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Volume 745: debated on Tuesday 6 February 2024

In a moment, I will call Sarah Jones to move the motion. I will then call the Minister to respond. There will not be an opportunity to wind up, as is the convention for 30-minute debates, but I suspect there may be interventions from other colleagues, which of course is perfectly in order.

I beg to move,

That this House has considered the matter of fly-tipping.

Fly-tipping is a pernicious and inexcusable form of antisocial behaviour that causes great distress to many of my constituents. I will set out the extent of the problem, highlight some of the fantastic community efforts to address it, and then turn to the potential solutions. I have not secured this debate to score political points. The Minister may have a few pre-prepared lines, but I want this to be a constructive discussion about how we bring about change, and I hope he will respond in the same spirit. Many of my constituents have written to me with fantastic suggestions of what could be done. I am immensely grateful for their ideas and look forward to sharing them in the course of the debate.

Fly-tipping is a persistent and acute problem in Croydon, but it is not just a problem in Croydon. This blight on our communities should not be treated as some inevitable feature of city living—quite the opposite. The statistics show that fly-tipping affects all parts of our country. Around 3,000 incidents of fly-tipping hit communities across England every single day, costing local authorities up to £58 million each year. Worryingly, the mountain of rubbish being heaped on Britain’s streets is growing. Over the past two years, the number of large fly-tips that were tipper lorry-load size or larger has increased by 13%. Whether we live in rolling hills or in a concrete jungle, no one should have their neighbourhood polluted by piles of junk. People in Croydon are angry and frustrated at the persistence of fly-tipping on their streets, from Central Parade in New Addington to Gonville Road in Thornton Heath.

I thank the hon. Member for securing this important debate. She is obviously describing the situation in her constituency in Croydon, whereas I represent a rural constituency in Somerset—Somerton and Frome. Farmers experience fly-tipping on a massive scale. It costs them an enormous amount of money and time that they frankly do not have. Does she agree it is deeply unfair that farmers are often forced to cover the cost of removing the rubbish themselves and that it has an environmental impact on the countryside?

The hon. Member is absolutely right. This is a problem across the whole country, and we see it in different forms in different places. I am sure her farmers in Somerton and Frome are very frustrated at this persistent crime, as it is sometimes hard, particularly in rural areas, to catch those responsible. This is a big part of the cost that farmers bear, on top of all the other challenges they have to face, so she makes a good point.

Fly-tipping is dangerous. It is a public health hazard that attracts rats and vermin. I am frequently contacted about a hotspot on the corner of Sherwood Road and Lower Addiscombe Road in Croydon, where, as well as discarded mattresses and furniture, black bin bags filled with used nappies and sanitary products are being ripped open by foxes and strewn across the pavement. Fly-tipping is damaging to local economies. People living near London Road, a busy main road in my constituency, frequently tell me how frustrated they are by the rates of fly-tipping there. For areas that are home to many small businesses, cafés, grocers and hairdressers, the feeling of dirtiness and neglect that fly-tipping causes is far from helpful to their custom.

Fly-tipping is also unsightly, which is a problem in more than just an aesthetic sense. The environment we live in can have a profound impact on our sense of wellbeing. The streets we tread each day help to bind our communities together—that is, our neighbours, the staff of our favourite café and the postman. When streets are clean, we get more than cleanliness in return. Clean streets tell us that we are part of a community and that people take pride in the spaces they share, the memories they make there and the community they are part of. People in Croydon are immensely proud of their community. There is already a great deal of work being done to try to keep our streets clean. Rowenna Davis and Ellily Ponnuthurai, two Labour councillors in Waddon, have been fighting tirelessly to get the mess on Purley Way, probably one of the biggest fly-tips in London, cleared up.

The Litter Free Norbury group is doing fantastic voluntary work and frequently organises group litter-picking sessions. Croydon Council’s Love Clean Streets app, which allows users to report fly-tips for the council to clear them away, is very effective in getting fly-tips cleaned up. There are many individuals across the country, as well as in my patch, spending their free time cleaning up our streets. We recognise and commend their tenacity and their determination to make sure we can all enjoy our boroughs at their best, but we cannot and should not just rely on the generosity of community groups to address the problem; we need to prevent it in the first place.

In advance of this debate, many of my constituents wrote to me with many excellent ideas about how we tackle fly-tipping, but there is not enough time to outline them all. I will therefore focus on three. I am acutely aware that local authorities are severely limited by resources—the Government’s record on that is a debate for another time. The reality is that local authorities have to work much harder to use the resources they have to effectively tackle fly-tipping on a budget.

It is great to hear about the initiatives in the hon. Member’s constituency; perhaps I will be able to take some back to Somerset with me. Owing to the financial difficulties facing many authorities across the country, Somerset Council is considering closing up to five household waste recycling centres across the county, including one at Dimmer in my constituency, which will increase the likelihood of fly-tipping in what is an incredibly rural area. Does the hon. Member agree that we need to urgently give local authorities the funding required to keep important recycling centres open, particularly in rural areas, reducing the cost burden on our local authorities and also on our environment?

The hon. Lady makes another good point. We have seen, probably across the country, many areas where recycling centres have closed. If people do not have cars or if they struggle to travel, it is even more difficult for them to reach those areas. She is absolutely right. We could have a much wider debate about funding for local authorities, but I will focus on some of the ideas that some local authorities are using.

Under Newham Council and Keep Britain Tidy’s award-winning and innovative crime scene investigation approach, fly-tipping was cut by up 70%. Fly-tips were surrounded by bright yellow tape and left for a few days, to highlight their lasting impact on the area to perpetrators, before then being cleaned up. It was an imaginative approach and demonstrates the spirit that we need to combat a persistent problem. That is why the suggestions that follow are as much as possible aimed at utilising the powers that councils already have.

The first idea is mega-skips. Many people have told me that the accessibility of waste removal services and centres—the hon. Lady made this point—is a major barrier to bringing down levels of dumping. Nearly one in five jobs in my constituency is paid below the London living wage, yet services to dispose of bulky items of household waste are often expensive. On top of that, levels of car ownership in the borough are at record lows, putting recycling centres out of reach of many in our community.

One fantastic suggestion that I support is to replicate the mega-skip days run by Wandsworth Council, whereby skips are provided around the borough on certain days of the year so that residents can simply get rid of items for free. I hope the Minister will join me in encouraging Croydon and other councils to look at mega-skip days. Are they something that he would support?

The second idea is changing behaviours. Many who wrote to me were dismayed by the feeling that fly-tippers were getting away without facing any consequences. That is extremely understandable, given that official statistics show that Croydon is the second easiest place in the country to fly-tip and get away fine-free. Last year Croydon Council issued just 10 fixed penalty notices, despite recording more than 20,000 instances of fly-tipping.

I congratulate the hon. Lady on securing this debate, and it is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Paisley. She raises a really important point about fixed penalty notices. So often people are literally dumping waste, especially in the countryside, on an industrial scale, costing local authorities across the country hundreds of thousands of pounds—indeed, millions of pounds. The deterrent is not there, so does the hon. Lady agree that increasing quite dramatically the fixed penalty notice that local authorities can charge the people they catch would help, but that we should also send a message to magistrates, so that people know that fly-tipping is not worth it, because when they are taken to court—as South Staffordshire Council has done—they will be hit with very hard penalties?

The right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. If we look at the stats that I just cited—more than 20,000 instances of fly-tipping and only 10 fixed penalty notices—it is clear that people feel that they can get away with it. Of course we need more enforcement and appropriate punishment, when it is right to do that. This is a really pernicious, horrible crime, and the response in our courts should reflect that.

The promise that crimes will have consequences is central to our justice system. One idea that I think is interesting is Merton Council’s wall of shame, which puts that principle into action. The council uses its roaming CCTV to capture images of fly-tippers, and it puts those images up as posters around fly-tipping hotspots. Merton has only just started doing that, but it achieved seen results. Merton has even filmed, with the CCTV, people coming with their rubbish and looking at the poster and then walking away, because they realise that there might be consequences to their actions. What Merton is doing could be something that the Minister might look at on a more national scale.

Next, I want to talk about having a strategy. As we have established, fly-tipping is widespread across the country. Croydon Council has focused on blitz clean-up approaches to hotspots, which is a good in itself, but I agree with the suggestion that I have had from many constituents that a more joined-up approach is needed. Each council—Croydon Council being one—should develop a fly-tipping strategy that explores the root causes of fly-tipping, identifies the hotspots in each borough, outlines what tools the council already has at its disposal, and produces a plan to deploy those tools to address the problem. Let me give one example of councils using the resources that they have. Several councils use their YouTube page to show pictures of perpetrators of fly-tipping—again, to try to shock people into realising that they are committing an offence and should stop.

I am grateful to have had this debate to highlight the pestilence that is fly-tipping, to commend community efforts to address it and to outline some ways to address it. Everyone deserves to live in a neighbourhood that they feel proud of. The levels of fly-tipping in Croydon and across the country are completely unacceptable. I am suggesting to Croydon Council that it set up mega-skip days to provide freely available skips so that residents can more easily get rid of unwanted items for free, that it set up a fly-tippers wall of shame—learn from Merton Council and publicise images of fly-tippers—and that it approach fly-tipping strategically. We need to use the enforcement measures and other tools that we have, look at what we can do in the online space, and develop a fly-tipping strategy to tackle the problem across the borough. We cannot and must not allow this situation to continue. We know that there are solutions. We know that things can be done. I want to see a future in which fly-tipping is drastically reduced, and I look forward to working with the local community, council and Government to clean up Croydon.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Paisley. I thank the hon. Member for Croydon Central (Sarah Jones) for tabling this important debate. I also thank right hon. and hon. Members for their contributions. I will pick up on the points that have been raised. I know from my own constituency, from Keighley and Ilkley, just how much of a nuisance fly-tipping can be in our areas and in relation to the wellbeing of our communities. It is an absolute disgrace that it happens as much as it does across all our constituencies, whether they are urban or rural environments. Fly-tipping harms the environment, blights our local communities and burdens our local economy. The estimated cost of fly-tipping to the UK was £392 million in 2018-19. The reports of fly-tipping are higher today. Local authorities reported more than a million fly-tipping instances in 2022-23 and over 80% of farmers say that they have been affected by fly-tipping on their land. We are all familiar with the financial implications when they are left to deal with the consequences of waste left on their property.

In recent years, we have given councils tougher powers and grants to tackle fly-tipping hotspots, and have worked with stakeholders to co-design a fly-tipping toolkit to help landowners, councils and businesses to tackle common issues. The latest statistics may show that the tide is beginning to turn, with fly-tipping on public land down for the second year running, but we know that there is much more to do.

I want to turn to some of the key themes raised in the debate, before picking up on some of the ideas that the hon. Member for Croydon Central proposed. In March last year, the Prime Minister published the antisocial behaviour action plan, which sets out the steps the Government would like to take to support councils to take tougher action to deter people from fly-tipping, and punish those who have done so.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has been delivering against those commitments at pace. In July, the maximum penalty councils can issue for fly-tipping was increased significantly from £400 to £1,000. We also increased the penalty for householders who gave waste to a fly-tipper from £400 to £600. That builds on other powers that councils have, such as the ability to seize vehicles suspected of being involved in fly-tipping.

I thank the Minister for pointing out that the amount councils can charge in a fixed-penalty fine has gone up. Would the Minister look at that, so that instead of £600 it could be £2,000 or £3,000 and is a real disincentive to fly-tipping?

I was about to come on to that point. My right hon. Friend makes an important point, but the challenge at the moment is that, although that power is available to many local authorities, the uptake in prosecutions is not there, even at the higher rate of £1,000. Many local authorities do not issue any prosecutions in a year. We have to ask why a power that is available to many local authorities is not being used. Rather than simply look at increasing the penalty, the first step of deterrence must be to ensure that local authorities use the powers awarded to them.

I am pleased to see that some councils such as Buckinghamshire Council and West Northamptonshire Council have begun to adopt those higher rates, showing that those crimes are being taken seriously in those areas. We want councils to make greater use of the income they receive from those penalties. From 1 April, that income will be ringfenced in law, to improve and expand enforcement capability, and clean up mess from fly-tippers. Local authorities will be able to ringfence for those offences if they wish.

We have also increased scrutiny of how councils are using those powers through the publication of our fly-tipping enforcement league tables, which are now in their second iteration. Those show that some councils are already taking the fight to these criminals. As I have said, however, some councils, with significant fly-tipping issues, are barely scratching the surface, and are not issuing any fixed-penalty notices in the first place. We have to ensure that those penalties are imposed, to create a deterrent. The Department has written to those councils, reaffirming expectations that they should take tougher action, and encouraging them to reach out to others to learn how better to tackle fly-tipping.

The overarching goals of enforcement should be to change the behaviour of those who offend and to deter others from doing so. It has been our long-standing position that penalties should never have to be used to raise revenue, but when they are utilised we expect that local authorities can ringfence those funds to help to cement our priority of reducing fly-tipping waste.

Fly-tipping is a serious crime, and offenders can face an unlimited fine and imprisonment if convicted in court. It is right that councils use the full extent of these powers to prosecute where appropriate, and we are helping them to do that effectively. We have engaged legal experts and worked with the National Fly-Tipping Prevention Group to produce a guide in 2021 on how councils and others can build robust court cases—and I am pleased to see that the average court fine has since increased by 12%. We will continue to explore other options to further strengthen sentences, such as working with magistrates and judicial colleagues, to raise awareness of the severity of fly-tipping and the harm it causes.

We are also funding councils across the country to directly intervene at fly-tipping hotspots. Across two rounds of fly-tipping grant schemes we have now awarded £1.2 million to help more than 30 councils. However, it is disappointing that some councils want to close their household waste and recycling centres. Indeed, in my own constituency of Keighley, Bradford Council wants to close a household waste and recycling centre in Ilkley, and the Sugden End HWRC in the Worth valley. The hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Sarah Dyke) mentioned this issue as well.

I would urge local authorities to look at the negative consequences associated with fly-tipping as a result of closing household waste and recycling centres. I would urge them to keep those centres open, because the negative financial consequences could outweigh the positives.

My point was that local councils are being forced to close household waste and recycling centres because of the lack of funding. Many councils are now in a financial crisis and on a cliff edge; they are having to make some very stark, difficult and heartbreaking decisions.

We know in Somerset—a very rural area—how important those household waste and recycling centres are. Closing them is the last thing the council would like to do, but it needs the funds to keep them open and ensure we prevent fly-tipping in the beautiful area we live in. I urge the Minister to consider giving councils more funding to ensure that we can keep those household waste and recycling centres open, and avoid any detriment for our countryside.

I thank the hon. Lady for her interventions, but I would add that councils need to look at the negative implications associated with the financial cost of increased fly-tipping as a result of closing household waste and recycling centres. That will be a cost to the taxpayer that local authorities should pick up. Closing household waste and recycling centres should be an absolute last resort, and it is frustrating to see that option being explored, particularly in my own area.

In addition, many councils are installing CCTV in hotspot areas, with others using funds to place physical barriers such as fencing in those areas. Case studies have been published so that councils can learn from others about where those interventions have been most successful. For example, in the area covered by Durham County Council fly-tipping has been reduced by over 60% in places where CCTV was installed on existing lighting columns, and Dover District Council has seen a 100% reduction in fly-tipping at hotspots where beautification measures, such as planters, have been installed.

That brings me to the point made by the hon. Member for Croydon Central. We need to take a partnership-led approach where we work not just with local authorities but with the police and community organisations to identify hotspot areas and ensure that we take a collective approach to tackling fly-tipping and other negative consequences, which can lead to crime in those areas. We have pledged £1 million of further support for local authorities, which will be awarded in the spring, to help even more councils to deal with this issue.

Of course, it is not all down to councils. We work with the National Fly-Tipping Prevention Group, which includes organisations such as the National Police Chiefs' Council and the Environment Agency, to identify issues and create the tools that organisations need to tackle this issue. That includes a guide on setting up and running effective local fly-tipping partnerships, drawing on the success of members such as the Hertfordshire Fly Tipping Group, where information sharing between partners allows for predictive mapping of hotspot sites, and the Kent Resource Partnership, where partnership working led to the recent closure of the Hoad’s Wood waste site due to illegal dumping. The point is that it takes all organisations working in partnership to drive down the negative implications of fly-tipping.

Members have mentioned the negative implications of fly-tipping for our rural areas, and we appreciate the difficulty and cost for landowners. Through the National Fly-Tipping Prevention Group, we work with stakeholders such as the National Farmers Union and the Country Land and Business Association to promote and disseminate good practice, including how to prevent fly-tipping on private land. However, we recognise that there is much more to do, which is why we committed in our “Unleashing rural opportunity” paper to fund a post within the National Rural Crime Unit to explore how the role of the police in tackling fly-tipping can be optimised, with a focus specifically on rural areas. That will include training for police officers and work on intelligence sharing across borders. I suspect that my right hon. Friend the Member for South Staffordshire (Sir Gavin Williamson) and others realise that there are complications when acting across borders, particularly in rural environments, and that collective sharing of intelligence is incredibly important for tackling waste crime. Yesterday I was pleased to welcome PC Phil Nock to his new role, which deals with this specific issue.

Citizens have a vital role to play in tackling fly-tipping, as nearly two thirds of such incidents involve household waste. To help people dispose of their rubbish responsibly, we recently banned charges for household do-it-yourself waste at local household waste and recycling centres, enabling householders to take DIY waste there free of charge. Householders must check the register of waste carriers to avoid giving their waste to illegal man-and-van operators, who promise quick, cheap waste collection but only go to dump their waste on private property or on our streets. Councils can fine individuals who give their waste to a fly-tipper, and I have mentioned that the cost has increased from £400 to £600. We have also worked with the National Fly-Tipping Prevention Group and communications experts within government to produce tools to help councils and others raise awareness of the household and business waste duty of care. These tools will be published in the spring and build on communication materials available on the National Fly-Tipping Prevention Group website.

Educating households and businesses about the importance of using registered waste carriers should reduce the amount of waste handled by rogue operators. As well as reducing the burden on local authorities’ budgets of cleaning up fly-tipping on public land, it could help to protect private landowners, who are also victims of fly-tipping. Our upcoming reforms to how waste carriers, brokers and dealers are regulated, and the introduction of mandatory digital waste tracking, will make it easier for regulators to identify where waste is mishandled and take action. In particular, the requirement for waste carriers to place their permit number on advertising will make it easier for the public and others to identify illegal waste operators and report them.

I want to pick up on a couple of the suggestions made by the hon. Member for Croydon Central. She mentioned a wall of shame, which I have seen operate in other local authority areas across the country. Personally, I think that is a good idea, but it is already in the gift of local authorities. As she identified, it has been utilised in Merton and other areas. That is good, because it is about holding individuals to account in their local area.

The hon. Lady mentioned mega-skip days. The only thing I would say is that we do not have control over what waste is going into the skips, and we want to encourage as many people as possible to use household waste and recycling centres. However, it may be something that local authorities want to explore in certain hotspot areas.

The Government are committed to continuing to drive down fly-tipping on our streets and in our countryside. Through tough enforcement and regulation, better education and improved infrastructure, we will put a stop to waste criminals.

Question put and agreed to.

Sitting suspended.