Abandoned Vehicles: Public Highways

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 11:16 am on 12 July 2023.

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Photo of Trudy Harrison Trudy Harrison The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs 11:16, 12 July 2023

My hon. Friend makes a powerful and effective point. I am not the Minister responsible for waste at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs—that is the Under-Secretary of State, my hon. Friend Rebecca Pow—but I will recommend that she meets him and that perhaps we should consider writing to Bradford Council on that point.

As part of our environmental improvement plan, which we proudly published on 31 January, there is a clear imperative to leave the environment in a better state. That is fundamentally about halting nature’s decline by 2030 and increasing its abundance thereafter, but making sure that we have clean water, clean air and good quality soils and that we tackle waste and resources is a fundamental part of that 262-page document.

We need all councils, including Bradford Council, to play their part, and we need residents to do the same. Clearly, the issue of deliveries not being able to get to a business and Brewery Street being clogged up means that business will not be able to prosper. My hon. Friend mentioned the Utley safer streets group and some particular hotspots for abandoned vehicles, namely Ferncliffe Drive, Dalton Lane and South Street; I urge Bradford Council to make those areas a priority, as that is clearly where the focus needs to be.

My hon. Friend is right that the Refuse Disposal (Amenity) Act has been in place since 1978, when I was coming out of nappies, and that it allows local authorities to take action. It is a criminal offence to unlawfully abandon any vehicle

“in the open air, or on any other land forming part of a highway”.

As he said, doing so is punishable by a fine of up to £2,500 and/or three months in prison. As an alternative to prosecution, councils have the power to issue a fixed penalty of £200 to the vehicle owner. There is a clear legislative vehicle—primary legislation that has been in place for some 45 years—that councils can use.

Recent research by Scrap Car Comparison, based on freedom of information requests to city councils across the country, found the shocking statistic that Bradford had the highest number of abandoned car reports between 2020 and 2022. There are clearly specific issues in Keighley as well. Too many abandoned vehicles are being left to rust, without their owners giving due consideration to their correct disposal. That is clearly a problem for the environment and for local residents, as my hon. Friend set out.

It is not acceptable to run a spares and repairs business on the side of a road. Some of these vehicles are just an eyesore, but the nuisance goes beyond the blocking of roads, parking spaces and property access. The hazardous fluids and chemicals that they contain pose a serious risk to the environment and can contaminate the surrounding land, water and air. That directly contravenes what we all want to achieve in our environmental improvement plan and what society demands of us.

Let me outline some of the measures that are already in place. We are committed to encouraging local solutions for local problems, which is why I commend the Utley safer streets group. I am pleased that my hon. Friend is meeting with those can-do people, who are passionate about improving their community; I will always commend and encourage them.

Before removing a vehicle, authorities must first decide whether a vehicle is abandoned. My hon. Friend made the point about a vehicle not having a keeper, not being taxed and not having moved for a period of time; I agree with him that 12 months is a significant period. If a vehicle has flat tyres or is missing essential parts and panels, and if it has been left for a significant period of time without a number plate, it is blindingly obvious that that vehicle is not roadworthy.

I also confirm that the legislation and measures to which my hon. Friend referred are indeed correct. Local authorities can dispose of an abandoned vehicle themselves. They can do so immediately if it is fit to be destroyed, has no number plate or is untaxed, as my hon. Friend said. Otherwise, they can do so if the owner cannot be found or fails to comply with a notice to collect the vehicle. To help councils to tackle the situation, we have given them powers to penalise people who abandon vehicles or parts of vehicles on public highways. People can be issued with a penalty notice of £200 or—for more serious issues—prosecuted, which can lead to a maximum fine of £2,500 or three months in prison.

I will take up my hon. Friend’s ask to review whether the legislation could be improved to increase enforcement, because without the appropriate powers and action we will not achieve our environmental improvement plan’s 38 legal targets and our moral ambitions. I will certainly undertake to identify further measures that this Government could take in relation to that.

I also want to touch on producer responsibility, because we are still producing new cars and we need to think about the future and how we dispose of the products we make responsibly. That is part of the work that DEFRA is doing. In addition to supporting local action to tackle the abandonment of vehicles, we are tackling the environmental impact of end-of-life vehicles. The end-of-life vehicles producer responsibility scheme—that is a mouthful—has led to an improvement in the treatment of scrap vehicles and to increased recycling and recovery rates. In 2018, of the 1.6 million tonnes of scrapped end-of-life vehicles, 93% were recycled and recovered—an impressive increase from 87% in 2011.

Under the producer responsibility scheme, vehicle manufacturers and importers have a responsibility to establish collection systems into which end-of-life vehicles can be delivered free of charge. Local authorities are also able to deliver end-of-life vehicles into those collection schemes.

Scrap metal has significant value, too. Because 75% of most vehicles is metal, they have value even at end of life. People are incentivised to sell vehicles for scrap, rather than abandoning them on the road, but it is not acceptable for the vehicle to slowly degrade and for spares and repairs to be sold over a period of months and years, clogging up roads and causing a blight to communities and a danger to our environment.

Local authorities have powers to tackle nuisance parking where a business leaves two or more cars for sale, or repair cars, on the road within 500 metres of each other. They can either issue a £100 fixed penalty notice or take the business to court on behalf of the complainant, which can lead to the business being handed a fine of up to £2,500. Furthermore, if a member of the public has concerns that a business is selling a vehicle on the road, they can ask the local authority to make a control order. If a control order is issued, the offender must stop selling vehicles on the road and can be fined £1,000.

In response to my hon. Friend’s excellent points, the evidence is clear that this is a significant issue in the Bradford Council area. I have demonstrated how the Government are supporting councils to tackle this local issue, and outlined how the producer responsibility scheme helps individuals to properly dispose of their end-of-life vehicles. External research shows that the number of abandoned car reports in Bradford peaked in 2021. I hope that the good people of Bradford, particularly in my hon. Friend’s constituency, continue to enjoy dwindling reports of abandoned vehicles. Legislation is in place, but we will look at whether it can be strengthened. There is a clear environmental imperative to take action so that vehicles are not left at the side of roads for months and years at a time. I thank my hon. Friend for bringing this issue to the House’s attention.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved,

That this House
has considered abandoned vehicles on public highways.

Sitting suspended.