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Councils urged to clean up their act with new powers

Defra : 30 March, 2006  (Company News)
Environment Secretary, Margaret Beckett, today launched a nationwide clampdown on litter as part of a package of new powers for local authorities.
New measures under the Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Act, which come into force on April 6, will see local authorities better equipped to combat litter in terms of both prevention and penalties.
As well as the power to increase fines from 50 to 80, from next week local authorities can also:

require occupiers to clear their land of litter;
stop people handing out flyers and leaflets in designated areas; and
fine shops selling take-away food if they refuse to clear up litter outside their premises Councils will also have powers to silence burglar alarms within 20 minutes and put in place new dog control orders, such as restrictions on the number of dogs that can be walked by one person at one time.

More effective powers to deal with problem alleyways were also announced by the Home Office.

Mrs Beckett has written at all local authorities to urge them to use the Act.

And today, Defra Ministers were visiting local authorities to talk about how this, the final tranche, of new powers will be used on the ground.

Mrs Beckett said the Act demonstrated a Government-wide commitment to improving local environment quality, and that now was the time for similar commitment from local authorities.

'People want clean, safe and quiet neighbourhoods. As such, their view of how well their local council is performing is strongly influenced by how effectively it manages the local environment.

'That's why local authorities asked for new powers to help them improve their neighbourhoods and punish offenders.

'And that's why Government has delivered the Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Act. Therefore, in the coming 12 months we will expect to see a concerted effort by all councils to use their new powers easily, extensively and effectively.'

Some of the powers relate to increased flexibility in the fining system: previous legislation had given local authorities the power to fine 50 for littering, dog fouling, graffiti and fly-posting. These powers have been used to varying degrees by local authorities.

However, under the Act, they can set the rate for these offences at anywhere between 50 and 80, and offer discounts for early payment.

Given this increased flexibility, as well as on-the-spot fines now being offered for a variety of other enviro-crimes, plus the fact that councils have asked for these powers, Mrs Beckett said there would be 'no excuses' for inaction:

'We want to see councils making more use of these fines, and where they are issued we want councils to ensure they are paid.

'We will therefore be very closely monitoring how the Act is being delivered on the ground.

'We will also be working with the poor performers to bring their performance and in turn the quality of the local environment, up with the best.'

This year, Defra will begin its most detailed ever survey of local environment quality which will be used to set new, challenging standards and target poor performers.

And given the extra powers to cut litter at its source, Mrs Beckett said she wanted this to be the catalyst for a major clampdown on dirty neighbourhoods:

'The threat of fines is often an excellent deterrent for potential offenders, and makes it clear to everyone that dropping litter will not be tolerated, but it's equally important to limit litter at its source.

'The Act therefore includes regulations on flyer distribution and added responsibilities for businesses where litter is a problem.

'There is also a real opportunity here for businesses and local authorities to use their collective powers in order to change behaviour.

'The campaigning power of businesses could be used hand-in-hand with the enforcement powers of local authorities to educate and enforce responsible behaviour. We will be looking closely at how we can stimulate this co-ordinated effort.'

Defra Ministers Elliot Morley, Jim Knight and Ben Bradshaw are out meeting councils on March 30/31 to see those who will be using the powers on the ground.

This commitment to local environment quality runs Government-wide. The Home Office today announced new powers to combat the problems of anti-social behaviour in England's alleyways which come into force on April 1.

Home Office Minister, Hazel Blears, said:

'For too long anti-social and criminal behaviour has taken place in our alleyways and footpaths, breeding fear and creating no-go zones for local residents. No one should have to put up with this.

'I have seen first hand how gating schemes have made a massive difference to local communities and their way of life. These new improved powers being introduced through the Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Act will allow local authorities to react quicker in known problem areas, locking the gates on anti-social behaviour'.

A full list of the measures set to come in to force on April 6 can be found in the attached factfile (after notes to editors). This includes measures to combat fly-posting, graffiti, malfunctioning burglar alarms, abandoned cars and fly-tipping.
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