What a load of rubbish: debating Croydon’s fly-tipping troubles

By - Wednesday 7th December, 2016

Robert Ward reports on the first meeting of the Croydon Debate Club

Photo public domain.

A debate about fly-tipping wouldn’t be a long one. Speakers to propose the motion ‘this house believes fly-tipping is of benefit to Croydon’ would be hard to find. So the modest-but-engaged audience gathered at Matthews Yard for the debut of the Croydon Debate Club had more of a discussion on what might be done to eradicate this scourge.

Two years of data from Croydon Council gave the context. The number of fly-tips has stayed broadly constant, despite the best efforts of the council and others to stem the tide. Keeping on doing the same thing and expecting a different result is, well, you know – so the meeting concentrated on ideas for improvement and ways to do things differently.

Since our ideal world is one where the fly-tips are not dropped in the first place, making it easier for waste to be deposited in a more socially responsible place might be one part of the jigsaw. The recycling centres do seem to be positioned away from where the fly-tips happen, so an option near the centre of gravity of fly-tipping is worth considering. Even if an additional recycling centre is not feasible, a monthly ‘no questions asked’ skip on street corners, or a return of the rolling rubbish collection, might be effective.

One size does not fit all

The reporting system came in for criticism. The My Croydon app seems to lose fly-tip reports; the email to the person who has reported the fly-tip confirming that it has been removed is even more sporadic. An efficient reporting process is the key to success, not only in reducing frustration, but also in gathering useful data to understand the problem and target solutions. The increasing number of fly-tips not categorised in the council’s system either as to type or to size, also needs to change.

Indeed, the variation shown by the council’s data in the size and shape of the problem across our large borough means that a one-size-fits-all approach is probably not the way to go. Local solutions are likely to be the most effective – and the least costly.

Street champions are one of the tools being deployed by the council. Although there seem to be quite a few of them, the question was raised about what exactly their role is, and whether they are being adequately supported. More positively, the question was asked about what their role might be in order to impact the problem.

Time is of the essence

Many fly-tips go unreported for some time. Could street champions be encouraged to report them? How might they be incentivised to do so? Could council officers who are on the ground doing other work be encouraged to report fly-tips?

Commercial waste has its own challenges. Businesses are required to have a trade-waste contract – but some don’t. The impression is that this is sometimes not enforced due to the fragile nature of these businesses in some areas. Yet a row of shops may each have their own contract. There may be economies of scale that could offer a win-win solution for a single contractor for a whole street.

Tenant turnover in the private rented sector is an aggravating factor. A clean-out by the departing tenant, followed by something similar – plus packaging from new purchases – by the incoming tenant results in an overloaded bin area and the temptation to fly-tip. Some will not be aware of the modest cost (£10 for the first seven items) of the council’s bulky waste collection service. An opportunity for timely interventions now that the council knows where all the private-sector tenants are?

Punishments to fit the crime?

Punishments are thin on the ground. A Freedom of Information request showed that of the rather few prosecutions (64 so far this year, and a similar number last year), many were for minor littering offences such as spitting and dropping cigarette butts.

Prosecutions are difficult and costly to bring. When they are so few in number, are they really having an effect? Might some of the money be better spent elsewhere, or should they be pursued much more vigorously? What’s happening now seems an unhappy and ineffective medium.

The next meeting takes places, once again, in Theatre Utopia at Matthews Yard on Wednesday 7th December 2016 at 8pm. Our subject is ‘Housing and homelessness: the council’s role’. Do come along. You’ve just read my take on the first meeting – perhaps you might even be moved to write an article for the Citizen telling everyone how the second meeting went?

Robert Ward

Robert Ward

Engineer and project manager specialised in helping businesses make better strategic decisions and improve safety, quality and effectiveness. Conservative Party Councillor representing Selsdon and Addington Village on Croydon Council. He tweets as @moguloilman.

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  • Sean Creighton

    Robert, as you know I was unable attend this useful initiative, but was able to send you a briefing note before hand. It would help to have a forward diary to promote the discussions of the Club

    • Robert Ward

      Hi Sean, I don’t have a precise timetable at the moment. Having done two meetings I’m having a think about timing and format.

      My current thoughts are to do something earlier in the evening, say 7 pm or maybe 7:30. Matthews Yard again. Mid to late January for the next one after Christmas but I would need the right subject/presenter so I am willing to move the date to fit their availability. Am working on who that might be. Will let you know before Christmas.

  • Sean Creighton


    Here are some thoughts on potential questions for debate.

    Local Economy:
    What should be the principles underlying Croydon’s economic policy?
    What kind of jobs need to be created for local people?
    How can the Croydon economy be strengthened without driving up housing costs and rents, driving out those on low incomes?

    Tower Blocks:
    What are the advantages ad disadvantages of building and living in tower blocs of apartments especially in the Town Centre?

    Westfield Shopping Centre:
    What are the potential benefits?
    Are there any potential disbenefitsd?
    Is the scheme imaginative enough to deliver more than a cathedral to consumerism?

    District Centres:
    How can the local economies on the local high streets and in the district centres be strengthened?

    Should the influence of private developers be reduced?
    How can the influence of private developers be reduced?

    Areas of social deprivation:
    How can the areas of social deprivation be improved for existing residents?

    • Robert Ward

      Thanks Sean. Lots of good ideas.

      Generally I am looking for forward looking subjects that show the choices we face as a community and the pros and cons for each option, steering clear of politics and easy we-must-do-more conclusions.

      I’ll email you with some thoughts and then perhaps have a chat.

  • Sean Creighton

    Another area for debate is public space.

    What are we defining as public space?
    How do we differentiate between ‘privatised’ public space and ‘open’ public space?
    How have the definitions of public space changed over time?
    How have public spaces been used for performance and display over time and what changes have taken place?
    What have been key elements in the negotiation of power in public space?
    How have public spaces been managed in the past and what are the contemporary issues in management?
    What has been the changing legal framework in relation to the use of public space?
    How have law and order concerns changed the use and management of public space?
    Does the public have a different view of what public spaces are t those in government (at every level) and business?
    Public spaces for who?