Litter enforcers out to clean up Leeds streets

CLEAN TEAM: Leeds City Council's new Environmental Officers, from left, Lucy Harding, Adam Carter, Mark Milner and Tony Murphy. PIC: James Hardisty
CLEAN TEAM: Leeds City Council's new Environmental Officers, from left, Lucy Harding, Adam Carter, Mark Milner and Tony Murphy. PIC: James Hardisty
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Mindless litter yobs are to be fined £75 without exception if caught using leeds as a private dumping ground. The zero tolerance approach is part of a six-month pilot scheme. Municipal reporter Sophie Hazan reports.

CLEARING UP the streets of Leeds costs £8m a year – a bill the city council is keen to reduce.

In a bid to achieve this, four dedicated litter wardens have been employed to patrol the city centre issuing fixed penalty notices to environmental criminals.

People spotted dropping chewing gum, empty food packets, cigarette butts and other items of rubbish, will be fined £75 on the spot.

From Monday the small crack team – who work for company 3gs – will be cleaning up the city of litter louts as part of a six month trial.

Each day five tonnes of litter is cleared from the city centre’s streets, pavements, verges and flower beds.

But with 450 bins in the city centre, Coun Mark Dobson, executive member for environmental services, said no-one has an excuse to simply throw litter on the floor.

He said the council has tried the friendly approach but says now it is time to get tough.

Coun Dobson said: “We have tried educating individuals.

“We’ve even tried shocking them. I was involved in an exercise last year that demonstrated just how bad the situation was in the city centre.

“Our team was asked to keep all the litter they collected during a 24 hour period in Leeds.

“We emptied the entire lot onto Briggate - they’d picked up five tonnes of rubbish.

“It really hit home to me then just what a huge problem this was.

“There are 450 rubbish bins dotted around the city centre – people have to start using them.”

Litter-related complaints received at Leeds City Council have more than doubled in 12 months from 1,115 in 2011 to 2,800 in 2012.

It is this kind of evidence that led officers to look for a new approach to tackling litter louting.

That arrived in the shape of 3gs boss Paul Buttivant who proposed his staff could supplement the work of the council.

But the Yorkshire Evening Post was assured that the roving 3gs wardens will be paid a salary and not be driven by targets, incentives or commission.

Coun Dobson said: “It isn’t a cash cow for the council. It’s about improving the environment. It’s public driven.”

He added: “We have council staff working very hard but the fact remains that it’s a big city and we don’t always have the capacity, so this company is supplementing our staff.”

Asked who paid the 3gs wages, Mr Buttivant said: “For every ticket correctly issued we charge [Leeds City Council] one per cent.”

He said 3gs had assessed the city and worked out approximately how many fixed penalty notices would be issued during the six months, but declined to reveal the figure.

Mr Buttivant said: “I set 3gs up because I felt there was an opportunity to make a difference. It’s about encouraging people to do the right thing.

“It is a chain reaction.”

He added: “The likelihood is that Leeds City Council will tender for a longer term contract.

“If it works out, the likelihood is that they’ll tender it or employ us on a longer-term basis.”

Leeds residents have not only been groaning about the mess general litter creates.

Dog fouling is the biggest growing threat.

The number of public complaints about dog fouling has increased almost eight-fold from 115 in 2011 to 827 in 2012.

For this reason a fifth officer is to be employed to tackle regular offenders, who do not clean up after their pets in residential areas to the north and west of the city.

Coun Dobson said: “Like everything else that we are trying to do in this department at the moment, this is public driven.

“There’s a real demand from the public for the council to do more.”

Areas to be tackled include Otley, Adel, Bramhope, Cookridge, Holt Park, Guiseley, Rawdon, Pool-in-Wharfedale, Yeadon and Woodhouse Moor.

Coun Barry Anderson (Con, Adel&Bramhope) said residents are constantly contacting him with concerns over dog fouling.

He welcomed the initiative.

“I would like to get a number of people fined, get some publicity around it and let the people in the north of the city know that dog fouling and littering are not acceptable,” said Coun Anderson.

“ We have to let people know that Leeds is serious about stopping dog fouling and litter dropping.”
But he also raised concerns over the pilot.

Coun Anderson said: “We don’t want to get into a situation where staff feel they must fine 100 people in one day or they pick on a young child who maybe doesn’t know better.”

But Coun Dobson said: “If you are going about your business and put your litter in a bin you have nothing to concern yourself about.

“If you throw it on the floor that is a crime and you will be fined.

“We are using a six-month trial to see how it does improve and what the improvements in terms of litter and fouling are.

“If you don’t break the law you won’t be fined.”

Litter picking volunteer Alan Mann, of Holt Park, said: “Zero tolerance in the city centre, I think we can all agree with that, but at the same time it’s all about easy targets.

“It will do well for the centre but not the rest of Leeds. It’s a token gesture.”

LITTER IN NUMBERS

3,700: Public rubbish bins across Leeds

£8m: The annual cost of keeping Leeds clean

2,800: Litter-related complaints made in 2012

5: New litter wardens appointed