Council’s Waste Trial lost revenue and probably fewer than 150 fly tips were averted

Waste activism in Peterborough has a long and distinguished history and a great many people and many organised groups have got stuck in, many of them heroically and steadily cleaning up things which simply shouldn’t be where they are.

This blog years ago as a lament that I had not been able to achieve something I’d dedicated a great deal of time and energy to: stopping the construction of a plant to incinerate domestic waste. And in this blog I began to look at and discuss the politics of Peterborough generally, partly in order to understand and explain the weaknesses of campaigning organisations in the city (who I then felt could all have done better) against a political decision to incinerate, based on levels of (elected councillor) ignorance which I’d never encountered before in any organisation. I needed to understand how that had happened too, and who benefits from a toxic waste disposal policy. Who benefits from a waste policy which isn’t working.

Meanwhile it seems that the attitudes I encountered: literally: “if you can’t see it, there is nothing there” approach to stack emissions has created a national problem, especially in England, which now does things worse and to lower standards than Scotland, Wales, the USA and Europe. Brexit might offer hope to those that are keen to practice toxic politics, but the toxins left in our environment aren’t going anywhere.

But about three years ago the Green Party began a Flash Mob Litter Pick, which roved around in response to resident callouts to deal with litter hotspots. Here’s a Flash Mob after a session litter picking in 2016, taken in a New England cul de sac: Like any litter picker, we were dealing with the council and its ways of doing things, with the odd hazardous item (discarded hypodermic needles are one of the worst at the moment) and we were also thinking about things like the bags the council uses, why people do what they do, where it comes from and how it travelled to where it is. We had hundreds of conversations, with each other, with passers by, with the council and with the people who deal with fly tipped toxic wastes (such as paints, oils, chemicals). It didn’t take us long to appreciate that people were sometimes being turned away by the legal disposal routes because of the way they had been implemented by the council or because of the conversations they had had with council operatives. We encountered a number of people who had been turned away from the Household Waste centre at Dogsthorpe. We realised that if you make people feel they are doing something wrong when they thought they were doing something right (they just didn’t know about the law or the procedure for doing what the council requires them to do) you are probably just building anti-council feelings and even another fly tip. The council operative is probably doing the right thing: saying all the right things, but the person to whom they are talking is struggling to cope with the situation. Some people get angry. Some people are shocked. In this situation, people may hear what is said to them, but they won’t be able to listen. So as we picked, we worked out that if one cul de sac could produce two car boot fulls of waste and a pile of fly tip, then there would be several skips full in each ward in the city. The volume of discarded waste lying around in our environment, defining our environment for everyone living or growing up in it – are unbelievable.

With fly tip, we looked at it and we began to understand the impact of the nice man at the front door who offers to take away your rubbish despite not having obtained the all important waste carrier’s licence. The role of this character is key: he (we think it is usually a he!) has perfectly understood the business opportunity provided to him by this corporate communications disaster.

Sometimes it is a whole house contents which is tipped out onto the highway, or someone else’s private property. Anybody in Peterborough can see that there is a big problem with landlords, or with people providing services to landlords and tenants. People living in or running the rental sector grab the cheapest furniture, because tenures are short and incomes are tight and what could be a re-use opportunity is instead a dumped problem. Legitimate house clearance businesses: where are they?

Julie Howell (pictured here in New England) took the conclusions to Orton Waterville where she was a parish councillor and she applied herself to communicating directly with every resident. Waste management was just one of the things she tackled in her communications. Here she discusses fly tipping on her blog:

And here she is discussing fly tip on Radio Cambridgeshire yesterday morning:

Yesterday she was responding to the council leader who made some interesting comments in an article published in the Peterborough Telegraph soon after Julie was elected to the city councillor and thereby displaced the cabinet member responsible for waste management. The paper’s headline and the photograph put fly tipping into the spotlight.

First he announces that fly-tipping will be “a focus” for the council this coming year. And admits that the issue was “repeatedly raised on the doorsteps in the run-up to the elections.” This might suggest that there is hope.

But then he says something really interesting. What he appears to do in a scant four lines of text, is give a summary of the results of the Free Bulky Waste Trial. I don’t know if a detailed analysis of the results of the trial has been made available to elected councillors or whether or not that analysis breaks down at ward level. But if not that is what I’d be asking for if I was a councillor.

Holdich claims that the trial “made no difference to the amount of fly-tipping,” This suggests that the council has a way of very accurately measuring fly tipping activity over a period of time. That would be very interesting, if it were true. I think the police might be interested in how the council knows this too, since not being able to catch fly tippers is one of its defining and most annoying characteristics.

Then he asserts that “the council missed out on £40,000 from fewer paid collections.” Now, assuming he’s right about that, it suggests to me that the people making use of the free trial were people who would otherwise have called the council to arrange a paid for collection. This group of people, complying with existing procedures and forking out for the collections they organise does not strike me as an appropriate target group if you wanted to attract the waste which is being fly tipped and the people doing the fly tipping, because this group is by Holdich’s definition not fly-tipping their waste anyway. They are doing it correctly and dutifully providing the council with additional revenue.

Then Holdich claims that “It’s a national problem and nobody has come up with a panacea.” I think by calling on a Greek goddess, he is both looking for and deriding a universal fix. He might do better if he looked systematically at another goddess: Hygeia is the Greek goddess of cleanliness and hygiene, a goddess understood by the Greeks to be part of Aesclepius’ family of medicine, health and feeling good generally.

But let’s have a closer look at the council’s “Free Bulky Waste Trial”. It was designed to run for thirteen weeks: from 11th December to 9th March. A bulky waste collection normally costs £23.50. So adding up the available collections during the free trial, we have a cap of 52 collections per day, and an estimated “more than 1,000 free collections” during month one. Then a maximum of 26 per day for the remainder of the trial. Residents would be free to book a collection between 4th December to 5th March. So what actually happened?

We don’t know, except that the available slots were taken up enthusiastically to the extent that no more bookings for free collections were taken from 25th January, six weeks before the trial was supposed to end. Taking Christmas into account, the Trial stopped half way through. In fact it didn’t survive the Spring Clean Season. When the council closed new advance bookings, it was clear already that it was well organised people who were using the trial.

What we do know is that if £40,000 revenue was lost to the council because people using the trial would otherwise have booked a chargeable collection, then 1702 free collections were made who’d otherwise pay for those collections. These will have been well organised people complying with procedures, who probably were unlikely to be fly tipping waste or giving it to to a fly tipper masquerading as a legitimate waste handler before the trial began.

The big question, then, is how many collections were made above 1702.

52 per day for the first month would give us four weeks one of which includes the Christmas break. So let’s say 52 x 4 x 3 = 624

Then we have 26 per day for the other nine weeks, so x 4 x 9 = 936

If we add these figures together and take them away from 1702, we get 142.

Roughly one hundred and forty two collections were available to people who maybe would NOT normally have called the council. And that figure can only be true if the council and those people were able to use every single slot it had available. Given that this target group is likely to be less well organised, less well resourced and generally less compliant with how the council runs things, I find this highly unlikely.

We don’t know if the council added capacity, as it promised it would at the outset of the trial if demand was high. And if it didn’t, we don’t know why it didn’t. It may have realised that the non fly tipping community was not engaging very much with its trial, and if so, that would not surprise me.

I am sure that Holdich feels that the trial proves his point. I dare say it proves mine too: that the systems in place are unfit for purpose for many sections of our community and it is also clear that the ruling Conservatives still have no sensible plan in place to change that.



A walk in the Park, following Doris


Still standing. This little tree tilted to get out of the elm's space. The elm was cut down. (Dutch Elm Disease).

Still standing. This little tree tilted to get out of the elm’s space. The elm was cut down. (Dutch Elm Disease).

This Scots Pine grows at an inexplicable angle, but is completely unmoved by Doris

This Scots Pine grows at an inexplicable angle, but is completely unmoved by Doris. The orange object on the path should have been binned by the dog’s owner. This is a new problem in Central Park. The park warden used to talk to people and hand out bags.

A loose branch hangs high above the flag in the middle of the park. The flag pole needs a little repair too.

A loose branch hangs high above the flag in the middle of the park. The flag pole needs a little repair too.

This rootball must have sounded like cannon being fired when it snapped.

This rootball must have sounded like cannon being fired when it snapped.


Glorious brilliance in the sheared surfaces. Almost gold. Late afternoon in shade. Elsewhere the sun is on it.

I wish I could have captured the astonishment in his face as he cycled up to this

I wish I could have captured the astonishment in his face as he cycled up to this! When I approached this tree some teenagers were jumping on it. They saw me, looked very sheepish and ran away. They don’t make teenagers like they used to, do they?

Twisted and snapped. Sheared. Bright orange surfaces of broken wood.


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Peter watches Bonnie investigate. The dog was very energetic: the result of having to kept in yesterday. Odd how little the surrounding grass has been disturbed. You’d expect the roots to be all over the place, but no: all broken off, quite neatly.

Philippa and the judge

Today’s story about the jailing of Philippa by Judge Noble in Peterborough highlights several critical problems in Peterborough.

1 Peterborough awards the motorist absolute priority

Fiona Radic in 2013 on top of Queensgate car park.

Me in 2009 on top of Queensgate car park with Bourges Boulevard behind. Went there to observe something astronomical. Ended up watching pied wagtails diving over the top. Thought about a mum who’d recently jumped to her death.

Very obviously and in my view outrageously, the absolute priority this city awards the motorist is demonstrated by this judgement just as it is in local infrastructure investment decisions, where roads for cars can always be funded, but decent routes for other forms of transport are consistently unaffordable.

The judge chose to reinforce this view by claiming he felt obliged to jail a woman who was on foot and in desperate need because:  “I have to have regard for hundreds of motorists who were severely inconvenienced by her actions.”

Philippa breached a previous judicial order, so the judge had to do something. But Judge Noble jails her, apparently believing that the inconvenienced driving community somehow deserves this, or requires it of him.

I drive a car and I don’t want this woman jailed. #NotInMyName. I’d like her released now. #FreePhilippa

Most drivers are decent folk who would stop for someone who clearly needed help. This must be what they did that day, however unwilling. This delay was long, but delays on the road happen everyday.

In this case the risk of a fatal outcome for Philippa was very high, but thank goodness, diligent caring people helped avert it. So why jail Philippa when the best possible result was achieved by the large number of people, including local emergency services and all those drivers who stopped, however inconvenient, to help make sure that someone’s life was protected at a lethal moment?

Good question.

Philippa was sent to prison early this morning. As I writing this and going about my day, two young men died at the hands of a hit and run motorist in Yaxley on a patch of road where spending on a cycleway/footpath has allegedly been put off for a whole decade. But the money for the brand new road which underpasses that same road was found. However, just as happened when the old road was built, not quite enough for a pavement or cycle way.

Peterborough has created a problem for itself and it was not Philippa’s fault.

2 Peterborough is one of the most dangerous places to be on the road

Ranked with all the other parliamentary constituencies in the UK, the City of Peteborough is ranked fifth from the bottom.  Bad driving is at epidemic levels in the city and around it. And given its appalling safety record, one has to ask why Judge Noble feels any need to conciliate the community of motorists living anywhere round here.

This is not Philippa’s fault either.

3 Peterborough only cares about shopping and getting to work

Given that the city’s second priority after the private motor vehicle is earning enough money to shop and then to do your shopping, which all too often means buying and driving a car, road traffic is a massive problem for most people, whether or not they are experiencing emotional distress and whether or not they happen to be in a car at a particular moment. It is not all about accidents. It is also about air pollution and life expectancy. It is about quality of life. And how much of a person’s life is eaten up travelling.

I don’t think it is an accident that historically women (mostly) have chosen the city’s car parks to express their despair. Queensgate’s car parks only service the retail sector and they shut as the shops close. Women find places which reflect their feelings.

Philippa is not alone. Her behaviour is not unique to her. Unhappy women have been telling Peterborough very important but not very nice things about how we are restricted and tied down by the way we live. But the city doesn’t listen. And I suspect that Judge Noble really doesn’t want to hear those awful truths.

If I’m right, that isn’t Philippa’s fault.

4 Peterborough does not have a working public transit system

Non ownership of a car in Peterborough renders you virtually unemployable, a phenomenon never experienced by residents of cities with working public transit systems. Here it makes you a non person. Something not worthy of consideration.

So often people are trapped in a vicious cycle of having to have a car. Another group of people is stuck outside the car owning circle. A huge number of people can’t or don’t drive a car but the transport needs of this very diverse group (including children) are not taken care of. Their chances and opportunities can be massively compromised, because they experience travel only as a passenger in someone else’s vehicle, not as something they can embark upon autonomously.

The systems we put up with affect everyone’s happiness. Not just Philippa’s. Roads affect the map and our relationships with one another. They define and divide communities. Some of Peteborough’s roads are hideous.

When our environment is neglected and fails to support people’s needs, it has an impact on our health and happiness.

That isn’t Philippa’s fault either.

5 Peterborough does not have an effective mental health system

If Philippa had been discharged from effective mental health care she would not have ended up back in court.

That isn’t Philippa’s fault, obviously.

6 Peterborough is angry

A judge finds himself in an impossible position. Judges have to be very professional and aren’t supposed to express their emotions. But I think it might be well worth trying to imagine what it would really feel like to be a judge faced with Philippa. Suppose I was the judge.

I’d feel disappointment that Philippa has landed back in court. Disappointed for her, because I know that failure is bad and hurts and she will be hurting.I’d be trying to see how she is, and trying to figure out what on earth went wrong. And disappointed for myself and the court, because the very fact that she is standing in front of me means that what we did last time didn’t work, or didn’t work well enough.

So I’d be quite annoyed too and probably cross with her. She didn’t have to do this, did she? We gave her a chance, but she hasn’t taken it. She’s gone the wrong way and landed up back in front of me. I’d be irritated and I might be inclined to lose patience.

And how come she’s been discharged from mental health care but done it again? What is wrong with the health care system? Why can’t they get it right? One row and she’s completely destabilised? How come? What kind of discharge was it? What strategies did they give her? Did they get anything right? I’d be furious that they were so useless.

But being a judge, I would of course be very very good at managing my emotions, keeping them firmly under control, being objective, turning them into something positive, like sport or a hobby. Because someone probably taught me how to do that.  A chap’s ability with his own emotions is partly why he is a judge.

I might be aware of what Philippa thinks she needs, but not necessarily. It seems to me that a judge, faced with terrible distress finds himself equipped with all the wrong tools. I might well feel annoyed about what my judge options were. What I’ve got is a sledgehammer.

What Philippa needs and probably knows she needs are the sort of things you would find in a properly functioning hospital (eg not one like Peterborough – on permanent alert). A nurse, probably medication, time, secure spaces, counselling and therapy, companionship, advice, training, reflection, perspective. Things which are far more akin to needle and thread.

Our Peterborough judge knew this morning that the tools and resources which might help repair Philippa are not available in our city. You can’t refer someone to a non existent or inadequate service. She has already been discharged from what has been made available to her and our judge can see that one family conversation has been enough to plunge her back into misery. I’d be livid if the judge was me.

But of course it was Judge Noble. Yes he has got all the sledgehammer might of the law and he isn’t going to get all emotional. But the trouble with the law is that it imagines that a desperately unhappy person is capable of caring a single jot about it. It is so vain. All systems are like that: they all believe that it is about them. That is how people get crushed utterly. We all know that.

Of course everybody knows that nobody in desperate need should be required to defer to the paramount needs of any system. Systems should work with those in need. Systems all have policies which say that this is exactly what they do. But we also all know that in practice they don’t.

There is a 100% chance that the judge knows that as well as I do, and again, if it was me, I’d be even crosser. I’d be twenty times crosser than I ever ever get in real life.

And that in my opinion is why the actual Judge Noble jailed her. Sending Philippa to prison was not about her. It was all about him. If Philippa was a such pain in the neck to a bunch of motorists, what terrible trouble will she cause in prison? And why would anyone burden an hopelessly overloaded prison service with someone who will cause nothing but obstructions and delays within it?

Putting Philippa very gently to one side, frankly, it isn’t fair on the prison service.

There simply is no rational explanation for jailing Philippa.

But we don’t need a rational explanation, do we? Becasue we can all see straight through an angry, impotent, frustrated system, can’t we ladies? We know how hard it is to mend something bigger than you, compared with how easy it is to smash something smaller.

7 Peterborough is a hot spot for female vulnerability

Lastly but very importantly, Peterborough is a hot spot of female vulnerability, where retaining your personal integrity can prove fatal. Women are required to support the system and to do its bidding, even to their own undoing. The cure here is not the council. The cure is usually other women: people who can and must help and support one another. Women who have seen and befriended a lot of women suffering know the extent to which Philippa is not alone. But it is impossible to understand that you are actually in excellent company while you are still suffering. Just as it is impossible to comprehend the law or do its bidding. These realisations come only once people are able emerge out of a crisis.

My wish for Philippa is that recovery and this realisation come soon. Maybe, crazily it will come for her in prison, the right thing even if in completely the wrong place. I hope that the penny will drop quickly that she is OK. Yes, she is unhappy and probably quite unwell. But she is absolutely not the problem and she is in the company of a huge number of wonderful people, wherever she is, including prison.

Please be sure that wherever women find themselves especially vulnerable, so do a lot of other people and your readers are far too clever to assume that what I describe is only about or for women.

4 Jan 2017