be absolutely blunt, fly-tipping is linked to poverty and social exlusion and the council's trial would have been far more effective had it been focused on areas of higher social deprivation. Making it city-wide was a £40,000 mistake.

Me with a van full of rubbish picked up from older residents' homes
Me with a van full of rubbish picked up from older residents' homes
Julie with two residents
Time we started helping the right people

What's the solution?

Putting all this together I believe the council needs to do a piece of work to discover who is fly-tipping and why they do it. There is no doubt at all that doorstep collections and collection points are helping people to get rid of rubbish, but it seems that these measures are not helping to combat fly-tipping.

What are we trying to do here? Help people or combat fly-tipping? If you ask me, both goals are equally important because our overarching aim should be happy, healthy people living in a happy, healthy environment.

Here are my top six suggestions:
  1. Free collections. The council could re-introduce FREE and unlimited collections from people's homes on a permanent as-it-is-needed OR regular, advertised basis. We have to understand that people want to be rid of large items when they want to be rid of them. Large items take up space in people's homes. We now need a from-home collection service that is both free and accessible. If one phone call results in large items being taken away it will drive rogue traders who fly-tip domestic waste out of business pretty quickly.
  2. Rogue traders. Get a better understanding of who is vulnerable to rogue traders who fly-tip and ensure that these people's needs are being met. These are older people, disabled people, people who don't have access to transport to take items to the recycling centre or the money to pay the council to come an take items away. These people need information to enable them to do the right thing.
  3. Landlords (including housing associations). From the fly-tip I see, and the fly-tipping that is reported to me, it is obvious that much is as a result of short-term tenancies coming to an end. Far too often new tenants are moved into homes that have not been properly cleared out by the landlord or housing association. This situation leaves new tenants with the burden of responsibility for removing the rubbish (although it shouldn't) and if they don't have the money to pay the council to remove it nor the means to take it to the recycling centre then what is to happen to it? Landlords and housing associations must do more to prevent fly-tipping in our communities. 
  4. Communicate. The council must invest resources in communicating with residents in a clear and friendly manner. Leaflets through doors will help an incredible amount but the message must be enabling and the language must not be threatening. Many people don't like interacting with the council at all, so a charm offensive is needed to build trust between residents and Peterborough City Council once more. 
  5. Community. Most people don't want fly-tip in their streets. Foster community champions in every street who will report fly-tipping as soon as it happens to ensure it is cleared away as quickly as possible. Fly-tipping should never be 'normal'. Make it universally unacceptable.
  6. Prosecute. I don't believe that people who are caught fly-tipping should go to prison as is this a further, chronic waste of taxpayer money. But I do believe that they should be fined as heavily as possible and their vehicles and driving licences should be confiscated. Unfortunately, the law in this area is very weak and relies upon witness statements. Many people who witness fly-tipping don't wish to inform on their neighbour or become involved in a criminal trial. It is clear that the law needs to be changed so that it is much easier for the police, councils and the crime prosecution service to work together to see that people who fly-tip are apprehended and suitably punished.

A Historic Night for Orton Waterville, Peterborough, you and me


No false modesty, I genuinely wasn't expecting to win. Not this year. My team and I were fully prepared to come a very respectable second. So when the voters of Orton Waterville ward elected me as your new city councillor with more than 50% of the vote we honestly were lost for words.

Elections are really difficult to win, especially if you're in a small local party with very little in the way of resources and have never won a seat in the city before. What's more, a week prior to the election our hallowed local paper the Peterborough Telegraph said that all sitting Conservatives were expected to keep their seats. No one said anything about the possibility of a historic landslide win to a Green Party candidate who had never won an election before.

The results for Orton Waterville ward
The result in full

Peterborough politics pie chart
Look! A little sliver of green!

How did this happen? 

Hard work and high visibility. In the last couple of weeks leading up to the election we knew we were doing okay as high numbers of residents were telling me and my team that I am the only politician who knocks on their door throughout the year and the only local politician who takes the trouble to communicate with them. For me, communication is obvious and important - I just didn't realise just how important it was to Orton Waterville residents, nor how rarely the other local politicians were doing it.

Another reason for the win was undoubtedly the large turnout of 39%. This may not sound like a very high number, but compared to other wards in the city it is impressive. We can put this down to many people deciding to vote in this election who usually would not and many of these people deciding to vote Green. Residents used to joke that you could stick a blue rosette on a potato in Orton Waterville and it would win. I don't believe that any seat should be 'safe', so my team and I worked hard for over two years to offer residents a genuine alternative. I thought we'd do okay, but I did not expect to leap from an 8% share of the vote to over 50% in a single election. That caught us all by surprise.

And then there are the issues. I'm not talking about Green Party policies. In the Green Party we don't have 'the whip', unlike the other big parties. This means I'm free to speak my mind and to represent my community as I choose. So the issues I'm talking about are the ones that are important to you: the survival of our local post offices, the condition of our roads, fly-tipping, the accessibility of local buses, etc. Because I talk to you over and over I understand what is important to you and have already taken action on many of the issues that concern you.

Just some of the things I've achieved in Orton Waterville ward over the past couple of years
Just some of the things I've achieved in Orton Waterville ward over the past couple of years

That's about the size of it: hard work, high visibility and offering a genuine alternative (and independent) voice. Those were the three things that inspired the residents of Orton Waterville ward to make history in Peterborough by voting in the first Green Party city councillor that we have ever had. I can't tell you how honoured and humbled I am. My team and I were utterly bewildered by the result. We expected to come second. We really, really did.

I've got to tell you about my team

Elections are won by a hard-working team with a strategy and strong leadership and I can't tell you enough good things about my amazing team. To put sufficient resource behind Orton Waterville meant withdrawing resource from campaigns elsewhere in the city and that is a big ask to make of party members who have been selflessly campaigning in their wards for many years. It takes real sacrifice on the part of many candidates (we stood candidates in all 18 wards this election) to ensure the return (or near return, which was our expectation) of just one councillor. My team wholeheartedly got behind me and gave me, and you, everything they had. You've met many of them when they've been out delivering my leaflets or knocking on doors for me. They're amazing and I could not have done this without them.

The same goes for our many volunteers, residents just like you who deliver my leaflets in their own streets. So many of you championed me and ensured the success that became our new reality on election night. You put posters in your windows, you talked about me to your friends and family members. You turned the tide towards my win. I am so humbled by everything that you did. Humbled and inspired. Thank you.

Peterborough Green Party
My incredible team

What next?

I've fought this election campaign for the past two years as if I was already your ward councillor. This means that you can expect from me what you've already grown used to: hard work, high visibility, regular communication. The main difference now is that I have greater access to council resources. If you thought I was effective before I was elected, just wait to see what's coming. I can hardly wait.

My driver is to serve you. This is now my full-time job. My party wants me to be independent so I'm free to represent you the way you wish to be represented. I enjoy knowing many of you and being in constant touch with you. None of this will change now that I've been elected. In fact, expect to see me in your community more and more.

Thank you - I've led a full and rich life with many ups and many downs. But this has made me so proud and I can't wait for what's to come. Together, we'll make Orton Waterville ward an even more wonderful place to live.

Green win!

Julie's joy at becoming the first ever Green city councillor in Peterborough
Click to enlarge