On patrol: How our town's neighbourhood wardens find and fine Northampton flytippers

Bin bags and flytipping dumped on Northampton's streets is never ignored.

Tuesday, 11th September 2018, 7:09 pm
Updated Wednesday, 12th September 2018, 1:33 pm
The Chronicle & Echo goes on patrol with one of Northampton's neighbourhood wardens.

In fact, a lot of work is done to reunite them with their owners - and ask them why their rubbish is in the street.

Neighbourhood warden Sarah Oakes carries an investigation kit on every job she goes on. It includes a large box of latex gloves, a roll of black bin sacks, a pack of anti-bacterial wipes, evidence bags, a pair of heavy-duty gloves and a sharps box.

With these, Sarah opens up people's fly-tipped bin bags and dives in to find out where they came from.

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If dumped bin bags have evidence linking them to a property, the resident can be found and issued an 80 fixed penalty notice.

"You have to be resilient in this job," says Sarah, as she tears open a bin sack dumped off Wellingborough Road. "Nothing puts me off anymore.

"It was a lot worse during the heatwave this year. They smelled a lot worse, and there were more flies too."

Inside, Sarah finds what's left of a microwaveable curry, rotten vegetables and classified medical papers addressed to a flat nearby.

Sarah rebags the torn sacks, puts the letter in an evidence bag and makes a note to report it for collection on the borough council's app.

Hotspots in the town can be littered with fly-tipped furniture, rubbish and bin bags.

"I would say 75 per cent of the bags I open have something that tells us where it came from.

"We can escalate from there. I can run a council tax check to ensure they still live at the property. Then we can issue them a notice asking why bin bags from their address are in the street. If it's appropriate, we issue them a fixed-penalty notice for £80.

"It's very effective enforcement."

Sarah is one of 13 neighbourhood wardens that cover Northampton. Together, they investigate flytipping and work with communities to improve public spaces.

Sarah finds and disposes of a syringe found on a pile of rubbish.

With recent law changes, it also means enforcing penalties. In fact, 122 FPNs have been issued in 2018, compared to 469 warning notices and three prosecutions.

Next to the bin bags is a freezer, which inside is still lined with ice. It can only have been there a few hours. Finding its owner will be much harder.

"It's a common myth, but the borough council does not operate a flytipping collections service," says Sarah. "We have a responsibility to collect flytipping - but it doesn't mean we're a flytipping collection service. There's a subtle difference."

Sarah's next stop takes her to an estate nearby where street drinkers have left a large number of nitrous-oxide canisters. A syringe is lying on a pile of potato shavings. After that, she visits Wellingborough Road pub, where flytippers were causing a rat problem in their back garden.

Sarah finds and disposes of a syringe found on a pile of rubbish.

Sarah says: "I don't know if flytipping has increased in Northampton. I would rather say that it is a lot more publicised than it used to be."

Which might be true. Facebook pages like Northampton's Rubbish exist just for residents to post pictures of the litter and flytipping in the town.

"I've seen that page," says Sarah. "It doesn't mean I can act on what's there.

"The best thing people can do is report problems with the borough council app. The more information we have the more steps we can take to start enforcement.

"It's in my interest to have a good relationship with my residents and letting people feel they can come to me. I want them to know I can deal with their issues.

"If everyone has that little bit of investment in their area then they should also know they can come forward in confidence and tell us about problems.

Sarah's investigation kit includes wet wipes, evidence bags and sharps boxes for syringes.

"Of course, when you do find who's been flytipping, they don't like when you point out to them that they've done something wrong. I've been called all sorts of names. It's part of the job."