The behaviour of enforcement officers from WISE (Waste Investigations Support & Enforcement) when issuing fines has been described by one Causeway Coast and Glens councillor as ‘criminal’.
The private litter enforcement contractor started a year-long pilot with the council in August and despite early support from locals that they would make a difference to irresponsible littering in the borough, opinions are now that ‘they have lost the support of the public.’
A working group will now be set up to discuss the matter with WISE in a bid to encourage them to target different aspects of littering including dog fouling.
DUP Councillor John McAuley was damning in his assessment of the work being carried out by WISE and he raised concerns that the officers are only concentrating on littering of cigarette butts because they are an ‘easy hit’.
He said: “This whole scheme has gone full circle. It was the councillors’ fault for not doing anything to attack the litter problem, it was the councillors’ fault that people are getting fined, now they are happy enough we have done something but now we are only interested in cigarette butts.
“People are not seeing the benefit. 749 fixed penalty notices and 600 odd of those are for cigarette butts.
“The enforcement officers are focussing on private land like the Jet Centre, filling station forecourts and supermarket car parks.
“One of those places is not far away from a popular hot food outlet and yet they have only managed seven fast food prosecutions. There’s no doubt they are being told by someone to go for the easy hit.”
The Causeway councillor was particularly annoyed at the way he understood the enforcement officers are going about their duties.
“The behaviour of the enforcement officers is criminal,” he said. “I’ve had incidents where they are following people and at least two occasions they have stopped people for dropping cigarette butts, one who hasn’t smoked for 40 years and the other who hasn’t smoked for 70 years.
“We have lost the support of the public on this matter, they are looking at the streets and still seeing the litter issue, they are looking at the figures and quickly multiplying it by the £80 and they are saying what is going on here?
“The same issues are coming back to us from Mid and East Antrim who also use this company. Surprise, surprise 80% of the fines there are also for cigarette butts. It’s no coincidence that this is their plan. Sneak about car parks, jump out, hit someone with a fine for dropping a cigarette butt and on they go because it is an easy hit.
“This needs to change because if it doesn’t it will be very hard for us to justify extending the scheme in 10 months time. We really need to do something about it to get the confidence of the people back, we need a different approach.
“There needs to be conversations, maybe elected representatives need to meet with enforcement company on a regular basis, there certainly needs to be change.”
Councillor McAuley then spoke about the appeals scheme for fines which was raised at the August committee meeting.
“Last month we were told there was an appeals scheme and there was an email address and a phone number on which they could be contacted.
“I used the hotline number myself. They basically refused to speak, they were only interested in payment, they said it was a payment line and in the end they hung up on me.
“If that’s the service they gave me, any member of the public isn’t going to get a great reaction. These officers just target areas where there are a lot of people, they sit in their cars and watch for people, they jump out and back in again, it’s like the secret service. We need to see and even spread of fines across fast food littering, general littering and dog fouling too.”
Alderman Mark Fielding agreed with his party colleague saying: “Around 95% of the complaints I get are about dog fouling and yet only 1.2% of the fines were handed out for that.”
The Causeway DEA councillor spoke about had an email he had received which described the ‘dismissive attitude’ of the WISE enforcement officers and how they ‘seemed to take some warped satisfaction in telling staff members that they as enforcement officers only needed to issue five penalty notices daily to meet their individual work target.’
Alderman Alan Robinson said he felt ‘vindicated’ because he had expressed fears that fines would be ‘heavily dominated by cigarette butts.’ when the service level agreement was discussed.
The Limavady councillor said: “The big concern we receive as councillors is about dog fouling, the bottle left on beaches that are cutting feet and legs of children, rural roads plastered with rubbish, 27 bags lifted from the Coleraine mountain road, not of fag butts but of litter ditched from cars.
“The pendulum needs to swing on this because this contract comes back in 10 months and I would have a lot of difficulty in supporting an organisation that seems to target cigarette butts solely. I get it, cigarette butts are litter and you can’t do it but there’s many other issues out there.”
Ballymoney Councillor Alan McLean added: “At the end of the day they are there to make money. They aren’t caring about what litter they get, they care about what money they make and to me it’s as simple as that.”
Councillor Adrian McQuillan proposed a working group was formed to meet with WISE. Councillor McAuley seconded it saying: “Let them prove their worth and see if they can focus on other aspects rather than cigarette butts. They won’t be keen to do that because they are making a fortune from the smokers. They need to remember this is a trial.”