My Department has been working closely with councils throughout COVID-19 to address increased concerns about fly-tipping. Officials have also been in regular contact and have been engaging with council colleagues, through the local and central government waste working group, on the development of a revised Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA)/district council fly-tipping protocol.
While the majority of fly-tipping incidents are dealt with by councils, the NIEA has been assisting with the removal of hazardous wastes, such as asbestos and fuel laundering waste, and will also investigate larger waste deposits. Once agreed, the fly-tipping protocol will formalise this arrangement and provide clarity on the operational roles and responsibilities of the NIEA and the local councils in relation to tackling fly-tipping.
Under the Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Act (Northern Ireland) 2011 and the Environmental Offences (Fixed Penalties) (Miscellaneous Provisions) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2012, dealing with littering is the responsibility of the district councils. However, I am looking at the effectiveness of these current powers and the level of fines. Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful has been appointed to gather data from all councils on their use of fixed penalty notices for both litter and dog fouling offences. This will inform a review of the fixed penalty notice regime which is due to be completed early in 2021. Officials have also separately been engaging with a number of councils on this issue.
Finally, I can advise that discussions have also been ongoing with the councils in relation to commencing further elements of the waste and contaminated land legislation to provide additional enforcement and clean-up powers to both my Department and councils to help tackle the scourge of illegal waste disposal.
I thank the Minister for his answer. With regard to powers, or to his influence over councils, some councils have a power or a regime with regard to fining people for littering. I am going to name my own council: Mid Ulster District Council had, in a period of one year about two years ago, eight fines, which I think is unacceptable and does not send out the correct signal. What influence can the Minister put on councils across Northern Ireland to take littering and waste disposal more seriously at a local level?
With the form of government that we have, local government has the responsibility for this, and it is for local government to respond to its board, as such, which is its councillors, who have the responsibility to ensure that public policy is upheld. I suggest that the best way of actually ensuring that the council is enacting its powers appropriately is for the councillors themselves to ensure that officers are ensuring that the regime is in place to have appropriate waste controls, including the nuisance litter that people drop.
Minister, I love nothing more than cycling, running or walking around the rural roads of the North and through towns and villages, and it is a pleasant experience that is often spoiled by witnessing instances of fly-tipping and general littering. I understand the answer that was given to the previous question, but there must be a cross-departmental policy or strategy that can change the culture of people who find littering and fly-tipping acceptable, because it should not be acceptable, and the levels of litter that we have are a disgrace. Furthermore, can the Minister give us an appraisal of how littering and fly-tipping may have changed during the pandemic?
Yes, I totally agree with the Member: it is very irritating when you are in the countryside and find fast-food-outlet material, cans, bottles, cigarette packets or sweet papers lying at the side of the road. There is a whole panoply of stuff that people throw out of their cars while driving along the roads. I do not understand it, because it is so easy to put it into a small bag and put it into the appropriate bin when you get home. People seem to think that it cannot stay in their car for any longer than five seconds after it comes out of a wrapper.
We are working on developing the removal of single-use plastics on nine different items, and we intend to bring that proposal to the Assembly quite soon. With a lot of the packaging that is involved — for example, with fast-food outlets — we will get rid of the material that does not biodegrade. Work will be done on that. Essentially, this is an educational process whereby people need to recognise that it is wrong to throw out litter and wrong to fly-tip. Everybody knows it, but there is a hard core of people who seem to continue to engage in it, and, as a consequence, they spoil our countryside.
Minister, is there any way of monitoring and evaluating the amount of fly-tipping? Reports come to me from my council colleagues about the number of tyres that are dumped along roadsides. We all know that there is a premium to be paid when you buy a new tyre so that the other one is safely disposed of. What is the cost, and are reports fed into your Department that will help to inform policy and legislation by local authorities?
The dumping of tyres is a big issue, and, in my area, quite a bit of that goes on. It is clearly wrong, and, very often, it is left to the landowner, which is entirely inappropriate. Someone dumps on their land and the consequence is that someone who has no role in this is left to deal with the problems arising from it.
There has been an uplift in fly-tipping this year. It is hard to assess it fully yet. It has not been massive, but it has gone up, and we associate a degree of that with the closure of the household waste recycling centres. I welcome the fact that almost all of them are operational again, and it is incumbent upon councils to ensure that they are kept operational going forward.