New steps approved to tackle fly-tipping in Sunderland

Steps to tackle fly-tipping have been agreed by Sunderland City Council – despite opposition claims that plans had been “watered down” by council chiefs.

Sunday, 28th March 2021, 10:51 am
Rubbish dumped at Tunstall Hills car park in April 2020. Illegal dumping became an increasing problem with the onset of lockdown.

City Conservatives launched a motion titled ‘action on fly-tipping’ this week which asked the local authority to adopt a “more proactive and punitive policy” to help crack down on litter bugs.

This included pledges to invest more into CCTV at fly-tipping hotspots, to introduce harsher punishments for those caught fly-tipping, including increased fines, and to establish a ‘hardship fund’ to reimburse residents who can demonstrate they have paid to have fly-tipped waste removed.

At a full council meeting on March 24, Labour bosses said they had been dealing with the issue, from investing in CCTV to hiring additional enforcement staff in recent years.

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Council chiefs also noted a recent cabinet decision to increase fines to the maximum £100 rate for offences under a new citywide Public Spaces Protection Order (PSPO).

Although the ruling Labour group accepted proposals for a fly-tipping hardship fund and punitive approach, they amended the Conservative motion.

It comes as the Sunderland Echo continues to run its Clean Streets campaign, urging everyone to do their bit to stop rubbish and waste spoiling Wearside.

City leaders said the changes aimed to acknowledge the city council’s existing work around tackling environmental crime and anti-social behaviour, despite reductions in government funding.

Conservative councillors clarified that their motion was not a criticism of council officers but an attempt to explore a different method for tackling fly-tipping issues, alongside a ‘zero-tolerance approach’ towards offenders.

Councillor Dominic McDonough, who launched the original motion, suggested that the council’s “current approach simply isn’t working” and that many offenders had been “let off lightly.”

He also claimed Labour’s amendment “watered down” the Conservative motion while “taking away the zero tolerance approach.”

Cllr McDonough quoted annual figures from 2019/20 which listed 1,249 reports of fly-tipping offences but only 277 fines and around 150 warning letters.

The opposition councillor added: “What we’re saying is we’re not hitting enough people, we’re letting people get away with it and the figures speak for themselves.”

Councillor Niall Hodson, Liberal Democrat group leader, said a “cultural change” was needed to tackle the issue and that some measures proposed by the Conservatives were “tackling the symptoms and not getting down to the cause.”

He added CCTV was only a “partial solution,” with staff resource needed to both monitor cameras and investigate incidents, and suggested the potential “considerable costs” needed to administer a hardship fund could be invested into hiring more enforcement staff.

Councillor Graeme Miller, leader of the council, said many aspects of the original motion had already been “enacted and worked upon.”

“The big issue in all of this is culture change, we can buy loads of cameras and it will not fix the problem,” he told the meeting.

“We don’t have the money, we’re £315 million down from 11 years ago in our revenue budget so we do not have the money to do everything that I think we would all like to do to keep the city clean, green and safe and catch those people who abuse the city and fly-tip and spoil it.

“So we do what we can with the resources that we have got and the key thing for us has definitely been Let’s Talk, we got thousands of comments regarding the PSPO [consultation] which enabled this council to say we’re working with residents, we’re working for residents and we’re no longer doing things to them.”

While admitting that setting up a fly-tipping hardship fund “might be expensive,” Cllr Miller added “we won’t know until we try it.”

The amended motion was approved with 46 votes in favour and 11 abstentions.

The motion in full:

Fly-tipping incidents blight our community and cause undeserved stress and suffering for our residents. As well as making our streets, back lanes and green spaces untidier, fly-tipping and other anti-social behaviour such as littering, dog fouling and indiscriminate dropping of uneaten food also contributes to the city’s rat population.

We believe the council’s ‘encouragement over punishment’ approach to environmental enforcement should be replaced with a more proactive and punitive policy – as well as wishing to see more proactive enforcement relating to other environmental crimes, such as dog fouling.

This council believes in punishing those who do wrong and rewarding those in the right and therefore welcomes the positive outcomes of recent consultation with residents on increasing its enforcement powers to take necessary action.

It therefore:

:: Recognises current and proposed new CCTV investment by this council in fly-tipping hot spots across the city, despite more than 10 years of austerity resulting in an annual funding gap now totalling over £315 million

:: Welcomes the recent decision of the cabinet to increase fines within the revised Public Spaces Protection Order to the maximum permitted under current legislation and will ensure this principle applies, where practicable, to all fines issued in relation to anti-social behaviour.

:: Requests that the executive director of corporate services reports back to cabinet on establishing a fly-tipping hardship fund, to reimburse residents who can demonstrate that they have paid to have fly-tipped rubbish removed from their neighbourhood or, where they can demonstrate they have removed it themselves, to reimburse their fuel costs.

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