Fly-Tipping in Rural Areas

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 9:57 pm on 21st November 2017.

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Photo of Anne Marie Morris Anne Marie Morris Conservative, Newton Abbot 9:57 pm, 21st November 2017

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I believe that 0.1% of fly-tippers are prosecuted, and the average penalty is a £400 fine. There is absolutely no disincentive, so why would they stop fly-tipping? That has to change.

What can we do to make the system work better? If tips just charge more, or indeed shut for four days a week, clearly that just makes the problem worse. If we do not extend opening hours, all we are doing is discouraging good citizens and good builders from disposing of their rubbish responsibly at the end of the working day.

I think that increasingly councils are trying to do this for less and less money. The consequence is that they have no incentive to extend their opening hours or reduce the cost. My local authority has recently started charging for the disposal of green waste, and the consequence has been a huge increase in fly-tipping of green waste. Indeed, in Teignbridge fly-tipping has gone up by 60% in five years, and the increase correlates with the introduction of additional charges, when there is a spike in the number of fly-tipping incidents.

Another thing that local authorities have done to try to constrain their costs is to say, “We will deal only with waste that is produced by people living in our borough or ward.” The consequence is that people are now turned away from their nearest tip. Realistically, if the Government want to encourage people to recycle and to be responsible for their waste, they need to make that easier. In the neighbouring constituency of Torbay there is a sign at the tip stating, “You have to provide evidence that you actually live in this part of Devon before you can dispose of your waste here.” We are never going to solve the problem that way.

It seems to me that we have effectively incentivised the individual householder to fly-tip, or to employ a third party to fly-tip for them, and we have incentivised the man with a van who might do furniture removals and so on to offer tip services, but then he does not get a licence and instead dumps on highways, woodland and farmland. It just does not work.

As my hon. Friend Neil Parish mentioned, the penalties, even if they are imposed, are woefully low. In the magistrates court someone can get 12 months and a £50,000 fine, but I am not aware that anyone has had either of those penalties. In the Crown court they can get up to five years and an unlimited fine, but again I am not aware—perhaps the Minister is—that anyone has received those sorts of punishments. It really is a problem, and the evidence problem is probably one of the biggest challenges.

Ultimately, the Government have said that the polluter must pay, but based on everything that I have seen and everything that my colleagues have said, the polluter currently does not pay, so let us look at things in a little more detail. Who is the polluter? At one extreme, one could say that it is the owner of the rubbish. Under section 34 of the Environmental Protection Act 1990, the owner has a duty of care to check that the individual to whom the rubbish is given for disposal is properly registered. I do not suppose that most people know that, that they check or that they would even know where to check. They probably also do not know when people have to be licensed, which is far from clear.

I went on the Environment Agency website, and most of the legislation and registration information was about disposal sites. There was little about the movement of waste, unless it is stored or controlled, so that might be an area to look into, or maybe I just do not have enough experience of the regulations and the Minister will be able to set me right. However, it seems as though it is quite difficult for householders to comply with that duty of care—they do not know about it and they do not know where to go to find the information. Section 33 of the 1990 Act contains a similar duty for controlled waste, and I suspect that most households are more conscious of how to dispose of fridges, batteries and electrical equipment, but there are no specific penalties or punishments. Perhaps the Minister can set me right, but I am unaware of any owner who has been on the wrong side of the law for having given a third party rubbish that has subsequently been dumped.

As for the middlemen—the man or woman with a van—for them it is a question of whether they need a licence. Most of them probably do, because they probably do store the waste somewhere along the line, but few in the business can be bothered and that leads to criminal activity. They know that the chances of getting caught or going to prison are small, so they do not bother, and they get paid when the rubbish is handed over, not when it is delivered to the tip, so where is the incentive? To fix what is wrong with the system, we need to increase the carrot and increase the stick, and we need to be clear about what fly-tipping is and not just lump it with litter or managed waste disposal, because it lies somewhere in between and is something that my constituents and many others are getting exercised about. It damages our countryside and our tourism, and it is a blight on our society.

The Government are right that one of the obvious first steps is to ensure that education is in place so that our children grow up knowing what they should and should not do. That is fine, but there are many people beyond the age of 18 who do not know that, so how are we going to get to them? That is another question for the Government. We then have to look at how to incentivise legal tipping. We must review whether we should completely remove tip charges. When they are set against the clear-up costs and the amount received in fees, we can start to see whether there is a balance. Perhaps the Minister has some ideas about that. It must also be right to extend tip opening times, because people work. We need to recognise that both mum and dad are usually working, so that means we have to allow tipping when they are not working. If people are prepared to come and dispose of waste legally, we need to enable sites to take waste from wherever it comes, which is not always the case.

We also need to consider the individuals who are the potential polluters. We need to extend the rubbish owner’s accountability. They ought to be required to ask for and see someone’s licence, and they should not pay for the rubbish to be taken away until they get some stamped receipt from the tip to say that it has actually been disposed of. The idea of trying to track waste is a good one, and we could track white goods with today’s technology; there must be barcoding, chipping systems or some means by which to do that. When we do find evidence that makes clear from which home the fly-tipped rubbish came, there should be a mechanism to trace it back to ask the householder whether they have disposed of any rubbish and who they used to do so.

Then there is the carrier, licensed or not—the man or woman with a van. How will we extend their accountability? Because of the challenges in securing a successful prosecution, the number of prosecutions has actually gone down 25% in the past year. What might we do? Maybe we could require some record keeping. At one level, a registered and licensed carrier has to keep records, but we could extend that by requiring tachographs and GPS systems. We should review again the penalties and fines, whether there are custodial sentences and at what level, and whether we should seize assets.

There is provision in some cases to seize the vehicle, which is obviously a good thing because it stops the practice continuing. If the vehicle is crushed, it clearly stops the fly-tipping completely. But there are other assets that we might consider seizing to increase the disincentive. If no fine is paid, there is also the threat of credit reference agency records. If non-payments were logged on those records, it would clearly be a black mark, and most people do not want their credit reference in any way negatively affected. We might also consider lifetime bans for anyone who is found to be undertaking such activity without a licence.

There are a number of issues. We need to consider better interagency working. It would certainly help if the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency were prepared to work with local authorities to identify the cars, drivers and owners—having an evidence trail is very important.

I turn now to the victims. Landowners are stuck. Two thirds of farmers have reported fly-tipping of one sort or another and, under section 59 of the Environmental Protection Act 1990, they can be required by the local authority or the Environment Agency to clear up 100% of the mess, but they are not the polluters.

It is impossible to prevent fly-tipping cost-effectively. My local community has tried by digging ditches around carparks and by putting up fences and cameras, but the cameras get smashed by the fly-tippers. It is very difficult. Only 13% of farmers and landowners tend to insure, so very few of them are covered.

Insurance is expensive and fly-tipping is hard to prevent, so we need to consider how we can support landowners, as my hon. Friend Michael Tomlinson said, because they do us a great service by keeping our land beautiful and fit for tourism. How can we share the costs with the local authority? How could we subsidise the landowners’ insurance? How could we allow the disposal, free of charge, of anything that has been dumped on-site?

Will the Minister consider making sure that the polluter pays, that waste can be tracked, that it is easier to dispose legally and that householders think before they dump so we can preserve our wonderful countryside? I thank her for her attention to this real issue.