While our local politicians waste time and energy arguing — over such matters as oddly awarded contracts to physios, maligning UKIPpers and who best represents the people, elected officials or pressure groups — there are serious problems to address.
We were shocked to discover the other week that fly tipping was costing Congleton Town Council around £2,500 per month. That’s a lot of money.
Ansa, the company owned by Cheshire East that collects household waste, has a fulltime crew whose sole job it is to clear up fly tipped waste.
As we report this week, Crewe has seen 1,000 reported fly tipping incidents in the last six months, and that’s sightings: if someone adds to fly tipped rubbish it’s not counted so the 1,000 reported incidents could be 2,000 or 3,000.
Crewe’s Coun Brian Roberts (Labour) sent out a Press release this week in which he had a pop at the ruling Tories (that’s his job, after all) but he also enclosed his speech, which made interesting reading.
We often assume that much of the waste we see round Congleton is from people doing cash in hand work and unable — or unwilling — to get a proper licence for its disposal.
Their customers are presumably unaware of where their building waste goes, or just don’t care, but Coun Roberts makes a more detailed analysis of the problems affecting his own local area.
He makes the point that areas of Crewe have changed “dramatically” over the past few years.
Terraced neighbourhoods that were cared for by their owners and long-term renters are now temporary homes for a transient population — we assume he means Poles and other Eastern Europeans — often subdivided into houses of multi occupancy. These are often illegal, either not registered or overcrowded; in either case they have insufficient bins.
Coun Roberts said that for many of the transient population, English was not their first language, so it was plausible that some people did not know that leaving rubbish on the pavement was not how it worked. (Lack of adequate cooking facilities often encourages frequent use of takeaways, which generates more rubbish, too).
We did some digging on this, expecting to find that Poland had similar fly tipping laws to the UK but this is not the case.
Ten million Poles live outside the EU wastewater system — ie, they’re not connected to sewers — which represents almost 25% of the country’s total population.
Poland lags behind the rest of Europe for recycling — as much as 71% of communal waste collected in Poland goes to landfill, compared to 26.1% in the UK (these are the latest figures we could find but they might be out of date).
“Waste management in Poland is a far cry from the models observed in Western European countries and Scandinavia,” said one report we found.* By the end of 2020, Poland’s municipalities will be required to recycle 50% (by weight) of paper, metal, plastic and glass. The UK also has to hit that 50% figure: we recycled 44.9% in 2014.
Coun Roberts made the point that Cheshire East Council should be spending money educating people, such as via billboards, posters or leaflets in all the languages spoken by local residents. Community groups including religious groups could be roped in to help. Schools could play a major role, too, as many children of migrant workers speak very good English.
But, as Coun Roberts said, many fly-tippers are natives of this country who know the rules but prefer “dumping vandalism”.
While Crewe’s high rates of fly tipping may be down to temporary workers not knowing the rules, this surely does not apply in the former Congleton borough, where we’d bet that most dumping is by locals and cash-in-hand workers from Stoke or other urban centres (how else to explain the constant dumping we see at places like Acker’s Crossing and Astbury?)
Cheshire East likes to say it is an enforcing council and Coun Roberts wants to see the same rigour devoted to fly tipping.
He said: “If there is a speeding problem on our roads the council provides big yellow cameras, speed bumps or radar flashing warnings, and those who don’t respond get swift enforcement action of a heavy fine issued within hours of the offence.
“We need this same level of commitment and the same swift enforcement.”
We would add that the council is equally swift to prosecute benefit claimants — and even faster putting out Press releases containing the phrase “enforcing council”.
The council recovered more than £1.3m in fraudulently obtained benefits in 2014 so clearly benefit fraud is more expensive than fly tipping, but it’s certainly less unsightly.
We concede that tracing fly-tippers is harder — it is easy to trace speeding drivers and benefit fraudsters, less so to trace the man who dumped an old mattress and some bricks at 10pm in the back lanes of Astbury.
Would secret cameras be acceptable? Small cameras are now common on the heads of cyclists and motorcyclists, and the police already have secret ANPR cameras.
More realistically, Coun Roberts is probably correct in saying that education is needed, though the sight of a stick might help when offering the carrot.
But it’s not just the people who dump that should be prosecuted, says Coun Roberts: bad landlords should also feel some of the “enforcing council’s” ire.
This is not only rogue landlords (and employment agencies) illegally packing houses out but those who fail (or refuse) to clear out rooms and houses between tenants; the incoming tenant often dumps dirty mattresses and household rubbish when they move in.
Coun Roberts said: “(Landlords) charge high weekly rents, making huge returns on their investment, and expect the rest of us to meet the costs of their exploitation of their tenants.”
Whatever the cause, fly tipping is being carried out by people who do not care about their towns and communities, and it’s not just transient workers with no culture of recycling and modern waste disposal, it’s scummy local landlords and small business working for cash in hand.
But as Coun Roberts says, whoever it is, we should at least be working towards them being enforced as keenly as speeding motorists and benefit fraudsters.
With that thought: happy Christmas and remember to recycle all that packaging that Santa’s elves use.
* Waste Management In Poland, by the Swiss Business Hub / Apax Consulting Group at sge.com/reports