Sunday 22 September 2019

Call for increased services at bring centres amid litter dumping crisis

Dedicated mobile rapid response crew to patrol blackspot areas as €2 recycling charge to remain

Hugh Maguire, environment officer, Wexford County Council
Hugh Maguire, environment officer, Wexford County Council

David Looby

Litter black spots across the district are being targeted using everything from drones to additional CCTV cameras in a bid to reduce the amount of dumping in our lanes, streets and fields.

Hugh Maguire of Wexford County Council's Environment section updated councillors at the monthly meeting of New Ross Municipal District council about the actions a new rapid response dumping action crew are taking.

Two dedicated mobile environment wardens have been employed to carry out targeted patrols, with the aim of reducing littering. Mr Maguire said: 'Our fines have increased. We will get up to 280 or 290 this year. We are working with tidy towns groups and we have new bye-laws tackling houses involved in constant illegal dumping. We are using CCTV to catch culprits littering on land and on streets.'

Mr Maguire said most litter prosecutions are printed in the local newspaper. 'We had five cases recently where five people were fined €1,000 each. The judge, Gerard Haughton, has been strong on littering. Unfortunately he is retiring next year. Thankfully people are reporting stuff to us in greater numbers and our crews are very busy. We hope through the new crews and bye-laws we will help us get on top of the situation.'

Cllr Michael Whelan said dog fouling is a huge problem across the district, asking if an increased use of CCTV cameras is the answer.

Cllr Anthony Connick said the council should offer more services at its recycling centres. 'I personally don't think we do enough services. If I have a mattress I have to bring it on a trailer to Holmestown. I know it's a big cost to the council, but we could get some of the cost back (if mattresses could be disposed of at Hewittsland).'

Cllr Connick also suggested that the council could dispose of bags of refuse at the Hewittsland centre, saying it could be a commercial opportunity for the local authority. He said people are paying €7 at a garage in New Ross for the service. 'They are making money on it. We should be making money. The €2 charge is a disincentive for people and it's causing more problems in our area. Dog fouling is an awful problem and we are not addressing it.'

Cllr Connick asked how many fines are being issued. 'It's €288 for a household bin and we fine people just €150. It's crazy!'

Mr Maguire said there have been 240 fines paid. 'It doesn't mean they all go to court. We only fine people €150 as per the law. It could be for one bag. If there are a large amount (of bags) involved and we have CCTV, we try to pursue a case in court. Some pay their fines before they go to court. Sometimes people leave the jurisdiction. We are winning a lot of cases but we can't prosecute people if we don't have evidence. We have to have either CCTV, direct evidence or we find evidence inside the waste bag.'

He said up to 70 per cent of fines are being paid. 'We do our best following up on all fines but we can only do what our resources allow. We can't scorch the earth and track down people. We have a reminder system and wardens knocking on the doors. If people have disappeared we are not the FBI or Interpol.'

Mr Maguire said it costs €14 to dispose of a single mattress and €28 to dispose of a double mattress.

The council took in more than 750 mattresses at two amenity days recently, including one held in New Ross. 'It's a common item dumped on the side of the road. There is a cost to Wexford County Council in having them recycled.'

He said the problem with gathering evidence in dog fouling cases is a direct witness to the fouling is required. 'We have issued some fines here in New Ross. If a member of the public spots a dog fouling and takes a picture we can act on that. The dog warden has also been involved in cases and we have used plain clothes wardens but I see a lot more people using pooper scooper bags.'

He said problem areas are being targeted by wardens and with the erection of signs.

Cllr Martin Murphy criticised people who spit chewing gum onto the footpath.

Councillors were told mobile CCTV units are being used in an effort to snare repeat offenders.

Mr Maguire said people are continuing to litter at beaches across the district. 'It's not OK to throw stuff out at the beach in the some way it's not OK to throw stuff on the street. There are certain people who think they can get away with everything in this country.'

Mr Forde said the council ran a very successful campaign alerting people to the damage chewing gum causes to footpaths, following the laying of new paths in New Ross.

Cllr Larry O'Brien asked if any councillors had made appeals on behalf of constituents to overturn litter fines and was told that there have been some appeals but they all were fair.

Mr Maguire said some cases are not pursued based on individual's situations. 'There may be very genuine social circumstances,' he said.

A report entitled the Expansion of Environmental Clean Up Crews and charges at civic amenity sites in the county was presented to councillors.

Mr Byrne said the rapid response and environmental crew check hotspots. 'The foreman is from the New Ross area so he knows which lanes to check. Rubbish is being left in bins on the streets.'

Mr Forde said the number of fines collected by Wexford County Council will increase as the environment section moves from a reactive to a proactive policy.

'Some of our crews will work on Saturday, driving around the litter black spots to raise our profile. There will be locally based crews and more link-ups with tidy towns groups.'

An additional €60,000 has been allocated for the crew set up and van hire. The cost of five additional staff has been costed at €180,000, while the cost of disposing of additional waste collected will come to €35,000, making a total of €275,000.

The revenue generated at recycling sites comes to €150,000, and coupled with an increase in fines (€10,000), income from anti-dumping projects (€3,000) and operational savings in general activities due to additional staff (€17,000), the total income comes to €180,000, making a shortfall of €95,000.

Mr Maguire said: 'If we have to get rid of the €2 charge we will not be able to keep the crews in place. There is only one civic amenity site in the country that isn't charging at the moment.'

Cllr Whelan said he was concerned that no mobile phone numbers for any of the crew have been supplied to councillors.

'The last time I reported littering on a Wednesday it was still there the following Monday. I feel residents shouldn't have to pick up the rubbish. There should be some follow-up with us to say the rubbish has been picked up. Four to five times in the last month we've had rubbish dumped at Kinnagh, Wellingtonbridge and Ballycullane.'

Mr Forde said a dedicated phone line for illegal dumping is about to come on stream. 'We will have a rota of staff dealing with this 24/7.'

Cllr Michael Sheehan said councillors should be provided with a private number to call. 'There have been situations, like in New Ross where someone set a wheelie bin on fire in the middle of the street. To have to go through customer services would be too time consuming. On Henry Street and Priory Street you can see three to four large bags beside the street bin every day. An idiot is doing that.'

Cllr Willie Fitzharris said the rapid response crew shouldn't have to provide their mobile number.

'Staff deserve their time off,' he said, 'What they are proposing is very efficient.'

Cllr Larry O'Brien said he has no problem with the €2 charge, but is irked by the huge sums the council has to spend on collecting rubbish.

'That we have to spend so much of our budget on keeping the county clean doesn't say very much about some of the people in the county.'

New Ross Standard