Fly-tipping and Illegal Dumping — [SIR MARK HENDRICK in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 3:22 pm on 24th May 2022.

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Photo of Laura Trott Laura Trott Conservative, Sevenoaks 3:22 pm, 24th May 2022

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Mark. I congratulate my hon. Friend Saqib Bhatti on securing this debate on an issue that is so important to his constituents and to all of us here.

Fly-tipping is a perennial problem in Sevenoaks and Swanley. In the last year alone, we have had 1,600 incidents —one of the highest numbers I have heard today. Some of them have been dangerous. Similar to the example given by my hon. Friend Douglas Ross, we have had asbestos dumped in Ash, which led to a road being blocked off for two weeks. We have had dangerous waste dumped in Shoreham Lane, leading to farm animals eating it and dying. We have had horse corpses dumped on land. On some occasions, they were dying horses, which was very distressing for everybody involved. We have had rubbish dumped in Horton Kirby and Fawkham, which obviously caused huge issues for people just trying to go about their daily business. This is an issue that absolutely needs resolving.

The good news is that, in Sevenoaks and Swanley, Sevenoaks District Council has done a huge amount of very good work focusing on enforcement. I am pleased to say that we are, I think, the only district council in Kent that has a dedicated fly-tipping enforcement agency, which has worked very hard to secure prosecutions this year. We have had eight criminal prosecutions, I think, and about 50 fixed penalty notices and lots more statutory warnings.

Just last Friday, a case was prosecuted against someone who had fly-tipped five times. He received a 12-month community order and was ordered to pay £3,000 in compensation to Kent County Council and £250 to Sevenoaks District Council. These fines are not enough to deter people, especially repeat offenders such as the one I just mentioned. My right hon. Friend Sir Gavin Williamson and my hon. Friend Anthony Mangnall were absolutely right that we need to focus on not only the maximum level but how much local authorities are able to get back from people who carry out these irritating crimes that are causing such a blight on our communities.

We also need to focus on the role of the Environment Agency. According to the National Audit Office, the number of Environment Agency prosecutions for waste crime has dropped from nearly 800 a year in 2007-08 to about 50 a year in 2017-18. The Minister will tell us whether that trend is reflected in the current figures—I do not have those for this year—but it seems worrying and we should act quickly to address it.

I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Totnes about compensation for councils so that they recoup their fees when they prosecute such cases. It is just not economical for them to do so, because they recoup only 40% of their fees on average. Sevenoaks District Council spent £23,000 on this matter last year. We need to do more to support councils that are trying to do the right thing by addressing this blight on our communities.

I will leave my remarks there. I am grateful to the Minister for all her work—I know that she is focused on this matter—but the strength of feeling in the debate shows that more needs to be done.