(c) Environmental Concerns
Service Manager Community Resilience, R Gardiner, was in attendance.
A report on the Environment and Neighbourhoods Enforcement Activity 2018 had been published in the agenda. Local Councils had particularly asked to receive information on anti-social behaviour, loitering, fly-tipping and the model that was in use at Maldon District Council.
The Environment and Neighbourhoods (EN) team covered incidents mainly to do with fly-tipping, noise, loitering and anti-social behaviour. The EN team for 2018 had comprised seven officers but the EN manager had now been appointed the Community Resilience Service Director in the Council re-structure.
On loitering and anti-social behaviour, the Council targeted enforcement actions and prioritised work amongst the seven EN officers. There were also two police officers, one police sergeant and two anti-social behaviour officers. Diary sheets would be completed and statements taken to assess any problems. There were no patrols to cover littering and dog mess because the EN team worked on a reactive basis to incidents reported.
Epping Forest District had one of the highest number of fly-tipping incidences (2,606) in Essex, which took up 51 per cent of officers’ time. Fly-tipping could range from a resident, to a man in a van, and to organised crime. Fixed penalty notices (FPN) were used as an alternative to prosecutions for smaller offences and over £4,200 of financial penalties were imposed. The Council had a ‘crime not to care’ campaign and residential households had a duty of care to dispose of their rubbish correctly. They needed to ensure that the waste carrier they hired was registered and that they kept all the paperwork. The FPN was currently set at £200 but the maximum was £400. Someone on benefits might struggle with a £400 fine but members would be asked to review the price in due course.
The aim was to keep waste out of the control of rogue traders. Prosecution was used for larger offences. One such recent prosecution resulted in a fine of £25,000, some £2,000 of which would come back to the Council. The EN team had tried to launch the buy with confidence scheme but only one company had signed up and submitted to an audit.
Maldon District Council used Enforcement and Surveillance officers, which although similar were different. The seven officers were more patrol based and covered fly-tipping (circa 500 cases a year), security checks, anti-social behaviour, dog messing, and parking enforcement. It was also the only local authority that undertook speed checks for the Police. Two of these posts were funded by local councils and they could also purchase time for their areas. Maldon District Council did not monitor noise nuisance and had no out of hours noise service. In this district noise nuisance was the second biggest complaint with 1,529 incidents that equated to 30 per cent of officers’ workload.
A members question and answer session followed.
The Chairman asked about rubbish thrown from vehicles and added that he had given a witness statement when someone was littering out of a car window. R Gardiner said it had been difficult to identify the perpetrator. The penalty charge notice (PCN) could now be given to the registered keeper of a vehicle. Unfortunately the legislation was not well written but it was a civil matter with an appeals process to reclaim the money.
Councillor D Wixley remarked that Loughton Town Council had dog litter bins installed and asked what the cost was. R Gardiner replied that dog waste could be disposed of in any bin as it was co-mingled with other waste.
Councillor D Wixley asked if on the spot fines were still being issued for littering offences as a FPN was an alternative to prosecution. R Gardiner replied that officers would assess whether there was evidence to prosecute or a FPN would be issued, as on the spot fines were not an option now.
North Weald Parish Councillor, T Blanks, was concerned that fly-tipping was worse in North Weald than in other areas and that there were fewer recycling centres since the one in Ongar had been closed. R Gardiner replied that the causes of fly-tipping were complex. Essex County Council had tightened up on the types of waste going to its recycling centres as only household waste was allowed. Previously far too much commercial waste had been deposited. At the end of the day everyone had to take responsibility for their waste.
Nazeing Parish Councillor, K Carter, commented that commercial waste carriers were charged a lot of money to dispose of waste. R Gardiner replied that in Essex most waste contractors factored in this charge.
Stapleford Abbotts Parish Councillor, J Jackson, commented that she had followed a vehicle fly-tipping and reported it with video footage to the District Council. She had no response back form the Council but had found out later that the perpetrator had been issued with a FPN. R Gardiner replied that fly-tipping posed many difficult problems, such as the use of false number plates, people refusing to give a statement, and offenders not turning up at Court, which meant Court warrants had to be issued. The EN officers were swamped with the workload and though the larger cases should go to the Environment Agency, as it was under resourced, the Council tended to investigate these.
Councillor J H Whitehouse commented on the light nuisance she had experienced when driving in Theydon Bois, as residents had their own security lights that flashed on and off when road users drove past. R Gardiner replied that EN officers would investigate lights nuisance but most cases were resolved informally as it was easy to check what the problem was.
Councillor M Sartin asked about CCTV on private property which was positioned so that it also filmed in the public domain. She was advised that A Petty was the CCTV Operations Manager and if cameras were positioned into other neighbouring properties this would not be acceptable.
Councillor C C Pond remarked that if there were not enough resources in the EN team then he suggested the Chairman of the Overview and Scrutiny Committee should look at this issue as the Council ought to consider if more resources were needed. R Gardiner replied that The EN team could use as many staff resources as provided and simply did not have enough spare to patrol at the moment.
(d) Air Quality
A report from the Service Manager (Regulatory), S Devine, had detailed that the Council was reviewing its Action Plan with a view to introducing a new range of measures aimed at reducing concentrations of pollutants, both within the AQMA (Air Quality Management Areas) and across the district. Officers had also been involved in a number of local initiatives as part of the Clean Air Day campaign over the summer, from providing educational resources to targeting drivers of idling vehicles outside a few schools. No FPNs had been issued but all drivers confronted had turned their engines off immediately. If a driver was obstructive or was recognised as a repeat offender then a FPN would be served.
D Macnab explained that during the hearing session on Habitats Regulations Assessment (HRA) (Matter 1, Issue 5), the Local Plan Inspector had postponed this until 21 May 2019, in light of the publication of this report in January 2019. The Inspector had also decided to postpone discussion of Development Management Policies DM2 (Epping Forest SAC and Lee Valley SPA) and DM22 (Air Quality) until that date so that the over-lapping matters could be considered at the same session.
In relation to the drivers of idling vehicles, officers would work with local schools and usually when drivers were approached they would turn their engines off. FPNs could be issued but none had been so far.
Councillor J H Whitehouse said that at Epping Station buses were turning their engines off. D Macnab replied that the Council had raised this with Transport for London. However, the station approach road was a private road, but there were notices displayed to remind bus drivers to turn their engines off.
North Weald Parish Councillor, S Jackman, deplored this issue because of the Local Plan. Air quality affected lots of people’s lives and it was of prime importance.
Cllr C C Pond agreed and that there was a further Government report on idling near school gates, and could joint action be taken between the Council and North Essex Parking Partnership (NEPP). NEPP had some surplus money to spend. Also Transport for London would be deploying electric hybrid buses on 23 March 2019.
Councillor B Scruton added that three complaints of idling vehicles nearby had been reported to St John’s School as air quality was such an important issue.
D Macnab said that the Council was not complacent. Some evidence based work had to be done with the Local Plan. In addition, camera cars could be deployed to hotspots and the results of this action taken back to NEPP.
(e) Essex Highways
This item was concerning the maintenance of signs, heritage signs and the role and responsibilities of Essex County Council and Epping Forest District Council (EFDC) and the influence, if any, that EFDC could achieve with ECC. This particularly concerned finger posts, which were of great interest to Theydon Bois Parish Councillor, A Purkiss.
The Vice-Chairman, Councillor C C Pond, reported that road signage was the responsibility of ECC, and lots of signage antiquities and milestones were locally or statutorily listed and more credence should be given to preserve them. Revision of the Local List came under EFDC and it needed to be updated. He asked if any local councils wanted to propose any finger posts, metal or wooden, and any unlisted milestones that they wanted to be added to the Local List, as it would up their awareness if they were on a database of heritage objects.
This issue had arisen when an ECC contractor had removed a finger post sited in Berwick Lane, Stanford Rivers. Stanford Rivers Parish Clerk, A Jones, explained that this contractor had unexpectedly replaced the old finger post with a new one.
D Macnab replied that local councils should forward their proposals on heritage assets and unlisted milestones to N Richardson (Service Director (Planning)). EFDC was in regular contact with ECC and the Cabinet Member with responsibility for highways and transportation. There had been conversations around the delegation of some of ECC’s functions to District level, such as the highway rangers and other responsibilities around highways and the street scene generally. However, EFDC would probably be advising members that with these responsibilities should come resources and not just a cost shunt. D Macnab said that he would liaise on this with N Richardson and Councillor J Philip (Planning Services Portfolio Holder) around adopting some of this heritage signage and would be relying on local councils to advise of those they thought had particular heritage merit.
Chigwell Parish Councillor, R Alvin, said that a gateway, welcome sign coming into Chigwell from Redbridge had been removed and it seemed that ECC were not that willing to replace it as there was a County-wide strategy to reduce street furniture.
Waltham Abbey Town Clerk, K Richmond, remarked that a gateway sign in Waltham Abbey had been knocked down and the Town Council had got a contractor to replace it.
(f) Street Lighting
In response to public concerns on the turning off of streetlights overnight by County, the District Council had been working with the ECC Cabinet Member for Infrastructure, Councillor K Bentley. Councillor C Whitbread, the Leader had been able to advise Council on 20 December 2018 of the estimated costs of all night illumination at local council level. However, ECC had been inundated with requests from various local councils for lighting at different times and on different days of the week. It was important therefore, that all requests should be made to EFDC who would be dealing with the practical arrangements and payments.
Chigwell Parish Councillor, R Alvin, remarked that the Parish Council was not clear about the costs quoted for Chigwell and hence the request to clarify the costs quoted.