The Committee considered a report of the Corporate Director of Neighbourhoods and Climate Change which provided an annual update on Durham County Council’s work to address flytipping issues (for copy of report and presentation see file of minutes).
Ian Hoult, Neighbourhood Protection Manager, introduced the report and delivered a presentation summarising Durham’s approach to tackling flytipping and the importance of its contribution towards the ambitions of the Council Plan. The Committee noted that during the Covid-19 pandemic there was an increase in all types of waste generated, however, following the pandemic, the number of flytipping incidents had reduced. The Neighbourhood Protection Manager highlighted that since 2013-14, with the exception of the pandemic period, Durham’s rate of flytipping incidents per thousand of the population had reduced, whilst the national rate had increased. A table comparing Durham’s performance with regional neighbours showed that over the past two years, only Stockton had a lower flytipping rate, per thousand of the population, than Durham.
The Committee noted that flytipping hotspots were generally within larger conurbations and household waste accounted for approximately two-thirds of the total amount of waste flytipped in County Durham, which reflected the national picture.
The Neighbourhood Protection Manager spoke of education and awareness campaigns including ‘your waste, your responsibility’, to spread the message that the public are responsible for ensuring their waste is disposed of correctly. In addition, public engagement is encouraged through initiatives such as the ‘Big Spring Clean’ and Neighbourhood Wardens use social media to share information with the public on activity within communities.
Information was provided on the partnership approach with housing associations, town and parish councils, the Environment Agency, County Durham Fire and Rescue Service and the police. The Neighbourhood Protection Manager gave an account of a day in the life of a flytipping officer, who, in a typical day, will work with partners to resolve issues and investigate lines of enquiry. The Committee also received details of CCTV camera deployment and how it was assisting to secure prosecutions. Funding from DEFRA’s Flytipping Intervention grant had been used to target flytipping in urban areas and to develop an e-learning course, which followed the successful e-learning course for those caught littering.
The Neighbourhood Protection Manager concluded the presentation by outlining areas of focus for the future including social media campaigns, increased targeted surveillance and the development of the e-learning package.
Councillor Wilkes, Cabinet Portfolio Holder for Neighbourhoods and Climate Change commented that the work undertaken over the past eighteen months had led to significant positive change. He gave the view that this success was due to the re-organisation of the management structure, changes to the operation of the Neighbourhood Warden service and to the excellent work of officers. Councillor Wilkes was pleased to see the council was publicising positive stories of prosecutions which he believed was making the public rethink their attitude towards the disposal of waste. He highlighted that the number of fines issued in the past financial year amounted to more than those issued in the previous five years combined and he added that he would like to see flytipping fines increased to provide a greater disincentive. Councillor Wilkes also spoke of how having a dedicated team to deal with yards and gardens enabled issues at ground level to be kept in check and helped to prevent wider flytipping problems. He commended the Neighbourhood Protection team whose work was evidenced in the visible improvements he had witnessed. Councillor Wilkes concluded by thanking the Environment and Sustainable Communities Overview and Scrutiny Committee for their critical challenge to drive improvements.
Councillor Martin noted the recent increase in income from prosecutions and the number of fixed penalty notices issued and asked how this had been achieved. The Neighbourhood Protection Manager commented that it had been observed recently that courts seemed to be more inclined to impose heavier fines in respect of flytipping and there was a greater emphasis on enforcement. Improvements in technology were assisting and the recruitment of additional Neighbourhood Wardens helped the service to tackle the wider impact and target flytipping hotspots.
Councillor Adam noted the charts in the report showed steady progress since 2013 and expressed the view that the restructure had undoubtedly been a contributing factor. He expressed concern that two-thirds of the total waste flytipped was generated by households and he questioned whether it was, in fact, household waste or whether it was generated by rogue-traders. The Neighbourhood Protection Manager pointed out that flytipping accounts for a small proportion of the overall volume of waste. He explained that in response to the increase in fly-tipping incidents during the Covid-19 pandemic, there had been additional investment in funding for cameras in urban areas. Steps had been taken with regard to raising householders’ awareness that they have a duty of care to take reasonable steps to ensure that their waste is being disposed of correctly. In response to a question from Councillor Adam regarding the placement of CCTV cameras, the Neighbourhood Protection Manager responded that cameras are placed to gain a long-view of the high street, to avoid any intrusion of residents’ privacy and that more detailed information on specific locations in particular wards could be provided.
Councillor Wilkes emphasised the importance of tackling issues at an early stage and the vital role residents play in providing information to enable the service to stay ahead and deal with issues as and when they occur.
In response to a question from Councillor Atkinson as to enforcement action in the Ferryhill area, the Neighbourhood Protection Manager offered to speak to Councillor Atkinson to provide information in respect of his ward.
In response to a number of questions from Councillor Nicholls, the Neighbourhood Protection Manager provided the following information. With regard to incidents of flytipping in rural areas which are difficult to locate, the service was aware of the issue and regular customer service meetings were held and improvements were being made to the use of the ‘what3words’ app.
Councillor Nicholls had observed a culture of leaving large items outside houses for long periods of time whilst awaiting collection and he asked if the service could provide a notice for residents to use, which would indicate that an item was awaiting a bulky waste collection. The Neighbourhood Protection Manager highlighted that the public are instructed to place bulky waste outside the night before it is due for collection and he added that Neighbourhood Wardens could help to identify bulky waste. The Neighbourhood Protection Manager informed the Committee that the educational stickers were currently being updated and would be circulated to Members for distribution. Councillor Nicholls commented that it would be helpful if ward Members could be updated prior to a press release relating to enforcement action. The Neighbourhood Protection Manager noted the comment however he pointed out that there may be time constraints with regard to publication of press releases.
Councillor Stubbs referred to the table showing the deployment of CCTV cameras and the number of incidents caught and he remarked on the increase during 2021-22 and asked for further information. The Neighbourhood Protection Manger clarified that, the reference to the ‘number of incidents caught’ referred to the number of incidents when a person had been caught flytipping which may then lead to the issue of a fixed penalty notice or prosecution, depending upon the circumstances. He added that cameras were in situ for longer time periods in locations which are known to be flytipping hotspots.
Members asked for information on the engagement work with housing associations and the Neighbourhood Protection Manager gave an example of the sharing of information when a yard or garden job is received. The housing association will often have the benefit of an existing relationship with the tenant and the information provided by the service may also benefit the association by alerting it to possible problems occurring within the property.
That the report be noted.