Large-scale fly-tipping on the rise in West Sussex – and ‘rogue traders’ are to blame

A recent fly-tipping incident on a farm in Steyning, West Sussex. Photo by Claire Bower
A recent fly-tipping incident on a farm in Steyning, West Sussex. Photo by Claire Bower

Rogue traders are dumping lorry-loads of rubbish across West Sussex, spoiling countryside views and posing a risk to the environment.

Incidents of costly large-scale fly-tipping are on the rise in the county.

Since 2012, there have been 1,488 incidents of large-scale flytipping across West Sussex – which cost a total of £195,387.63 to clear, according to analysis of government figures by the BBC’s shared data unit.

A fly-tipping incident is recorded as being ‘large-scale’ when the rubbish amounts to a ‘lorry load’ or ‘multi-vehicle in size’.

Anything above the size of a lorry-load can be investigated by the Environment Agency, though the cost of clearance lies with the local council.

A spokesman for West Sussex County Council said this kind of fly-tipping was perpetrated by rogue traders and other criminals.

A rise in incidents across West Sussex

In West Sussex, every council saw a rise in the number of large-scale fly-tipping incidents between 2012 and 2019, except for Crawley, where the number fell from eight incidents in 2011/12 to just one incident in 2018/19.

Chichester has seen the highest number of large-scale incidents since 2012 – a total of 674 incidents, which cost £43,096.63 to clear in total, according to figures from the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA).

This was more than double the amount of incidents seen by the council with the second highest total, which was Arun with 260 incidents over the seven-year period.

According to the DEFRA figures, the cost of clearing large-scale fly-tipping was the highest in Mid Sussex – amounting to £58,295 since 2012.

However a spokesman for Mid Sussex District Council said it was not possible to break down and provide the exact cost of removing fly-tipping in the district.

Across West Sussex, the annual number of incidents reached their peak in the year 2018/19 – when a total of 362 incidents took place.

This is significantly higher than the 223 incidents recorded in 2017/18.

‘No excuse’ for fly-tipping

In October 2018, the county council introduced a new policy ruling that any residents who drive a commercial-type vehicle would need to have a permit to dispose of their household waste at council recycling sites.

But the council did not draw a link between the introduction of free permits and the rise in large-scale fly-tipping.

“Fly-tipping is both criminal and antisocial and there is no excuse for it regardless of the policy of the local authority to ask for permits at Household Waste Recycling Sites,” the spokesman said.

“Large scale fly-tipping of the type reported is perpetrated by rogue traders and other criminals and, in any case, often outside the scope and scale of household waste permitted at the sites.

“Fly-tipping has been on the increase nationally in recent years regardless of the changes to Household Waste Recycling Sites.”

The county council confirmed there were currently no plans to reintroduce charging for DIY waste at its sites.

‘Harmful to the environment’

A spokesman for the South Downs National Park warned of the dangers of fly-tipping.

“The South Downs National Park has been designated for the enjoyment of the nation for its special qualities, including its natural beauty and biodiversity,” the spokesman said.

“Fly-tipping is harmful to the environment and impacts on everybody’s enjoyment. We would encourage people to dispose of their waste responsibly.”

The figures for incidents in West Sussex mirror the trend across England, which has seen a total of 191,968 large-scale tips recorded since 2012.

While the total number of fly-tipping incidents in England has hovered around the one million mark in recent years, the largest type of tips – sometimes covering whole parks – has risen 117 per cent since 2012.

Since the 2012-13 financial year, councils in England have spent just over £59 million clearing large scale tips – with the bill for such incidents at its highest in 2018-19.

‘Unscrupulous operators’

Police and environmental groups say the nature of fly-tipping is changing – a shift driven by a surge in criminal gangs offering illegal waste clearing services.

A DEFRA spokesman said waste crime was becoming more organised, involving networks of career criminals.

The spokesman said: “Fly-tipping blights communities and poses a risk to human health and the environment.

“It also undermines legitimate waste businesses where unscrupulous operators undercut those operating within the law.”

Allison Ogden-Newton, chief executive of Keep Britain Tidy, said the substantial increase of these incidents was ‘of real concern’.

She said: “It’s quite possible that these numbers represent the involvement of organised gangs in waste crime.

“If this is the case, then it’s time for the new government to get serious on mass fly-tipping, make it harder for criminals to trade, and give local authorities the resources they need to crack down on this blight on our communities and environment.”

What are the punishments for fly-tipping?

Fly-tipping is a criminal offence punishable by a fine of up to £50,000 or 12 months’ imprisonment if convicted in a magistrates’ court.

The offence can attract an unlimited fine and up to five years’ imprisonment if convicted in a crown court.

However, very few of the toughest sentences are handed out. Only two £50,000 fines were handed out in 2018-19.

A DEFRA spokesman said: “Local authorities have a range of powers to tackle fly-tipping.

“Councils are able to issue on-the-spot fines to fly-tippers and to stop, search and seize vehicles suspected of being used for fly-tipping.

“Local authorities and the Environment Agency are also able to issue penalties of up to £400 to householders who do not pass their waste to a licensed carrier and whose waste is then found fly-tipped.”

According to the spokesman, local authorities carried out 2,397 prosecutions for fly-tipping offences in 2018/19 – an increase of seven per cent on 2017/18.

More than 96 per cent of prosecutions resulted in convictions.

The number of fixed penalty notices issued has continued to increase, up 11 per cent to 76,000 from 2017/18, the spokesman said.

Making life hard for criminals

But as waste crime is becoming more organised, involving networks of career criminals, tackling this type of illegal activity is more complex, the spokesman said.

“The Environment Agency is responsible for tackling large-scale illegal dumping incidents and is determined to make life hard for criminals by disrupting and stopping illegal activity through tough enforcement action and prosecution,” said the spokesman.

“We continue to use intelligence to target the most serious crimes.

“The Environment Agency takes enforcement action to bring businesses back into compliance and to prevent and disrupt criminal activity.

“This includes: providing advice and guidance for businesses trying to do the right thing, issuing enforcement notices, and penalising businesses as a last resort.

“Waste companies, local authorities and businesses all have a responsibility to check what happens to their waste.

“Householders can check if a waste carrier is an approved carrier on the Environment Agency website.”

Councillor David Renard, environment spokesman for the Local Government Association, said councils were determined to crack down on fly-tipping – including by installing CCTV at fly-tipping hotspots.

However, he said successful prosecutions often required ‘time-consuming and laborious investigations’, with a ‘high threshold of proof’.

He called for sufficient funding to enable councils to look into incidents of fly-tipping.

“The new government needs to ensure councils have the funding needed to investigate incidents and should review sentencing guidelines for fly-tipping, so that fly-tippers are given bigger fines for more serious offences to help deter incidents,” he said.