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Fly-tipping, Freedom of Information and clarification
Last month we published the response we got to a Freedom of Information Act (FoI) request for Lambeth to send us the number of fines and summonses issued from October 2016 to the 19 of December last year. We had two goals in mind: firstly was to request the information as an ordinary resident, not as intrepid investigative journalists, partly to understand the experience you might have in querying your council. The other was to query the claim that Lambeth had issued 3,000 fines to fly-tippers in Streatham. We highly doubted that claim.
Lambeth replied: “Six summonses were issued by Lambeth Council for fly-tipping offences within the stated period. All summonses were issued in the Herne Hill ward.”
We published this last month, and this month we want to clarify this. What we didn’t understand, nor did any of our neighbours we spoke to about it, is that “summonses” are court hearings for people who don’t admit guilt and don’t accept a fine. So far, so accurate. Unfortunately in a separate document, Lambeth included aggregate figures for all environmental crime (littering, spitting, fly-tipping large and small) together as 6,821 fixed penalty notices (fines). Tow-thirds of these were in Bishops and Oval wards; only 430 (6%) were in Streatham. So rather less than the 3,000 quoted in flyers locally. We think we also know in which wards the widely hailed mobile CCTV cameras have been spending time.
We suspected the 6 fly-tipping notices figure seemed odd as, we know Cllr Kazantzis has been out and about inspecting fly-tipping sites (see picture) and has said he has personally stood with officers as they handed out fines on the spot. We’ve since learned several of these have been summonses that have been in the £1500 range in court, so action is being taken locally. We acknowledge and praise the proactive work being done.
But the entire exercise has raised more, and deeper, questions – setting aside answering 9 days over the allotted 21 working day response time, why did a council officer reply in an obfuscated way that could (and succeeded in) confuse a member of the public? Why, if the question had been raised before by another party, wasn’t the information to hand already, and available in a timely fashion? And most importantly, how did another member of the public (see Issue 38 from this past Christmas) manage to get fly-tipping data extracted from aggregate environmental crime data when asking the same question? We want to be clear about the information we publish, but we also want to understand it from your standpoint hence our questions. You shouldn’t have to be a subject matter expert or barrister to ask these questions and get sensible answers, so we call on the council to tighten up its management and make things easier for residents to see this in action.