The true cost of flytipping

From flytipping to abandoned cars, a minority of people in North Herts are causing a nuisance to the environment, at a cost to the taxpayer. Reporter Laura Burge joined North Herts District Council (NHDC) enforcement officer David Furr on the job, to see the extent of the damage.

FLYTIPPING may not seem like the most serious crime in the world, but it still causes numerous problems, at a cost to the taxpayer. And, according to David, it can be the end product of other more serious offences, such as burglary and theft.

We meet at the Letchworth GC council offices, where we discuss what is usually done on a day-to-day basis by the housing and public protection team. I’m told that today may not be terribly exciting, or what I’ll be expecting, but nonetheless should hold something in store.

We head off in the enforcement van, and the child in me is disappointed I don’t get to wear industrial overalls or some other attire I had been expecting. The (usually less-present) adult, however, was pleased that I got to keep my coat on in the freezing cold wind.

The first job we head out on - after a tip-off from the police - is in Codicote, where there is said to be a load of bags dumped in a country lane.

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When we get there, we find that someone has, unceremoniously, dumped what is suspected to be the highly dangerous asbestos. Obviously unable to touch it ourselves, David rings Veolia to arrange someone to come test, and collect, the bags.

“With this sort of thing, it’s not just creating a mess it’s actually highly dangerous too,” explains David.

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“Someone has just come and left this here, and as well as the danger, it costs us - and the taxpayer - money to clear up.”

Our next job comes after another phonecall - this time from the offices itself - to a pile of cabling left near a Letchworth GC road.

To me, this doesn’t sound terribly offensive (although still wrong), but when we get there, it emerges it is probably the by-product of stolen goods. Evidently, someone has taken out the copper to sell or for their own gain, leaving the plastic on the side of the road.

In fact, metal stolen and sold for scrap is a big problem that enforcement officers face.

David explains that, on many occasions, drain covers go missing - particularly in rural areas - causing a hazard to drivers, cyclists and pedestrians.

Our final job, while apparently something that enforcement officers face often, is probably something they could do with less of.

Rather unexcitingly, it is a report of an alleged abandoned car in Baldock, which actually turns out to be a false alarm (if it can be called such a thing). David estimates that 90 per cent of the time, this turns out to be the case.

With just enough time to head back before my parking ticket expires, we drive back to the office while David explains a little bit about the other jobs they may come across.

This ranges from the minor - reports of dog mess, for instance - to abandoned dead animals.

He also tells me about the covert cameras that are set up at hotspots in the area to try and snare flytippers.

“We want to get the message out there that we are on the case,” he says.

“There’s no hesitation in prosecuting. We conduct interviews at the offices. We want to see people taken to court for flytipping offences.”

My (very short) day as an enforcement officer ends there. To be honest, before I set out, I never really realised fully the impact it could have. But to anyone out there considering dumping a load of materials, think first. As well as causing a proper nuisance to others, you could well end up in the dock.

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