How I want Croydon’s community to respond to fly-tipping


By - Tuesday 4th April, 2017

Being a citizen of Croydon means taking responsibility for the state of the place


Photo author’s own. 

This picture of a fly-tip in Mayfield Road, Croydon, was taken on Saturday 4th March as part of the Great British Spring Clean weekend. Over the course of the weekend, community groups from all over Croydon took to our parks and streets, supporting Keep Britain Tidy and helping, to borrow the hashtag, to #CleanUpCroydon. I was one of almost 100 members of Croydon Conservatives who took part, either picking up litter in Waddon, Lloyd Park or Ashburton Park, or out on the streets, identifying and reporting graffiti and fly-tips.

This work was referenced last week in a Croydon Citizen article by Liz Sheppard-Jones, who referred to ‘gleeful, day-tripping political tweeters’. In case there was any doubt about how she feels, she also wrote that she has concluded that ‘Labour in Croydon cares about litter more than the Tories do’. Unsurprisingly, I disagree strongly with this conclusion, but in many other aspects Liz’s article was quite right.

The state of your community plays an enormous role in your well-being

First of all, West Croydon is indeed covered with litter. On the day of the Great British Spring Clean, my team found 144 incidents of littering, graffiti or fly-tipping in West Thornton ward, following on from 150 we found when we did the same exercise in the same ward back in November. I’m more optimistic than Liz that this will change in future, but then I have lived in Croydon, and just south of the flyover, for only one and a half years, rather than the five and a half years that she has lived in Broad Green.

As she says, the condition of your local community plays an enormous role in your well-being, in how you see the world and how you feel about how others see you. It’s for this reason that I was so disappointed to see the horrific state of the area opposite Mayfield Road children’s play area. If children grow up spending time playing in what is the only green space in the ward, seeing the park turned into a makeshift landfill site, what are they likely to think about their community? Or about how their community fits within the rest of Croydon, or London, or the UK? How can we try to teach children that being a Croydon citizen comes with responsibilities as well as opportunities when the rest of Croydon is literally dumping all over them?

We’re taking a pro-active approach, locating fly-tips and getting them cleaned up

To give Stuart Collins, the council cabinet member for a Cleaner, Greener Croydon, some credit, when I went back to Mayfield Road the following weekend, much of the fly-tipping opposite the play area had been cleared up and a notice of removal had been placed on the abandoned car. But surely simply relying on residents to report fly-tipping where they find it is insufficient? I will not be a candidate in the 2018 council elections, but I have heard Conservative leader Tim Pollard talk about the need for the council to be much more proactive about fly-tipping, going out and finding fly-tips of their own accord. Our reporting activities in November and in March are part of that pro-active approach, doing what we can to go out find fly-tips and getting them cleaned up.

The tweets, photos and videos that went out during those reporting days, far from being gleeful gloating, are an important part of getting the borough cleaned up. I’m not going to claim that they’re not seeking to gain political advantage – of course they are, and that’s nothing to be ashamed of. Democracy relies on opposition parties getting their message across and putting pressure on the ruling party. The pressure that we exert through social media has a direct impact in getting things cleaned up.

At Mayfield Road, I recorded a video which I tweeted to Stuart Collins and two of the local councillors and, as described above, it was cleaned up within a week. I reported another three that were just as bad, in Songhurst Close, Brading Road and Dunheved Road. (The Dunheved tip is the picture at the top of this article.) But these I reported with far less fanfare. They were all still there when I checked back three weeks later. Go figure.

Caring alone won’t make this problem go away

Ultimately though, much of this is, as Liz says, a Katharine Street roust-about. Fly-tipping, like most aspects of politics, is cared about deeply by both Labour and the Conservatives – but caring alone does not make it go away. The app and website that the Conservatives introduced, but Labour has developed, make it easier to report fly-tipping, are undeniably good things. But they have not stopped fly-tipping in Croydon – there were 1,676 confirmed fly-tips in February 2017, up from 1,463 in February 2016, according to the council’s own figures. Would the Tories do any better? I believe that being more pro-active will have some impact, but you won’t find us repeating Stuart Collins’ mistakes from four years ago and making rash promises that we can’t deliver.

Fly-tipping is not a problem that councils and councillors can solve alone. Councils face what economists call a free-rider problem. This is because it’s almost impossible, through policy, to create a situation where an individual acting purely in their own self-interest is better off going to a council recycling centre than they are dumping their waste on the street. However, the overwhelming majority of people are wouldn’t dream of dumping their waste despite this, because most people are fundamentally decent and don’t want to force others to endure their aged mattress or broken fridge. Tackling fly-tipping is therefore as much a community issue as it is a council issue.

As a large and active community group, it’s not just appropriate for Croydon Conservatives to travel the borough and report fly-tipping. Frankly, it’s our responsibility. I will be proud to return to my adopted patch of West Thornton when we next carry out our fly-tipping patrol, and if publicising those reports gets them cleaned up quicker, I’ll be proud to send some more tweets out too.

Stuart Millson

Stuart Millson

Stuart moved to Croydon in September 2015 and is still surprised at how quickly it has become a well-loved home. He helps investment companies better communicate their products to customers, with a mission to 'invest the un-invested', and in his spare time campaigns for the Conservative party.

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  • Anne Giles

    Excellent article!

  • trypewriter

    I think that the problem that a council of any political stripe will face is that to tackle fly tipping effectively there will need to be investment – who knows from where? It will take much more than one single thing to do it, and all efforts will all need to be coordinated. That being said, an admission of seeking to gain political advantage from people’s misery? Don’t you need to be better than that?

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