The National Rural Crime Network is asking Ministers to “urgently consider” the impact the Coronavirus pandemic is having on already “vulnerable” rural communities across the country.
The group, which represents over 30 Police and Crime Commissioners along with organisations who focus on rural Britain – such as the NFU, Countryside Alliance and Neighbourhood Watch – have written to George Eustice MP, the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.
The Network is asking the Environment Secretary to consider a range of issues which it believes have not so far been addressed by government during the crisis.
This includes the closure of waste and recycling centres, which the group says will “inevitably drive even greater criminality in the waste sector, including fly-tipping”.
In these unprecedented times, we accept that there are a huge range of issues to consider and deal with, but we do not believe that there has been sufficient focus on the millions of people who live and work in rural Britain
It says that whilst this might apply equally to urban and rural alike, the difference is that the cost is directly picked up by the landowner in rural cases, “impacting them to a much greater degree”, it says.
Julia Mulligan, Chair of the National Rural Crime Network and North Yorkshire Police, Fire and Crime Commissioner, said: “We have seen time and again that rurality is not considered in the course of policy development, not least via our rural policing surveys, research into domestic abuse and analysis of government funding.
“In these unprecedented times, we accept that there are a huge range of issues to consider and deal with, but we do not believe that there has been sufficient focus on the millions of people who live and work in rural Britain.
“Rural communities are home to residents who are already much more likely to be in the government cohort of ‘vulnerable’ and, collectively, they do not have the infrastructure to support the government response and the unique challenges this crisis is presenting.”
The Countryside Alliance has reported a 300% rise in fly-tipping in some areas after local authorities closed recycling centres amid the COVID-19 crisis.
❗️| Refuse and street cleansing teams with Liverpool City Council are urging residents to be considerate with their waste following an upsurge in fly-tipping and in the city over the weekend.
— Explore Liverpool (@ExploreLpool) April 8, 2020
The rural communities campaign group said people are using the lockdown to have a “clear-out of homes and gardens” and dumping the resulting waste illegally.
West Oxfordshire District Council says it has seen an upsurge in fly-tipping at its local recycling bring sites following the closure of the county council’s household waste and recycling centres.
Winchester City Council also reported an increase in fly-tipping since the COVID-19 lockdown.
Cllr Neil Cutler, Deputy Leader and ward member for Southwick & Wickham, said: “Fly-tipping at this time diverts teams away from the frontline of waste collection and in this case more importantly, could have blocked emergency service vehicles from attending those in need.
Fly-tipping at this time diverts teams away from the frontline of waste collection and in this case more importantly, could have blocked emergency service vehicles from attending those in need.
“We would ask householders, where possible, to store rubbish until the waste recycling centres reopen, and remind people that if they pay someone to take away this material, and this is subsequently fly-tipped, both they and the fly-tipper can and will be prosecuted.”
Enfield Council says its households are producing around 15% more waste than normal, and that it is operating a work force that is currently down by 17% due to “general absences and the impact of coronavirus”.
“This is putting incredible amounts of pressure on our front-line teams,” the council says, and stressed that residents can help by “trying hard” to minimise the amount of waste, recycling and food waste produced.
[UPDATE] Keeping HWRCs open
In a Defra blog post, the department said it takes fly-tipping “very seriously”.
It reiterated recently published guidance, which stated a councils’ top priority should be the collection of residual ‘black bag’ waste to stop the build-up of waste and protect public health.
We are also encouraging councils to keep their HWRCs open to ensure that bulky waste can continue to be disposed of, but only if social distancing guidelines can be adhered to on site
It also said that through the guidance, “we are also encouraging councils to keep their HWRCs open to ensure that bulky waste can continue to be disposed of, but only if social distancing guidelines can be adhered to on site”.
“If a local HWRC is open, then as per the laws and guidance currently in place, members of the public should only take their waste to a HWRC if the journey is ‘essential’, i.e. because the build-up of waste in the home may pose a risk of injury or to health.”