Belfast Telegraph

Postcode lottery for litter louts

By Helen McDowell

Getting fined for littering appears to be something of a postcode lottery.

New figures from the Department of Environment reveal that you're more likely to get hit with an £80 fixed penalty depending on where the litter lout strikes.

Ards Borough Council issued only three litter fines in the year up to April 2013, compared to 12 the previous year.

However, it dished out 15 penalties for dog fouling, compared to 13 the year before.

Its neighbour, North Down Borough Council, issued 34 litter fixed penalties in the 2012/13 year, compared just four the previous year.

It also issued five for dog fouling, compared to one the year before.

A spokesperson for Ards council told the Community Telegraph: "While the number of fixed penalties for littering has decreased since 2011-2012, the overall level of enforcement action has increased in relation to issues such as dog licences and stray dogs. There has been a strong focus on dog fouling in particular, with the council ranking in the upper quartile for the number of penalties issued when compared to other councils."

There is anecdotal evidence that cigarette litter dropped by people forced outdoors to smoke by the smoking ban, has contributed to rising litter problems across the province. The statistics however do not detail what type of litter a fixed penalty is issued for, so cannot prove this.

Chris Allen of anti-litter charity Tidy Northern Ireland says fines for littering have risen by 15% in 2012/13 since tougher penalties aimed at tackling our rubbish-strewn streets came into force.

There continues however to be a wide disparity in how councils are dealing with the problem.

He said: "Because it (street cleaning) costs £40 million per year for all of Northern Ireland, councils can't keep spending that money on something that can be prevented."

Across the province's 26 district councils, 3,742 fixed penalty notices were issued in 2012/13. That is 10 fines handed out every day across Northern Ireland.

By contrast, in 2011/12, some 3,268 fines were issued.

The rise follows the implementation of the Clean Neighbourhoods Act in April 2012, which handed councils tough new powers to deal with litter. Councils can now hand out more on-the-spot fines of £80, instead of the previous £50.

Twenty of the 26 councils saw an increase in the number of fines issued during 2012/13.

Ards however was one of five councils where the number of fines issued was in single figures.

However, councils are restricted by budgets and there is a huge onus on the public to take pride in their communities.

Chris Allen added: "Many people understand that it's wrong to drop litter, but we clearly need to work harder and send wider the message that littering is wrong. For those that won't listen, these figures suggest it's more likely than ever before that you'll be caught, and rightly so."

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