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posted 20 May 2012, 15:52 by Westover Labour   [ updated 21 May 2012, 05:19 ]
Bridgwater community groups have been making their mark recently by taking control of their own neighbourhoods and cleaning up the streets. Groups like B.A.R.T (Bridgwater Anti Rubbish Team), Friends of Brownes Pond and others have been making a difference and setting an example.

Last Friday, Chair of Corporate Scrutiny Committee Brian Smedley, made  the sole item on his committees agenda a review of SDC street cleaning policy and to seek ways to co-operate with and respond to the work of the groups.

common strategy

Mark Hollidge from BART said he had started out as  a one man litter vigilante operating without funding but had gradually built up a team of helpers and was now being resourced by Sedgemoor's 'Clean Surroundings' team with litter picking equipment and assistance in disposal of the waste collected. Mark said "It's a relatively easy task , 1 and a half hours, kids and adults, Saturdays and Tuesdays. People notice the improvement. We could improve it with a common strategy, especially in Education, get into schools and get some coverage in the press."

Terry Pope from 'Friends of Brownes Pond' spoke of how his group developed from the local neighbourhood watch and set up a community clean up day, supported by James Presdee and Clean Surroundings. He said "Initially people were critical of our efforts saying 'you're wasting your time' or 'that's the councils job' and so on but then by the next week they'd seen an improvement and were saying 'good job' and 'looking better' . By the third week people were asking how they could get involved." Terry explained how 17 lorry loads of rubbish was removed from Brownes pond during the period. he also praised SDC worker Rob Semple for his support for their project. He added "Along with the Education their needs to be Enforcement and this needs to be effective. "

Education, Action, Enforcement

Lynda Duthie outlined the suggestions the community had come up with for ways which the Council could support them. She said "The 3 themes are Education, Action and Enforcement. We should clarify litter first, it can be discarded food packaging and also food -which attracts vermin. Remember the Bradford football stadium disaster happened because of discarded cigarette buts even.Litter can block drains and cause flooding, it can affect wildlife, farm animals, pets. Plastic bags suffocate. Dog fouling is toxic waste. Graffiti is litter, especially when it's offensive. This is a Public Education issue and there are many existing websites we can use - 'how to run a school litter programme' for instance or the 'eco schools programme'.We should look at the consequences of litter, get the message out through press and radio and a constant message 'love where you live'. Crucially we need to harness the goodwill of motivated citizens. We should set up community clean up days-liase with the local Authority on target areas. In terms of Enforcement the Council needs to use the powers it has and fine people and then publicise the results. We need to approach supermarkets and fast food outlets  to clean up after themselves or face consequences. We need a litter strategy ,set targets and then monitor those targets. Ward councillors need to link up with their local groups, their should be regular walks to identify problem areas. "

restricted budget

Adrian Gardner, SDC Environment group manager said "litter picking is a bit like painting the Forth Bridge-it;s a bottomless pit for resources. We have an Enforcement officer paid for 3 days a week. We have made prosecutions and we have worked with CCTV. However, we operate within a restricted budget so we are of course keen to work with others."

Rupert Farthing from 'Carymoor Environmental Trust' explained how Education around the County had suffered due to the County cutbacks, however his organisation was in place to assist schools ,community groups and councils to help with education-although now there was a fee for this. He said there was a " good take up in Sedgemoor with some 38 schools registered with them."

'the community is ahead of the council'

Cllr Julian Taylor (Lab,Eastover) said "The community is ahead of the council on this agenda. It is significant that the sea change in County Council direction was inappropriate and the result is clearly seen with the increase in fly-tipping. I am very disappointed that the Police have not turned up today. I was recently in New York and believe we can take a leave out of their zero-tolerance books. But not only there, in Blaenau Gwent recently the Council has employed a firm to dish out instant fines and there have been dramatic improvements"

Terry Pope added "This is true, and places like Hong Kong and Canada have no serious litter problems yet we're very weak in the UK."

A paper based on the Community Groups suggestions was tabled by the Chairman and the recommendations were proposed by Cllr Mike Lerry (Lab,Victoria) and Cllr Dave Loveridge (Lab,Eastover). They ran as follows :- 
1.     SDC to offer a co-ordinating role to facilitate the co-operation of Community anti-litter groups and thereby increase efficiency.
2.     SDC to make available adequate litter-picking tools and resources to reflect the  increased anti-litter activity.
3.     SDC and the Police to work together to ensure enforcement action is undertaken and publicised
4.     SDC to organise a series of co-ordinated Community Clean Up Days.
5.     SDC to investigate an enhanced Education programme based on the ideas outlined above seeking volunteer accreditation and training to encourage Community involvement with schools
6.     SDC to work with Bridgwater Town Council and other agencies and community groups and revive the ‘Partnership Walkabouts’ which can identify problem areas and solutions
7.     A Working Party be established to bring together key officers and anti-litter group leaders to promote and achieve the objectives set out.

Cllr Lerry said "We have got to change our way of working.There should be a co-provision of services. Change takes time and it doesn't rely on a lot of funding. We should be encouraging these hard working groups such as BART-who are very active in the Victoria ward, and responding to their approach."

Cllr Bob Filmer (Con,Knoll) also commended the work of the groups and their work with Clean Surroundings but saw the solution more as a 'role for members getting out with the teams in their wards'. He felt "A Corporate response isn't needed but more of a supportive role for SDC. Maybe taking on a co-ordinating role would be counter productive."

mustn't lead the process

Vice chair Cllr Jane Moreton (Con, Huntspill) supported his view saying "We musn't lead the process but rather councillors in their wards should be simply getting involved." She moved an ammendment to this effect seconded by Cllr Dennis Davey (Con,Burnham N)

Cllr Kathy Pearce (Lab,Westover) said "It's wonderful to have such proactive and  vigilant groups amongst us. We need to support them  and to involve the other agencies in doing the same-such as the Environment agency and we need to tackle a lot of this at source-such as the supermarkets".

call for a re-think

Shadow Spokesman for the Environment Cllr Reg Winslow (Lab,Fairfax) said "The enforcement could be better if they weren't outsourced to Mendip for 2 days a week. I would call for a rethink and ask that this be re-directed back to Bridgwater. I believe there's also a vacant post in EH at the moment which could be filled. Clean Surroundings do their best and there'll always be problems but what they do is very good. Enforcement has always been 'low key' and should target the Town Centre at specific times to make a presence."

Cllr Nobby Turner (Con, Kings isle) said "This is a totally Bridgwater orientated motion and we should be promoting the whole district."

The Chairman, Cllr Smedley, said " We accept that the Parishes and rural communities already do a good job in this respect but the case for Bridgwater to have a specially targetted approach is strong. Bridgwater is the district's main urban centre and there are numerous overlapping communities within the town all using each other as a thoroughfare for litter. I would ask that the Portfolio Holder would simply take the recommendations into consideration when he revisits this policy."

a lot can be done

Portfolio Holder Cllr Richard Burden (Con,Wedmore) said "The meeting has given me a lot to think about. We are moving from a 'them and us' culture and we all have a part to play.Cllr Filmer says the council should just be a facilitator otherwise they'll spoil it, but there's a lot that can be done that isn't budget dependent."

The Ammendment put by Cllr Moreton and seconded by Cllr Davey was as follows;-

1.    To recommend to Executive that the Council and Ward Members continue to work with community groups to achieve their outcomes in their areas.

2.    To request the Portfolio Holder for Environment report back to the Corporate Scrutiny Committee on how Clean Surrounding’s work with community groups could be improved following the meeting of 18 May 2012.

The Conservative amendment was taken and passed 7-4.

After the meeting Lynda Duthie commented "Promoting the work of volunteer groups, raising awareness of the consequences of litter through public education in local media and schools, working more closely with the police on enforcement - these don't have to be costly ventures.  A full blown campaign might cost but there must be sponsorship options out there.  And the benefits of a successful campaign in raising the spirits and self esteem of the town could be enormous (in my humble opinion!).  Our other request for more cutting back of  the nettles and grass verges to facilitate volunteer litter picking will have cost implications but without it, if we are still not permitted to use power tools, the impact of our efforts might not be enough to satisfy us to keep going.I suspect that many of the  councillors  have never walked through the streets of Bridgwater to see the litter problem firsthand."

Brian Smedley said "I was disappointed that the  meeting divided on Party lines because it genuinely wasn't a party political issue. I was happy that the Portfolio holder said he was happy to look at the recommendations  and hope he will. I would like to thank the Community Groups for making the effort to put their case and I believe they have put this issue in the forefront of people's minds by their hard work , dedication and by caring about their town."