Litter problems? The sight of rubbish-strewn streets is unfortunately not uncommon in London. But did you know that under Environmental Law, local authorities should be keeping public spaces clear of litter at all times?
Owen Ward from Save Bloomsbury sets out four steps to put things right:
1. Pick up the litter yourself
Sounds like an odd thing to say, but if your problem isn't particularly bad, it might be easier to do the work yourself. Littering is part of a vicious cycle; when people see litter, they litter more. Put a spanner in the spokes: get together with friends and family and give the street a blitz. Litterbugs will be far less likely to drop litter if your street is already clean and tidy. Other locals may be thankful, and offer to chip in too.
In busy areas, this isn't always possible, and on some roads, the lack of a bin means people see no alternative to dropping litter. In which case it's time to get your local authority involved.
2. Report the problem to your councillors
If you're lucky, you'll have a decent councillor. It's their job to fix problems like these for you. It's easy to find their contact details online, and if you explain that you're not happy at the state of your street, nine times out of 10, a street cleaner will be sent out to put things right. This is because under Environmental Law, when litter problems are reported, they should be cleaned up by the local authority within a day or so. Hopefully if you explain that it is a recurrent issue, they will send cleaners out more regularly to your road, or install a new bin. That is because under Environmental Law, roads should be kept clear of litter.
Unfortunately some councillors are better at listening than others. What do you do if yours isn't sympathetic to your problem?
3. Start keeping a photo diary, and quote Environmental Law
Evidence is key. If your councillor doesn't take you at your word, they can't ignore your photos. Take a photo of your road every day and send it to the same councillor — and consider forwarding it to other councillors. If you can, get a timestamp on the photos. Try to take photos of the same places every day to show that nothing is changing. Get your friends and family to do the same thing. At this point you can start quoting Environmental Law (this may help nudge them into action). You can use the official-sounding phrases "I am aggrieved by the defacement of my street by litter and refuse" and "You are in breach of your duty s89(1) of the Environmental Protection Act 1990". These are the relevant phrases in Environmental Law that means your local authority has to act.
4. Contact your MP
By the time you start quoting the law, local authorities move quickly to put things right. That is because if they don't within five days, it is possible for you to take them to court, and they can face paying tens of thousands in legal fees. In the end, it is easier and cheaper for them to clean up your road!
But in a minority of cases, even the three steps above won't do the trick. Then it's time to contact your MP.
It is their job to represent you and fix your troubles. Send a few photos to them and maybe get other people to do the same. Your MP will then contact the right person in the Council and ask them to fix the problem.
Don't be afraid to pester...
In the end, it is not any one of the steps above that will keep your street clean for good — it is simply the persistent pestering that lets the local authority know not to mess with you and your neighbours. Especially if they think that you know the law well, they will be reluctant to cross you. We have seen this many times – After advising residents and businesses on what to do, the local authority will not get their act together over their whole area, but will put a special effort into keeping your road clean and tidy. I have led a movement in Bloomsbury, which falls under Camden Council to bring clean streets to the whole area.
Although I have not yet succeeded, I now hardly ever see a spot of litter from my own window...