Belfast Telegraph

Think you'll be fined if you're caught dropping litter? It depends on where you do it...

By Adrian Rutherford

The number of fines issued for littering in Northern Ireland has risen since tougher penalties aimed at tackling our rubbish-strewn streets were introduced – but the chances of being punished vary widely depending on where you live.

A total of 3,742 fixed penalty notices were handed out by councils in the 12 months to April this year.

Although that figure increased by 15% on the previous year, a postcode lottery means culprits in some areas are escaping justice.

More than £40m is currently spent every year tackling litter in Northern Ireland.

A report published later this month is expected to reveal one in 10 streets is failing to meet basic standards for cleanliness.

Yet there is a massive difference in how offenders are dealt with. Some councils have taken a zero-tolerance approach to littering – handing out hundreds of fines to louts who pollute our towns and countryside with their rubbish.

But in other areas offenders have little or no chance of being caught.

The disparity in fines emerged after an Assembly question from Fermanagh/South Tyrone DUP MLA Maurice Morrow.

He obtained a breakdown of the number of fixed penalty notices handed out by each of the 26 councils during 2012/13.

Twenty councils recorded a rise with one authority, Down District Council, seeing a five-fold increase –up from 60 to 289.

In five council areas the number of fines issued was in single figures. Ards Borough Council issued just three in the whole 12-month period. Ballymoney, Dungannon and South Tyrone and Limavady councils issued four each while Moyle – the smallest of the 26 councils – handed out seven.

In other areas a much tougher stance is taken.

Belfast City Council – the biggest council – accounted for almost half the Northern Ireland total. It issued 1,790 fines in 2012/13 – up 256 on the previous year's figures.

Craigavon Borough Council was second highest, although its total of 672 had fallen by around a third compared to the previous year.

The statistics highlight a stark urban-rural divide, with councils in largely-populated areas seemingly more inclined to punish offenders.

Ian Humphreys, chief executive of environmental charity Tidy Northern Ireland, said the small number of fines issued by some councils was concerning.

"With a few notable exceptions, there is just too little chance of being caught littering, meaning there is no credible deterrent effect in place," he said.

"Where efforts are being made these are not being backed up by neighbouring councils, giving mixed messages and making enforcement a postcode lottery."

Environment Minister Mark Durkan said the figures confirmed that some councils are more proactive than others in taking action against litter louts.

"I am aware that my predecessor [Alex Attwood] raised his concerns about such disparities with all council chief executives last year," he said.

"However, I am encouraged by the latest figures which point to heightened enforcement activity in the majority of district councils.

"This evidence indicates a tougher approach by many district councils against those who ignore the law by dropping litter."

Who's tackling the problem... and who isn't

Antrim Borough Council

Fines issued: 24

Fines paid: 24

Ards Borough Council

Fines issued: 3

Fines paid: 3

Armagh City Council

Fines issued: 17

Fines paid: 12

Ballymena Borough Council

Fines issued: 28

Fines paid: 28

Ballymoney Borough Council

Fines issued: 4

Fines paid: 1

Banbridge District Council

Fines issued: 14

Fines paid: 8

Belfast City Council

Fines issued: 1,790

Fines paid: 1,326

Carrickfergus Borough Council

Fines issued: 16

Fines paid: 16

Income from fines: £860

Castlereagh Borough Council

Fines issued: 95

Fines paid: 84

Coleraine Borough Council

Fines issued: 98

Fines paid: 82

Cookstown District Council

Fines issued: 22

Fines paid: 19

Craigavon Borough Council

Fines issued: 672

Fines paid: 631

Derry City Council

Fines issued: 182

Fines paid: 121

Down District Council

Fines issued: 289

Fines paid: 200

Dungannon and South Tyrone Borough Council

Fines issued: 4

Fines paid: 4

Fermanagh District Council

Fines issued: 17

Fines paid: 7

Larne Borough Council

Fines issued: 28

Fines paid: 21

Limavady Borough Council

Fines issued: 4

Fines paid: 3

Lisburn City Council

Fines issued: 20

Fines paid: 19

Magherafelt District Council

Fines issued: 45

Fines paid: 44

Moyle District Council

Fines issued: 7

Fines paid: 7

Newry and Mourne District Council

Fines issued: 92

Fines paid: 43

Newtownabbey Borough Council

Fines issued: 157

Fines paid: 135

North Down Borough Council

Fines issued: 34

Fines paid: 29

Omagh District Council

Fines issued: 32

Fines paid: 18

Strabane District Council

Fines issued: 48

Fines paid: 48

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