Members of Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon Borough Council’s environmental services committee have expressed concern at the way staff from a private firm, employed by the council to tackle littering in the borough are being deployed.
The issue was brought before the committee at its meeting on Tuesday, December 7 as members were provided with a six month review of the operation of the pilot scheme that has seen the Waste Investigations Support and Enforcement (WISE) company operate in the borough.
Members were told that four WISE officers operate in the borough daily during daylight hours, supported by a lead officer and throughout the pilot they have been focused on providing a visible deterrent and detecting offences.
From May 17 to October 31, a total of 3,035 fixed penalty notices have been issued. Of these, 2,109 (69.49 per cent) have been issued for the dropping of cigarette butts, 367 (12.09 per cent) have been issued for the littering of rolled up cigarettes while 54 (1.78 per cent) of the fines have been issued for dog fouling.
The statistics produced by the report show that Portadown was far and away the area where the most fixed penalty notices were issued with 1,327 or 43.72 per cent of all fixed penalty notices issued in the town.
By comparison 580 (19.11 per cent) of the fines were issued in Armagh, 545 fines (17.96 per cent) were issued in Craigavon, 282 fines (9.29 per cent were issued in Lurgan and 122 fines (4.02 per cent) were issued in Banbridge.
Noting this “huge discrepancy” Councillor Keith Haughian asked if council officers were content WISE’s time is being spent equally in the area’s major town centres.
“Those statistics would indicate there is a heck of a lot more offences being committed in some areas or that those WISE officers are not in some areas as much as others,” he said.
Council’s head of environmental health, Gillian Topping said when the pilot was launched it was never intended to provide every area with an exact share of the enforcement.
“It is focused on intelligence-led deployment, where we may have seen historical littering and the activities that go on in that area and the footfall and business of certain areas,” said Ms Topping.
“I think it is also something to do with the prevalence of smokers in that area as that is where we are getting the most fixed penalties.
“In terms of data, we have been working with WISE to try and better understand how they are classifying where they are patrolling.”
Noting a distinction in the data between ‘Craigavon’ and ‘Craigavon centre’ Alderman Stephen Moutray asked for a clarification of the difference between the two areas and the current status of the council’s in-house team.
He was advised officers are still seeking an explanation with regards to how the areas presented in the statistics are defined and told the council currently employs two part time and two full-time employees and retains a post and a half vacancy in its in-house team.
Councillor Brona Haughey called for WISE to spend time in rural villages such as Keady and Darkley and asked if an audit had taken place to determine if the presence of these officers had led to a reduction in littering in the borough.
Ms Topping informed her the pilot was focussed on ensuring there was an increase in the level of enforcement and the level of fixed penalties but council did not carry out a pre study evaluation of the amount of littering so it will not be possible to determine if it leads to a reduction in littering.
Councillor Julie Flaherty said she was “quite concerned” by the number of fines issued in and around Portadown and said it would be remiss of her not to mention the amount of complaints she has received from constituents about the presence of officers.
“Officers in environmental services do believe there has been an improvement in the quantity of the litter but this is clearly not the case in the middle of Portadown if that figure is anything to go by,” said Cllr Flaherty.
“Is it simply a heavy presence, particularly near the plaza or is it that they are not getting out about into the rural parts of Portadown. Either the message is not getting across or there is a saturation of these wardens in town. It seems like a huge number.
“I wish their uniform was a bit better labelled, maybe if it was that would put people off. I am very supportive of the scheme as a whole but there has to be something to this to explain why the centre of Portadown has had such a huge volume of littering fines.”