Bishop of St Albans: Fly-tipping is not a victimless crime
Fly-tipping is environmental vandalism and it’s on the increase. To tackle the scourge of illegal dumping, we need to make waste disposal easier and prosecute those who blight our countryside, says the Bishop of St Albans
A few weeks ago, I met with a group from the Hertfordshire National Farmers’ Union. Within a few minutes the conversation turned to the subject of rural crime. As well as thefts of farm machinery and illegal hare coursing, they spoke passionately about the problems caused by fly-tipping, which all of them had experienced on their land.
With two-thirds of farmers and landowners being affected by fly-tipping, it is a major issue for those living in the countryside, and it’s getting worse.
Despite recent government efforts, incidents of fly-tipping rose by 43% last year, up from the near 1 million incidents recorded between 2015 and 2016. What should never be forgotten is that fly-tipping is not a victimless crime. Private landlords are forced to clean up the mess, sometimes costing them tens of thousands of pounds.
'Incidents of fly-tipping rose by 43% last year'
Anecdotally, I have heard stories of fields being abandoned after glass was dumped, as it was impossible to guarantee food safety. Elsewhere, farmers have been punished for inadequate cleaning of land devastated by fly-tipping.
For many in rural areas, fly-tipping is not the occasional sofa or broken fridge on the street
corner – however illegal, unpleasant and unacceptable that may be. It can be industrial waste, chemicals, or other forms of dangerous material which sit undiscovered on land meant to be natural habitats, feeding grounds for animals, or areas used for growing our food.
Rural areas are particularly susceptible to fly-tipping and perpetrators can be hard to catch, as the House of Lords Select Committee on the Rural Economy report noted.
Yet it is not just the problem of catching criminals that creates trouble for residents. Local authorities, especially in rural areas, are often responsible for large areas and the municipal waste and recycling plant may be many miles from residents’ homes. In addition many councils, due to budget pressures, have reduced opening hours or introduced charges to deal with waste.
These changes may make savings in the short term, but do not take into the account the costs to the local authority in clearing up the mess from fly-tipping, which is running at almost £60m annually.
A streamlined system for waste disposal can demonstrably deliver fewer instances of fly-tipping. In my own diocese, Hertfordshire Waste Partnership saw an 18% fall between 2016 and 2017.
Local authorities need to review their policies and take a long-term, holistic approach, such as the one highlighted by the recent resources and waste strategy from the government. Its recently produced Fly-Tipping Tool Kit is a welcome contribution to addressing this problem.
The government says it recognises the scale of the fly-tipping issue. Yet not all people appear to understand the pain and cost that this crime can cause. Indeed, the evidence shows that some police forces and local authorities take fly-tipping less seriously than others. The government argues that it has given magistrates additional powers, but clearly many are unaware of them, with 95% of those cases which are heard in court receiving fines of less than £1,000.
Many residents in the countryside feel that rural crimes are little understood by those in the courts. The government must start delivering for these communities and give clearer guidance to court sentencing on crimes such as fly-tipping, including the power to confiscate the vehicles which were used in the crime.
What became apparent over the recent Easter weekend was the public’s appetite for proper, concerted action on environmental protection. We need to build on this and encourage Neighbourhood Watch groups and others to be proactive in countering this crime.
In my role as a bishop, I have been keen to highlight this appalling problem and I have encouraged our congregations to take an active part in watching out for and reporting fly-tipping.
If parliamentarians are serious about reducing the scourge of fly-tipping, we need to raise public awareness, make waste disposal easier for law-abiding citizens, and punish criminals who blight our countryside by their crimes.
The Lord Bishop of St Albans is a non-affiliated peer