Top councillors defend action as 17 lorry drivers were nailed for dropping cig butts by five officers deployed during early-morning fire emergency

By Neil Speight

7th May 2020 | Local News

DESPITE confirming that Thurrock Council deployed enforcement officers to crack down on lorry drivers forced to park up during a fire emergency incident in Thurrock, its leader and environment portfolio holder have both defended the action.

It has been revealed that during Wednesday's emergency, when a fire closed down a recycling site in Oliver Close in Wets Thurrock – blocking many vehicles from getting to their destinations on the industrial estate, 17 fixed penalty notices – which carry a fine of up to £150 – were issued to drivers who discarded cigarette tabs.

In an opinion article, Thurrock Nub News editor Neil Speight condemned the action – which including one enforcement officer hiding behind a vehicle and watching a driver before pouncing when he dropped the cigarette rather than electing to warn him of the consequences of doing so.

Mr Speight said it appeared clear to him that the council's action was not to be preventative – but to generate revenue from fines.

You can read his views here.

But council leader Cllr Rob Gledhill and his cabinet college Aaron Watkins believe the council was right to deploy five enforcement officers to police the situation.

Both have responded to Mr Speight's invitation to pass comment.

Cllr Gledhill said: "Firstly I would like to thank the Essex Fire Service for their swift actions in not only tackling this incident but getting the road open as soon as possible.

"Oliver Road (an access road to Oliver Close) is the access for a number of companies who are still operating and getting the road fully open was a priority as soon as they had made the area safe.

"Thurrock Council has taken a zero tolerance approach to those who litter the streets of our borough since December 2016 with any person who is caught littering being issued a fine.

"You are fully aware of the 'No ifs, No Butts' campaign making clear we will issue these tickets even for a discarded cigarette butt. Littering is covered by the Environmental Protection Act 1990 and is a national act applying everywhere in England and Wales. I am sorry I do not subscribe to your argument that the driver would not have known not to drop litter, irrespective of whether a fine would be issued or not.

"Thurrock Council spends a significant amount taxpayers' money each year sweeping the streets and clearing fly-tips, so any action that will deter anyone, from anywhere, using our streets as an ashtray, dustbin or toilet should be used. This is why our enforcement officers issued a total of 17 fixed penalties in this one road for those doing exactly that on the day. So clearly this is not about revenue raising as you suggest but solely enforcing good behaviour on our streets.

"With regards to your headline 'welcome to Thurrock here is a fine', nothing could be further from the truth.

"Thurrock is one of the largest logistical hubs in the whole country with three international ports and hundreds of logistic and warehouse organisations that help feed, clothe and fuel this great nation.

"Thurrock welcomes all businesses that respects our borough and work closely with them to ensure their impact is minimised. However this does not mean we will not apply the law to those who litter, park in contravention of local restrictions or issue Community Protection Warnings or Notices to those who cause an eyesore or have a negative impact on our local environment.

"I would again make clear that Thurrock will continue its zero tolerance approach to issuing fines for those who litter our street, use them as toilets or act in other anti-social ways."

Cllr Watkins said: "This year we cleaned 1,150 tonnes of rubbish and debris from our streets, this has led Keep Britain Tidy naming us Environmental Team of the Year at the Keep Britain Tidy Awards 2020.

"Last year it was highlighted our industrial areas were letting us down so taking action not only to fine those littering but clearing them up helped increase our score. It was litter such as cigarette butts, discarded food cartons and the alike that kept down that score and took time for us to improve. I cannot see how you suggest that anyone can inadvertently flicks cigarette butt on the floor when it is clearly littering.

"As you know from your visit the road was still busy and traffic had to be kept moving. At one point the Oliver Road depot was blocked in by a vehicle inconsiderately parked. This would have caused delays to our waste and environmental teams who are out trying to keep our streets cleaned, parks and verges cut as bins collected.

"So it was right that action was taken was taken against those who were parking causing a problem or were littering our streets."

Mr Speight concluded: "I am grateful for Cllr Gledhill and Cllr Watkins for being brave enough to break the council edict that they will not answer media questions. I hope they don't get their wrists slapped but it is to their credit that they stand by a view that many people disagree with.

"I'm one of them.

"Not against littering, but against hiding and seeking fines rather than stopping something happening in the first place. Deploying five officers to an early morning incident just to catch lorry drivers for dropping cigarettes smacks to me of an organisation that has got its priorities entirely wrong.

"But opinions vary and for giving full and frank responses, I applaud both councillors – and I hope it sets a trend."


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