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Secret Thinker wonders if Highland Council's zero tolerance approach to litter remains

By Secret Thinker

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How does seeing litter in the streets make you feel?
How does seeing litter in the streets make you feel?

I’ll admit that I sometimes wear my heart on my sleeve. Knee-jerk reactions can lead to regrets and there are certain things which make my blood boil.

I was following a car on the southern distributor road in Inverness last week when two windows opened and an avalanche of litter was flung out of each side of the vehicle. They’d clearly finished their fast food meal in unison.

My ire at witnessing this appalling act of selfishness and total disregard for our environment was so great, my wee ones asked if I was OK.

Fortunately, I calmed myself but my fury at the scummy behaviour of these lowlifes didn’t abate, not least because I felt powerless to do anything in the face of such blatant lawbreaking.

Can you imagine the police reaction to taking a call from a concerned member of the public reporting an incident of littering? I wonder if city police have ever taken a call about such a crime or how they would react if they saw similar.

I'm told most councils hand out less than one fine a week to litterers, with one-in-six councils issuing no fines at all across a period of a year.

Earlier this year it was reported campaigners at Clean Up Britain recognise the shameful state of our country and say councils enforcing fines should be made compulsory, with on-the-spot penalties, currently £150 in some places but £80 in the Highlands, immediately being raised to £1000.

But, whether the fine is £1, £100 or £10,000 it makes no difference when they’re not issued.

So, what would stop someone from littering? It's the same with dog dirt. If an owner who doesn't want to pick up after their pet thinks they can get away without doing so, they'll probably take that opportunity.

And despite receiving hundreds of complaints from the public over dog fouling and litter each year, Highland Council issued no fines to litter louts in the last year, official figures reveal.

The lack of enforcement action on environmental crime has led campaigners to accuse the council of “giving up” on the issue.

In May 2007, the council issued a press release about cracking down on litter louts in Inverness. It stated it was actively pursuing people who drop litter in the centre of the city in a campaign to keep the capital of the Highlands clean and tidy. At the time Lorna Jackson, the council’s then community works officer, said: “We have lately received a lot of criticism about litter on our streets which includes discarded cigarette ends, fast food packaging, broken glass and chewing gum. We will be patrolling this area over the coming weeks so that people get the message that they are actually breaking the law by throwing their litter away – even cigarette ends. We are also trying to raise awareness among the public that it is their council tax contributions that are being used to clear up other peoples’ rubbish.”

Back then, the local authority said it would be rolling the litter crackdown campaign out to other parts of Inverness as particular problem areas are identified. Other areas that the council was focusing on were dog fouling, fly-tipping and identifying those responsible for the abandoning vehicles – all of which are finable offences.

This work was followed 10 years ago by another council-issued statement titled: Highland Council takes zero tolerance stance on littering.

Then Councillor Graham Phillips, chairman of the council's TEC services committee at that time, said many staff are out very early each morning clearing up before we leave our homes – they still are today in the city centre. But back then he went on: "We all need to take a zero tolerance approach to littering across all ages and refuse to accept it. We need to get clean-up opportunities embedded into our communities so that we all play a part. A change of mind-set is needed by everyone to adopt a zero tolerance approach.”

Then council leader Drew Hendry (now our city's MP) said at the time: “As a council we have to tackle littering head-on and treat it as antisocial behaviour. Littering is wrong, it should not be tolerated and it should not happen. Littering also has an impact on our tourism economy – one of the key industries in the Highlands. We market our natural environment as a key attraction for visitors and littering has a direct impression on visitors that can affect the potential for repeat visits through word-of-mouth recommendations.”

Maybe this hard-line approach doesn't cut it anymore and that's the reasoning for the lack of fines when action can be taken. Perhaps in this day and age we need to be listening and understanding, rather than threatening punishment against the litterbugs. Let's face it, what else can we do? Maybe understanding the why will lead to an answer for the how, when it comes to finding a solution.

Send any of your ideas to newsdesk@hnmedia.co.uk

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