“We should all be truly ashamed of how disgusting and litter-strewn our country has become. Britain’s highways, roundabouts and slip-roads are covered in litter, and it looks like we have finally lost all sense of self-respect and pride…
“However, this does not excuse National Highways’ shameful and scandalous track record of inaction and dereliction of duty. They are failing on an astonishing and soul-destroying scale to clean up the tsunami of litter which is festering all over their roads, in every part of the country. They are guilty of professional negligence, contractual amateurism and wasting public money.
“AND let’s be clear, they are breaking the law every day… as they have a legal duty to ‘ensure its land is kept clear of litter’ …and useless Ministers just let them get away with it. WHY?”John Read, Founder of Clean Up Britain
Cross-party political condemnation of National Highways
National Highways is universally condemned by politicians from all major English parties at Westminster:
“Our highways are blighted by a sea of plastic pollution. National Highways have been shamefully neglecting their legal responsibilities, and Ministers have been utterly failing to hold them accountable. Not only must the Government have to take action if this continues, but also tackle the root cause of the issue – the excessive and unnecessary use of environmentally destructive plastic in the first place”.Caroline Lucas MP, Former Green Party leader
“The hard shoulders on all our motorways are an absolutely disgusting sight. It is truly shameful that all over this nation’s roads we are drowning in litter. In the short term, we must ensure that National Highways fulfils its duties”.Wera Hobhouse MP, Liberal Democrat Transport spokesperson
“As I drove onto the M1 at Junction 8, I might as well have been driving through a rubbish tip. But it’s not just litter… if you drive onto Junction 8 there is street furniture that was dumped there years and years ago (and never been cleared up by National Highways). I’ve written and written to National Highways, and I’m sure they just think they can ignore Members of Parliament”.Sir Mike Penning MP, Former Roads Minister
‘“Litter on the side of roads is an eyesore, impacts the local environment and can even pose a risk to the safety of road users. National Highways has a legal duty to keep the roads they manage free from litter, and I urge them and the Department of Transport to ensure that this requirement is adhered to.”Gill Furniss MP, Labour Party Shadow Roads Minister
The open letter
Dear Mr Harris,
We are writing to you on behalf of our client, Clean Up Britain (CLUB) Community Interest Company, a national campaigning organisation which seeks to find sustainable and effective solutions to Britain’s epidemic of litter and fly-tipping. In particular, CLUB takes action to:
1. Encourage behavioural change to prevent littering and fly-tipping; and
2. Hold to account governmental and other bodies which are responsible for keeping land clear of litter.
This letter requires National Highways now to take immediate action to comply with its statutory duties to keep highway land for which it is responsible clear of litter and refuse. Should you fail to do so, our client has instructed us that it will take legal action to hold you to account.
National Highways’ duty
National Highways has a duty, pursuant to The Environmental Protection Act 1990 (EPA 1990) and the Code of Practice on Litter and Refuse 2006 (last modified February 2022) (Code)
• to keep a highway or road clean (s. 89 (2) and Code para. 3.2); and
• to ensure highway land is kept clear of litter and refuse (s. 89 (1) (b))
so far as is practicable.
Parliament’s decision to set this standard by reference to practicability reflects a high standard, stronger than a mere duty to take such steps as “reasonably practicable”.
The Secretary of State has given mandatory directions to ‘duty bodies’ (including National Highways) to keep litter on lands or highways to an acceptable standard identified in the Code. That standard is enforceable in the magistrates’ court. It is therefore a concrete duty; not a target duty.
The Code identifies that the acceptable standard is that duty bodies shall “keep their land clear of litter and refuse so that it does not fall below a grade B and is cleansed to an A on a regular basis” (para. 7.3). The Code details four grades of littering being: Grade A (no litter or refuse), Grade B (Predominantly free of litter and refuse apart from some small items), Grade C (widespread distribution of litter and/or refuse with minor accumulations), and Grade D (heavily affected by litter and/or refuse with significant accumulations).
National Highways identifies that it is responsible for the motorways and specified trunk roads identified in its Litter Strategy Update 2020.
National Highways’ breach of duty
National Highways is in flagrant and systemic breach of its duties under s. 89 (1) and (2) EPA 1990, in respect of numerous locations along the motorway network for which it is responsible, and of the Code. In these locations, the level of littering and refuse falls below Grade B and has not been cleansed to Grade A on a regular basis. Further, in many locations, the level of littering is at Grade D.
By way of example only, our client’s Twitter account has documented a series of dated videos and photographs recording the state of littering at specific locations along the highway estate for which you are responsible. .
These examples by no means constitute the full extent of your breaches of duty.
Our client’s simple expectation is that National Highways should perform its statutory duty. If it did so, the national highway estate for which it is responsible – spanning from the M5 and A30 at Exeter in the South West, to the A1(M) and A69 in Newcastle Upon Tyne in the North East – would have no litter or refuse and, at worst, temporarily be predominately free of litter and refuse apart from some small items.
You will be aware that our client – and many of its supporters – have for some time been trying to achieve this outcome through constructive dialogue with National Highways. Regrettably, it appears that this is not a route to which you are amenable.
Our client requires that National Highways:
- Returns all highways land for which it is responsible to a minimum grade B and confirms that it will be cleansed to a grade A on a regular basis, within the timeframes set out in the Code.
- By 6 March 2023, confirms in writing that it is undertaking the request at 1 above;
- By 20 March 2023, makes publicly available, in line with the principle of good, effective management:
- The details of your land zoning for all highways for which you are responsible;
- The details of your monitoring processes, including cleansing regimes;
- The results of your monitoring, including all your assessments as to Grade A-D for the highways for which you are responsible for the last 24 months; and
- The number and size of penalties you have issued to third party suppliers who failed to meet their contractual litter-picking obligations in the last 24 months.
Our client has informed us that it continues actively to monitor and record evidence of the grade of a multitude of specific locations along highways for which you are responsible.
Should National Highways fail to take the above steps, our client intends to issue legal proceedings to require it to comply with its statutory duties to do its part to Clean Up Britain.
Clean Up Britain is a volunteer-based not-for-profit Community Interest Organisation.
We get no funding from the government, and every penny we raise is spent on active campaigning.
If you want to help Clean Up Britain in their work, you can donate here
This is part of a press release and open letter from Clean Up Britian