I thank my hon. Friend Neil Parish for providing us with the chance to discuss a hugely frustrating issue.
My constituency marks the point at which London’s metropolis turns to beautiful countryside. As such, it has become the victim of fly-tipping on an industrial scale, as I am sure is the case in many other outer-London constituencies. There is money to be made in the business. Waste management licences are given to what look to innocent customers like legal waste contractors but turn out to be cowboys or organised criminals who dump materials from the city’s building sites into our environment.
Since my election, I have been talking to Conservative council representatives in Havering to discuss what we can do as a team to tackle this problem, which continues to be raised by local residents. In October, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs published figures from 2016-17 that showed that local authorities in England dealt with around 1 million fly-tipping incidents—a 7% increase on the previous year. During this period, my borough dealt with more than 4,000 such incidents. The total cost of fly-tipping to Havering residents and businesses between April 2016 and March 2017, including collection and disposal costs, is estimated to be well over £500,000. We now fear that the overall cost is closer to £1 million, which represents a huge burden on the local ratepayer.
I have been working with Councillor Jason Frost, the deputy cabinet member for the environment, to push for increased local authority fines. I met the Minister at one of her Tea Room surgeries to discuss the problem further, and I was encouraged that she and her Department are taking it seriously. The maximum penalties for fly-tipping on summary conviction are a £50,000 fine and/or 12 months’ imprisonment. However, although sentencing guidelines for environmental offences were reviewed in 2014, the maximum fixed penalty notice that local authorities can issue remains only £400 for small-scale fly-tipping. Councillor Frost believes that the fines need to be much more substantial to act as a proper deterrent.
Havering already uses to the maximum existing anti fly-tipping measures, including joint police operations with covert officers, round-the-clock monitoring of roads, and surveillance cameras. However, as Steve Moore, our director of neighbourhoods, has advised us and a number of Members mentioned, much fly-tipping is now carried out by serious organised criminal gangs, not just casual chancers. Those gangs use false plates and stolen trucks, so traditional means of combating fly-tipping, such as CCTV, are not effective. Therefore, although increased penalties might help, we may well need to go further. If this is an issue of organised crime, it requires an equally organised response by police and other authorities such as the Environment Agency.
New regulations have given the Environment Agency and councils more effective tools to investigate and prosecute waste crimes, including the power to seize vehicles for a wider range of suspected offences. However, I should be grateful if the Minister advised us what further analysis has been undertaken of police operations to ensure that we understand who is behind such crimes, and what work the Environment Agency is doing to make its waste licensing regime much more robust. Will she also say why she thinks there was such a substantial increase in this problem in the latest year for which we have figures? Was that increase driven in any way by changes to environmental regulations or the cost of processing rubbish? Is it possible that well-intended changes have made waste disposal so expensive that people are cutting corners? I again thank my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton and Honiton, and I look forward to learning more about the Minister’s strategy to tackle this scourge.