Steer clear of illegal deposits with number plate recognition

Commercial traders often see civic amenity sites as a soft touch, but one council is clamping down on this with a system that can keep a watchful eye on suspicious vehicles

Somerset County Council is using an automatic number plate recognition (ANPR) system to reduce the amount of commercial usage at its household waste recycling centres. It is expected that the move will save the council around £35,000 over the coming year and has allowed its waste contractor Viridor to make the most effective use of resources.

With an aim of reducing the cost of illegal deposits by at least 10% every year, the council needed a solution that would help them prevent commercial companies from using the sites. While the fight against illegal deposits of commercial waste was at the forefront of the council's decision in implementing the ANPR system, both the council and Viridor wanted to find a method of enhancing on-site skip management, site security and health and safety for the public and site personnel.

Brian Nicholls, contract manager for Viridor, was put in charge of finding a solution to all of these requirements. He chose to work with Perspective CCTV to advise on, and install, the system. Electronic security distributor Norbain was selected to supply the equipment. The ANPR system that has been installed captures a vehicle number plate which is then displayed on an LED board, providing people with immediate visual notification that their number plate has been recorded.

Software is used to interrogate the captured data and highlight any unusual site usage. For example, a query can be entered asking what vehicles have used the site more frequently than expected in one week - this can then be filtered down to look specifically for commercial-type vehicles.

Discreet investigations
By linking into the DVLA database, the council's designated commercial waste contract compliance officer can carry out discreet investigations at the registered address to determine if the user is from the business sector. If this is the case, the council then sends a letter to the address informing them that they have been recorded and reminding them that the sites are for householder use only. If they ignore this warning, the council can take further action.

Nicholls has seen new government regulations influence a change in usage levels at the sites. "Many areas now only have bin collections once a fortnight and the public don't like seeing any waste round their homes," he explains. "Because of this, they're visiting the sites more regularly than we've seen in past years."

The ANPR cameras have allowed Viridor to monitor the number of vehicles coming onto the sites. From this the contractor can determine how busy it is and alter staffing levels accordingly. "There's a strong correlation between peak periods and the number of accidents so we wanted to ensure that this was controlled by having appropriate staffing levels," explains Nicholls.

In addition to the ANPR cameras, CCTV cameras have been positioned round the sites to monitor the state of the sites. Here, it can be determined immediately if skips need to be emptied and the council can also ensure that Viridor are fulfilling the terms of the contract.

"We have achieved significant cost savings by using the cameras for this purpose," says Nicholls. "The ability to divert our haulage fleet and rearrange schedules according to demand really maximises our time and resources."

The cameras also function as an added security measure. This helps ensure that no-one is on site without permission out-of-hours, and also acts as a preventative measure to any violence. "Customers can occasionally become aggressive toward the staff," points out Nicholls. "Often, just pointing out that they are being recorded is enough to diffuse the situation."

Broadcasting live
There are now plans to further utilise the network. Using the council's website, live images will be transmitted showing the site and the number of vehicles already on it. With this information, customers can see how busy it is and choose a quieter time to visit if they prefer.

Although the ANPR cameras have only been in operation for a couple of months, there has already been a reduction in the amount of commercial waste disposed at the sites. Letters written to offenders warning them that they've been recorded using the site have been enough of a deterrent so far and the council has had to take no further action.

David Oaten, waste operations co-ordinator for the council, estimates that so far a saving of around £35,000 has been made. If this trend continues, plans to consistently reduce the cost of commercial waste by 10% per year will certainly see fruition.

Norbain www.norbain.co.uk

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