Firstly please share this post with friends and colleagues. What I am about to describe is a worrying trend and one that I would not like to see expanding. A kind of “legal ” vigilante going under the euphemism of ” Environmental Enforcement”. OK. Picture the scenario. A short one hour visit to Wimbledon and returning to the train station and about to enter. What did I visualise?
I am appalled. There are three I will call them officers with the gentle demeanour of harsh traffic wardens crossed with prison wardens who are ticketing folks under the name of environmental enforcement. Their crimes? Seems throwing cigarette ends anywhere than some specific receptacle. Fixed penalty fines of 75£ or 80£. Those being questioned had a poor grasp of the English language. Apparently this is a criminal offence to throw cigarette ends away like this as one officer explained.
My views on this were heavily influenced by recent reports that police no longer routinely investigate burglaries. And around 10 yards away a homeless man was prostrate and sleeping and would have been a better beneficiary of their wise input and assistance. One might also argue that folks needing help such as this man might be better recipients of environmental protection than inadvertent or even deliberate throwing of cigarette ends on the ground outside a station . Am I right to be angry about this?
After a little research tonight it seems Merton Council have a zero tolerance to littering, or so they say. The wording from their website tells us this
“Due to the high number of pedestrians visiting the town centre, Wimbledon has the highest rate of cigarette litter in Merton with over 1,500 FPNs being issued since June. As well as taking a zero-tolerance approach to enforcement, the council works to educate residents and visitors to the borough about environmental crime and the likelihood that they will be fined £75 for littering”
With their website explaining in graphic detail how to pay the £75 fine.
What however is worrying is that there is no right of appeal against a fixed penalty notice. So we all understand the situation that littering is not a good thing and the majority of us would agree that we should do it. However there are limits. And those limits to me are exceeded by seeing in practice that people who were it seems unaware of this draconian zero tolerance to cigarette ends, and we are not talking about littering huge amounts of kebab shop waste or newspapers on the streets, but cigarette ends, are being fined what seems an excessive amount. Furthermore to see a homeless man prostrate, rather curiously by a gritting bin, and these environmental enforcement officers take no action in the 15 minutes that I observed them was to say the least disheartening. That ” society” , well the council , cares more extracting punitive fines than humane care, speaks volumes.
The next aspect that we need to address is the actual environmental enforcement officers. Their attire of a kind of jump suit more often associated with prison, with their waists surrounded by more equipment than many would need to climb Mount Everest or contain a whole ward of rioting patients in Broadmoor, seems excessive to say the least. Together with mounted CCTV on their uniforms. I am sure Neil Armstrong had less equipment when he set foot on the moon with Apollo 11 in july 1969.
Many or even most of these officers it seems are supplied by a company called Kingdom. A press release from March 2014 stated that the council’s own enforcement officers will work alongside the Kingdom enforcement team from the end of April as they go out and about around Merton to make sure the borough is kept litter-free. Kingdom’s team is led by ” experts with an ex-military and police background”. Quite why this is so necessary to deal with ordinary folks who have thrown cigarette ends on the ground is not so clear. They issue these fixed penalty notices to those breaking the Environmental Protection Act 1990.
Where it however gets more interesting is that Merton Council has come under fire for reducing street cleaning in town centres on Sundays – while spending nearly £130,000 a year on four environment enforcement officers. So photographs published in March 2015 show far worse littering caused by the overflowing of these bins than I certainly visualised on the pavements of Wimbledon. In fact I saw nothing other than the poor homeless man. There is a lot of information provided by the government on how councils can issue FPNs and also how they should use the funds accrued.
The same site above lists the various offences for which FPNs can be given and it is immediately obvious that some of these are serious and should be punished in a punitive manner, however in the context cigarette ends must be at the lower if not lowest end of the spectrum.
nuisance parking (people selling or repairing cars on the road)
dog control offences
leafleting without permission on land where leafleting is restricted (‘designated land’)
failing to nominate a key holder or give the council key holder details in an alarm notification area
failing to provide a waste carrier licence (for businesses transporting their own waste)
failing to provide a waste transfer note when moving non-hazardous waste
There is a world of difference between for example “littering” with an abandoned vehicle and a cigarette end. Yet the difference in fine amounts is surprisingly small. £200 for abandoning a car and £75 for abandoning a cigarette end. The money must also be put to specified uses.
Councils must use income from FPNs as set out :
Offence FPN money can be spent on functions relating to:
Litter – Litter, dog control, graffiti and fly-posting
Graffiti – Litter, dog control, graffiti and fly-posting
Dog control -Litter, dog control, graffiti and fly-posting
Fly-posting -Litter, dog control, graffiti and fly-posting
Unauthorised distribution of free printed material on designated land- Litter, dog control, graffiti and fly-posting
So what I am left wondering is what training is given to these officers, what degree of latitude do they have in not administering a FPN, if they have any targets, and of course how much money is raised and exactly to what purpose is it put. There is clear guidance on publishing not only the enforcement strategy but also to how the money will be used.
So in my world there would be some degree of spectrum here on exactly what constitutes a littering offence and throwing a single cigarette end does not equate to toxic pollution of the planet. Maybe also these officers can not only look at the bigger picture, but as today adopt a more humane approach. To have allowed that homeless man to remain on the ground lying prostrate would not be their greatest achievement in their day. Littering does have context and we need to be careful not to be too literal and punitive. If Merton Council want and feel they should adopt a zero tolerance approach, then this should be reflected in not only this aspect but all aspects of their work. Finally what exactly are they doing with the money, that was not happening before? I have developed a zero tolerance approach to not knowing the answers to these reasonable questions.