Sunderland council chiefs warn of major crackdown on environmental crime

Council bosses have pledged to take a “zero-tolerance” approach towards waste crimes after handing out hundreds of fines this year.

Thursday, 19th December 2019, 4:45 pm
Updated Tuesday, 24th December 2019, 1:18 am

In 2017, Sunderland City Council adopted a new environmental policy in response to calls for a tougher stance against litter bugs.

While staffing has presented challenges for the environmental service in the past, recent investment has boosted numbers.

Now, the council has a team of six enforcement officers, four support officers and a dedicated officer for the north of Sunderland.

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Ahead of new recruits starting next year, senior officers have said a hard line will be taken against anyone flouting the rules.

“We’re at the point now where the appetite for a zero-tolerance approach to environmental enforcement is definitely there,” said environmental services manager, Nicky Rowland.

“Before that, we were very educational and the attitude was that we wanted to give people every opportunity and not enforce unnecessarily.

“It’s at a point now where everyone knows that you don’t drop litter, don’t fly-tip in the back lanes and there’s a proper way of dealing with your waste.”

Nicky Rowland was speaking at a meeting of the East Sunderland Area Committee on December 10 in an update to councillors.

She said main issues for the council included domestic waste and fly-tipped waste in rear lanes from small van loads or car boots.

It comes after the Echo launched its Clean Streets campaign in December 2017 in response to readers’ concerns about the cleanliness of public spaces across Sunderland.

Backed by Sunderland City Council, the campaign calls on the public to take pride in their community, and report any incidents of fly-tipping and littering.

Since April, the council has completed 16 prosecutions related to environmental crimes from fly-tipping to people dropping cigarette butts.

The data, from April to November, saw the council give out 308 fixed penalty notices for waste offences, with over half related to littering (175).

There was also a huge spike in fines for dog control orders with 49 over the period compared to just one in 2018/19.

Nicky Rowland said the figures demonstrated the council’s changing stance from education to enforcement.

“The council is not prepared to tolerate this any longer, the education is done,” she told the meeting.

“We will still provide advice and support where necessary but now the enforcement policy is just that.

“We will look in the first instance to serve a fixed penalty notice if we can prove, beyond all reasonable doubt, that someone is guilty.

“Where there’s a public interest, we would also elect to prosecute.”

People who fail to take a ‘duty of care’ around disposing waste, using unlicensed operators for example, may also have to stump up cash if the waste is found fly-tipped elsewhere.

As an alternative to a fine in this situation, the guilty party could be asked to pay a share of the council’s clean-up costs.

Conservative opposition councillor, Robert Oliver, added: “I think it’s really pleasing that enforcement is so much firmer.

“I think you’re absolutely right, do we really need to spend so much on educating people about things they should really know anyway?”