Brentwood Council taken to court by private citizen over rubbish near A12

Brentwood Borough Council has been ordered to pay court costs after a complaint was made about its failure to deal with rubbish around the A12.

The council avoided being sanctioned with a Litter Abatement Order (LAO) – a court action that demands litter to be cleared from a particular area – after several complaints were made about the state of land around the A12 which passes though the borough.

The complainant, John Galvin, said the council had only avoided being served with a Litter Abatement Order through a last minute clearance of a slip road leaving the A12 at Mountnessing which was one of three locations that had been subject of formal complaints on four separate occasions between March 2021 and May 2022.

An authority can be taken to court if they don’t keep publicly accessible land that they’re responsible for clear of litter and refuse. The authority can also be ordered by the court to pay the complainant’s costs.

But the authority can avoid court action if they clear the land within five days of being notified. If the courts think a council is in breach it can issue a Litter Abatement Order requiring it to clear land of litter within a certain time.

A litter authority is breaking the law if it doesn’t comply with an LAO and can be fined up to £2,500. It can also get further fines of up to £125 a day for each day the offence continues after conviction.

A submitted statement to Colchester Magistrates, which heard the case on September 7, said: “The A12 road has remained heavily littered for years and particularly since March 2021, at three specified locations.

“The council has failed to ensure that the said road, so far as is reasonably practicable, is kept clear of litter and refuse.”

The application was refused on the basis that enough was being done to keep the area clear – although at least one of the three areas was defaced with litter at the time of the court hearing.

A statement added: “Magistrates feel although at least one of the three areas is defaced by litter, in the circumstances the council are taking steps so far as practicable in order to clear the litter and refuse and therefore, no litter abatement notice is required.”

Brentwood Borough Council however was ordered pay costs of £245.30 to Mr Galvin. Section 92 of the Environmental Protection Act 1990 states that where a magistrates’ court is satisfied that, when the complaint was made to it, the highway or land in question was defaced by litter and that there were reasonable grounds for bringing the complaint, costs should be awarded to the person who made the complaint.

Mr Galvin said “I’m pleased that my action has finally led to one of the worst litter hotspots being cleared but disappointed that it has taken the threat of court action to bring it about after four years of appalling littering.

“While I understand that the council cannot legally be held responsible for litter that has been deposited or blown onto private land behind a lay-by it tests the patience of any reasonable person that the council has ignored this in responding to my complaints instead of liaising with the landowner to clear up drums, a shopping trolley, plastic containers, suspected urine bottles and plastic sheeting and a mountain of other litter.”

Mr Galvin added: “It is galling that a local authority can flout its legal duty to keep land and highways free from litter and refuse for so long and not have due regard to Government guidance on what it should do to fulfil its duty.

“It should not be necessary for a private individual to hold the council to account for performing its duty. This should be done through public monitoring and performance measures.”

A spokesperson for Brentwood Council said: “Brentwood Borough Council takes its responsibility regarding litter of any kind very seriously.

“Our street team empty bins regularly throughout the borough including those on the laybys of the A12. Although the A12 is managed and maintained by National Highways, the responsibility for litter is the local authority’s where the road runs through its borough.

“Brentwood work hard to remove litter from the slip ways and along the verges. However, this needs to be undertaken carefully and with strict safety measures in place to safeguard staff and motorists.

“This type of cleaning is undertaken regularly and therefore the recent case brought against the council for not keeping these to the required standard was not upheld by the magistrates who ultimately found in all of the circumstances that the council has taken reasonable and practicable steps and therefore did not make a litter abatement notice.”

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Piers Meyler

Local Democracy Reporter