Slobs have licence to litter in filthy UK

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A flood-tide of rubbish is engulfing Britain's towns and cities because no one can be bothered to prosecute the people dumping it.

A flood-tide of rubbish is engulfing Britain's towns and cities because no one can be bothered to prosecute the people dumping it.

An authoritative survey published this week reveals huge public anger at the squalid state of streets, parks and even the countryside, with 80,000 recorded complaints last year.

Yet, from Penzance to Inverness, local councils fined only 422 litter louts. And, to make matters worse, fewer than half the offenders paid up.

The study, conducted by the Tidy Britain Group, also reveals an alarming drop in the number of prosecutions for littering, falling from 2,500 in 1990 to just over 500 in 1998.

Tidy Britain claims that the litter laws are now in crisis and it is urging ministers to act.

For the past decade, councils have been allowed to employ special wardens issuing on-the-spot fines of £25. But the new research shows the powers lie unused in most parts of Britain. Only a fifth of councils administer the scheme.

The whole of the north-west region saw only one fine and no prosecutions at all last year, despite 18,000 complaints to the local authorities. "Local councils are failing to use the strong powers provided to prosecute offenders - and that means the litter lout is getting away with it," said Tidy Britain's chief executive Alan Woods.

"The cost of cleaning in Britain is £340m a year. In the long term it would be much cheaper to invest in litter prevention in the first place."

The group points to the example of Wandsworth, a London borough which employs litter patrols and last year fined 297 offenders - nearly three quarters of the British total. Wandsworth's officers do not hesitate to sift through abandoned bin bags to identify the perpetrators.

Elsewhere, however, the picture is bleak. "There isn't a great deal to distinguish the worst towns from the best," said Mr Woods. "They are all much of a muchness."

The West Midlands saw more than 11,000 complaints but did not levy a single fine, a failure rate almost matched by the East Midlands. East Anglia received nearly 12,000 complaints, but managed to levy just 103 fixed penalties.

Most local authorities claim they cannot afford to meet the cost of enforcing the litter laws. Their task has been made worse thanks to a sharp rise in illegal fly-tipping, as land grows short and official dumps increase their prices.

Ministers are determined to reduce the amount of rubbish we dump, and have levied a new landfill tax designed to encourage recycling. But this has raised tipping costs so steeply that people are dumping builders' rubble and plastic bags of household waste in the countryside. Salisbury Plain has been badly affected.

The collapse in scrap value for old cars has also proved a problem, with a plague of vandalised bangers disfiguring the streets.