Hemming to pay £13k after losing green waste case

The Liberal Democrat MP for Yardley, John Hemming, has been ordered to pay £13,101 to Birmingham City Council after losing a court challenge over the council’s ‘refusal’ to clear fly-tipped green waste from the borough.

Councillor loses Birmingham green waste caseIn February of this year, Birmingham City Council stopped offering free garden waste collections to its residents and introduced an annual £35 charge for the fortnightly collections.

Speaking at the time, Councillor James McKay, Cabinet Member for a Green, Safe and Smart City, defended the green waste charge, stating that the decision to introduce a fee was only made on the back of ‘hard decisions about budget savings as a result of central government cuts’.

He said: “The decision to charge for green waste helps to protect other front-line services because we would have needed to find £2.5 million of savings from elsewhere in the council’s budget if we had carried on subsidising the old service’s collection costs.”

However, the move was met with anger from local residents, who fly-tipped hundreds of bags of green waste on the streets.

Court case background

The problem was brought to a head in May, after Hemming lodged a legal challenge against the council over its ‘refusal’ to clear up the bags that had been left out in the streets. (However, the Labour-run council then sent out waste collection crews on extended hours to deal with the problem.)

Hemming’s court application regarded 18 lots of green waste that had been dumped in Yardley (one of which was cleared on the day of application) and argued that it was the council’s statutory duty to clear them, as well as to deal with other incidents of fly-tipping across the borough.

Under the Environmental Protection Act 1990, a complainant can apply to court for a Litter Abatement Order if an informal compliant regarding litter has not been responded to. If the magistrate is convinced of reasonable grounds for the complaint, the defendant is required to pay costs.

However, at the hearing at Birmingham Magistrates’ Court on Friday (10 October), District Judge Robert Zara ruled that a litter abatement order could not cover a whole constituency.

He added that since the council had already collected five of the cited piles of waste, the application could not succeed.

Zara said: “The order sought is far wider than the wording of the section. It is about a particular piece of land, not a Parliamentary constituency.”

As such, the judge deemed that it would be “outside the power of [the] court to make such an order in respect of a whole constituency”.

In rejecting the abatement, Hemming was ordered to pay the council costs of £13,101.56

Hemming ‘likely to appeal’

Speaking after the hearing, Councillor Lisa Trickett, Cabinet Member for a Green, Smart and Sustainable City, said: “We regret the resources yet again taken up in what was essentially pointless court action when we could have put our energies into collaborating on ensuring citizens have clean, well-managed streets.

“We are pleased the courts have supported the view we have repeatedly expressed to Mr Hemming – we have made every effort to deal with the issue of dumped green waste during the transitional first year of our new chargeable service.

“We will continue to do everything within our powers, including working closely with residents, to keep the city as clean as possible, despite the challenging financial situation we face as a result of central government funding cuts to the council.”

Writing in his blog, Hemming voiced his disappointment at the outcome, saying: ‘In one sense I lost a battle in court today (having 13K costs awarded against me). However, possibly over 500 dumps of green waste have been cleared up as a result of the legal action although not all of the ones I highlighted were removed. Some long standing ones like in Nooklands Croft have now mainly gone (but not all).’

He added that he is ‘likely to appeal to case’, but added that the ‘clear message of the case is simply to do lots more applications for litter abatement orders, but avoid taking them to final hearing’.

He concluded: ‘I will, of course, consult with my constituents, but the early response is that they would like me to continue to fight the council on this issue.’

Find out more about fly-tipping problems in Birmingham.

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