How Barnet is winning the war on fly-tipping

Barnet Council has eliminated industrial-scale dumping and drastically reduced the number of smaller fly-tips in its borough over the past two years. Johnathan Schroder explains how

Barnet was once a haven for industrial fly-tippers, but in the past two years the amount of construction and demolition waste dumped in the north London borough has dropped from 10,000 tonnes to zero. So how did it achieve this incredible statistic?

The Government decided to focus on Barnet as one of 11 case studies put together by the Jill Dando Institute of Crime Science in a Defra-commissioned project investigating the causes, incentives and solutions for fly-tipping.

A leafy, sprawling and fast growing outer suburb of London, Barnet is home to around 335,000 people and a vibrant, prosperous and attractive place to live. It has a plethora of parks and open spaces and is proud of its 'clean, green and safe' appearance and reputation. The council realised action needed to be taken when thousands of tonnes of rubble and other waste were being dumped in beauty spots, alleyways and industrial estates.

The reasons for fly-tipping are numerous - while some people are simply lazy and happy to take advantage of the council's rapid response to clearing fly-tipped materials, many unwittingly hand over their waste for a fee less than that of hiring a skip to illegal waste carriers who subsequently dump the rubbish elsewhere.

On the road for combat
As far as industrial-scale fly-tipping is concerned, several major arterial roads including the M1, A406 and A41 run through Barnet, which provided potential fly-tippers with a quick and easy getaway after dumping their loads. But by studying locational trends, identifying hotspots and appointing a full-time fly-tip investigations officer, Barnet introduced effective measures to stop the fly-tippers between 2004 and the present day. This has eliminated industrial-scale dumping and massively reduced the number of smaller-scale fly-tips.

Measures included strategic CCTV investment, the introduction of handheld computers for street enforcement officers and the use of abandoned vehicle legislation to take untaxed known fly-tipping vehicles off the road. The results have been spectacular.

In January 2004, the council was informed of a known fly-tipping vehicle parked in a residential street, loaded with construction and demolition waste and displaying a fake tax disc. The registered owner of the vehicle denied ownership, so the council seized it and crushed it, which not surprisingly attracted considerable media attention, both from the press and television.

Media reports did not draw attention to the use of abandoned vehicle legislation, so the more helpful message that fly-tipping vehicles would be crushed was to the fore. As a result, the council reported significant drops in fly-tipping during the weeks following the action.

More recently legislation was used to prosecute a driver caught with a lorry loaded with household and building waste, for not being registered with the Environment Agency as a waste carrier. The driver was fined £700 plus costs by magistrates in August 2006.

Teamwork lends weight to a targeted approach
Increased emphasis on partnership working has also had a significant impact on fly-tipping levels in the borough. Barnet works with the police, Environment Agency, HM Revenue & Customs and the Vehicle & Operator Services Agency (VOSA) to conduct multi-agency swoops on fly-tipping hotspots such as Staples Corner in West Hendon and Scratch Wood service station in Edgware.

As a result, between 2004-5 and 2005-6, the number of reports of small scale waste has decreased by more than 1,400 incidents. And, as one such operation in September 2005 proved, this type of partnership working can achieve a range of positive outcomes. Although the main aim of that operation was targeting potential fly-tippers, three of the lorries stopped at Scratch Wood service station were seized for running on laundered fuel, or 'red diesel'.

Barnet has also significantly reduced opportunities for dumpers by installing preventative measures in all its open spaces. Back in 2001, initially to respond to the increasing frequency of traveller incursions, the council blocked off vehicular access to all open spaces in the borough - ranging from two-foot steel tubes around park perimeters, to telescopic anti-ram bollards and height barriers at entrances. The work cost less than £400,000 and had a significant effect on the amount of rubbish being dumped on green spaces.

The council has also made considerable efforts to increase public awareness of the waste disposal facilities available for them to use. A state-of-the-art civic amenity site in Finchley takes a massive range of items, while every street in the borough benefits from a 'block cleanse' twice a year, when residents can take advantage of a council skip placed in the road to dispose of their bulky items. Looking to the future, Barnet Council hopes to build on its work with key partners such as VOSA, the Environment Agency and the police to increase its knowledge base and gain more intelligence on illegal tipping.

Johnathan Schroder is communications officer for the London borough of Barnet

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