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Agenda item

Environmental Campaigns Update

Minutes:

Members of the Safer and Stronger Communities Overview and Scrutiny Committee, County Councillor P Crathorne and Parish Councillor Dexter representing Bishop Middleham Parish Council had been invited to attend the meeting for this agenda item.

 

The Committee considered the report of the Corporate Director of Neighbourhoods and Climate Change that provided Members with a progress report on environmental campaigns including fly-tipping.

 

The Head of Environment was in attendance to present the report and deliver a presentation that looked at four different campaigns, ‘Operation Stop It’, ‘Operation Spruce Up’, ‘In Bloom/Streetscene’ and ‘Find and Fix’ and the impact of COVID-19 on the relevant service areas delivering the various campaigns. Although the campaigns are very different they share a common approach of education, involvement /participation, operation and ultimately enforcement (for copy of report and presentation, see file of minutes).

 

The Head of Environment indicated that the number of fly tipping incidents in County Durham had reduced over several years which bucked the national trend, but this figure had increased over quarter one 2020/2021. It was understood that the vast majority of fly tipping was either black bin bags or old furniture and this in part could be attributed to the household waste recycling centres being closed at the beginning of lockdown, more people being at home and the redeployment of wardens to other services during lockdown period.

 

The presentation summarised enforcement actions taken over a period of five years and included the first two quarters of 2020/2021 which indicated that more vehicles had been seized during these two quarters than in the previous two years.

 

Operation Spruce up had been successful and had involved local people working together with the Council to improve their communities. Surveys carried out following Spruce Up initiatives indicated that 90% of residents whose communities had benefitted from the scheme had seen an improvement.

 

Find and Fix is similar to Operation Spruce Up, but where there was a lot of preliminary work with Spruce Up, Find and Fix is on a much smaller scale. Teams proactively look at where jobs are needed to be done, or where people have highlighted areas of concern and carry out the required work and then move on to the next job. There are four teams of three that are multi skilled, which has added to the speed of the work undertaken. The Head of Environment advised that it was hoped to boost the capacity of the teams with apprentices. The scheme began recently and to date had undertaken 122 jobs in 13 locations and had received positive feedback.

 

The ‘In Bloom’ and ‘Streetscene’ campaigns have involved communities working with council operations in creating beautiful open spaces. Although some of the In Bloom and Streetscene campaigns did not go ahead in 2020 such as the Big Spring Clean, the Garden Treasures events did proceed with strong interest from the public. The Head of Environment highlighted a new initiative which is being trialled to address littering where people caught littering have the opportunity to reduce their £100/150 fixed penalty notice (FPN) fine to a £65 FPN fine if they agree to take part in a e-learning course about littering. This type of enforcement is the first of its kind by a local authority and initial feedback received is positive.

 

The Chair thanked the Officer for his presentation and commented that it was interesting to see how schemes had developed and he hoped the find and fix campaign would have an impact like the other campaigns. It was about encouraging and supporting the community to make them aware that fly-tipping was unacceptable, and education was a key feature.

 

Councillor Avery referred to his ward and congratulated the Head of Environment for the work undertaken, but highlighted that residents were leaving out their refuse bins and that there were issues with contamination in bins which had resulted in the bins not been emptied. He asked about education for residents to alleviate these issues.

 

The Officer responded that there were a number of areas within the County with similar challenges. The service approach started with education, they had roving recycling staff who would give advice about what goes in which bin but due to the current restrictions this was not being carried out on a face to face basis. They were currently looking at further promotion in relation to residents getting their bins in after collection with the use of localised signage or letters and staff labelling the bins. Enforcement would be used where necessary as a last resort.

 

Councillor Milburn commended the Find and Fix scheme and referred to fly-tipping and asked if the service had considered using the ‘what3words app’ to pinpoint locations of incidents rather than describe the location. She continued that the use of this app would be of particular benefit in rural or remote locations.

 

The Officer responded that this was an excellent suggestion, they did have some incidents where fly tipping had been reported but where no fly-tipping was found at the supposed location and using the app would help staff to find and deal with the fly tip, he would take Councillor Milburn’s suggestion forward.

 

Councillor Boyes referred to covert cameras paid for by Members and asked for an update on where the cameras were deployed and how many cameras were still in operation. He then referred to Household Waste Recycling Centres (HWRC) in neighbouring local authorities where an appointment system is used and suggested that residents from outside the area were maybe using Durham County Council’s Recycling Centres and this may have contributed to the queues at Durham recycling sites as currently proof of address was not required. He then referred to empty homes in the Easington area and the high number of fly-tipping incidents in the back yards of the terraced properties and asked what the authority could do to make them less attractive to fly tippers as they also became a target for arsonists.

 

The Officer responded that he would get back to Councillor Boyes with the precise number of covert cameras in operation, but he was aware that a number of cameras had been stolen or damaged. Technology had also moved on and devices were now much smaller and more accurate. Members were not advised of where cameras had been deployed on a case by case basis but they had successfully deployed them which had resulted in a number of prosecutions, he would look at how they could update members whilst still maintaining an element of discretion regarding location of where the cameras were deployed.

 

With regard to the HWRCs, the Officer advised that there was no intelligence to confirm that there was any great cross border movement at the centres. Anyone who was issued with a permit for the HWRC had to be a resident within County Durham to obtain a permit. They were currently looking at a booking system but had found that a booking system could delay visits and could cause traffic management issues if residents turned up without an appointment, but this was something that they would review.

 

In relation to empty homes and fly-tipping, the service initially contacted landlords and issued community protection warnings and notices requiring them to remove their waste. However, this sometimes resulted in the rubbish being moved to another empty property and the whole process started again. Landlords were now required as part of the notice to provide evidence as to where the waste had been taken and by an authorised carrier, this was helping to address the situation. The service had also targeted areas to make it more difficult to dump waste. The Residential Landlords Accreditation Scheme might offer opportunities via incentives or standards.

 

Councillor Kay sought clarification if the HWRC were currently closed due to the second lockdown. The Member was advised that the HWRCs were currently open except for temporary closures.

 

Councillor Kay indicated that due to the lockdown residents were generating more household waste and asked if the capacity to recycle at HWRCs could be increased.

 

Members were advised that the service was operating within government guidance and regulations keeping the HWRCs open. They were also putting extra resources into the bulky waste collections that had been busy. He would go into further details in his later presentation on Household Waste Management.

 

Councillor Coult thanked the Head of Environment and his team for the phenomenal work that had been put in and that they had done an exceptional job which should be recognised. She then referred to education and training and how COVID-19 had impacted on work that was undertaken by the service with children and asked if there were any plans in place to develop online educational training which would also enhance the number of schools that could receive training.

 

The Officer thanked Councillor Coult for the kind words that he would pass onto the teams. He advised that they were looking to expand the online resource and the civic pride team had been developing these resources and were in the phase of starting to roll out the online resources. They were also looking to expand the e learning element for littering to cover items such as dog fouling.

 

Councillor Sexton thanked the Find and Fix team for the clean up in his ward where they had transformed a shopping area that needed attention. He then referred to cameras and how he had problems with fly-tipping in the rural area at the edge of his ward and asked if members funded a camera would they be able to influence where the camera was located as he would want the camera he funded to be located in his ward. He also suggested that fines for fly-tipping should be increased, he understood the educational element but if fines were increased this may deter people and asked if there was any evidence that this would be effective.

 

The Officer responded that members views on the location of the deployed cameras were taken into consideration as much as possible and they occasionally worked with the police so that they could use number plate recognition which should be located in areas where there was not large volumes of traffic. Members were informed that there was a risk to the smaller cameras which were easily stolen.

 

The Officer advised that the service was getting six larger cameras that could go out in more urban areas and may be able to deal with localised issues. Fines for fly-tipping carried a maximum of £50,000 and in some cases up to 12 months imprisonment in a Magistrates Court and in a Crown Court the offence could attract an unlimited fine and up to five years imprisonment. However, the courts make the decision on fines within their guidelines and the council has no influence on this. Durham County Council can issue fixed penalty notice of £400 and the number issued had increased. In addition to the fixed penalty notice if a vehicle had been identified with a fly-tipping incident then the Council could seize the vehicle.

 

Councillor Crathorne commented that her ward has had a great deal of fly-tipping issues over the last year in areas where there were no cameras or no one to witness the incidents. She referred to people who had lost their jobs during the pandemic and did not have the finances to pay for a bulky waste collection and asked if the Council could look at reducing the costs of bulky waste collections so that it was more affordable and prevent fly-tiping. She then referred to education and awareness and asked when a resident gets building work on their property are they required to check that the business/contractor has in place the necessary waste permits.

 

The Officer indicated that HWRCs were free, but he appreciated that not everyone had access to a vehicle. The service tried to keep the cost of bulky waste collections to a minimum with the current cost being £16 for six small items or three large items and the current cost was the cheapest in the region. Members had discretion with their local funding and could fund a community skip if there were issues in an area. Residents using a business to take away their rubbish should be asking for evidence as to where their waste was going to ensure it was legitimate. Residents could check this by using the Environment Agency website to ensure the business had a waste carriers’ licence and that spot checks were carried out by enforcement Wardens. He then advised Members that the service were looking to proactively carry out test purchases similar to those carried out by Community Protection Services, as part of the enforcement element.

 

Parish Councillor Dexter indicated that her parish council had asked about additional cameras that they would fund but they had not yet reached a satisfactory agreement with Durham County Council. They had problems in rural areas and were interested in the number plate recognition cameras as this may be something that the parish could look at in more detail. She then referred to the gap in the campaigns that the council run as householders would not know to ask a contractor/ business about a waste carriers permit and suggested an enhanced awareness programme to local residents about the process regarding waste carrier licenses so that residents were more responsible.

 

The Officer responded that we can always do more education with householders and when we do track back some of the fly-tipping material and in a number of incidents the householder was shocked, they gave their waste in good faith without realising they had a responsibility for the disposal of the waste. The Council do have enforcement powers in this regard but had not gone down this route, they could start issuing fines to households, but they wanted to go down the education route first. With regard to the cameras he would pick this up with the team but there was a limit on what they could do with cameras as they had to be located in places where they would not capture innocent activity and generally had to be in places out of the way which may discount a number of areas, otherwise you would need a RIPA (Regulatory Investigation of Powers Act 2000) authorisation. If RIPA was required, then the Council would need to apply to a magistrate for the authority.

 

Councillor Stephenson referred to the online reporting system for Members to report incidents and found the list for forms limited and asked if there was an opportunity to look at having a search facility.

 

The Officer indicated that he would welcome a further discussion about the system and specifics so that they could refine the system.

 

The Chair commented that there was an opportunity for members to feed into the online system to suggest improvements.

 

Resolved: That the report and presentation be noted.

Supporting documents:

 

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