Tackling Hounslow’s street scene

After a flurry of posts on www.chiswickw4.com forum about flytipping (headed Hounslow Borough – Fly Tippers’ paradise) and criticisms from Councillor Guy Lambert about Joanna’s contribution to his workshop on tackling Hounslow’s streetscene, she has decided to post the exchange and, more importantly, the contribution she made so others can judge whether they are relevant to the brief.

The issues are about raised expectations being dashed – of PR puffery setting up a proposition that turns out to be not as described (a workshop about Hounslow’s streetscene turned out to be not about waste and recycling but only about … well, it’s still not clear) – and desperate measures – trying to shift blame onto others by disguising the reality in puffs of smoke (more PR puffery).

Today, Chiswickians might well expect a workshop about Hounslow’s streetscene to include the mess and muddle caused by the indiscriminate dumping of Mobikes on the High Road and beyond, or the random placing of wayfinding maps pointing to places that no longer exist or are in the opposite direction – but they’d be disappointed.  This workshop was only about the streetscene as affected by Hounslow Highways (HH) and not as affected by LBH.  At least I think that’s what it was about; it’s still shrouded in mystery.  Regardless, excuse me for having a broader view.

Comments on my comments

This is muddling, too.  I couldn’t attend the workshop on 23rd October (disappointingly, given how long I’ve been actively involved in promoting the importance of recycling and reducing waste) so I decided to send comments and suggestions.  Those comments are below; they were sent on 16th October then resent with one addition on 18th October.

The first response I had was from the senior officer running the workshop for Councillor Guy Lambert whose words, in an email sent on 18th October, were, “Thank you for your feedback, this is hugely useful and we will include into the workshop and following write up”.  Quite a nice comment, I thought.  Appreciated, I thought.  Worth doing, I thought.  Glad I spent the time, I thought.

Next came an email, to all councillors, from Councillor Guy Lambert, chivvying councillors to attend.  He’d had a disappointing response, including from his own side: “The public workshop has attracted a healthy attendance, but invitations to the members workshop, which will take place next Tuesday 23rd October from 6pm has only received two acceptances and one apology – the latter with a lengthy list of concerns and ideas, which are very helpful.”

As I had sent a “lengthy list of concerns” I assumed that referred to me.  “… which are very helpful,” it said.  Quite a nice comment, I thought.  Appreciated, I thought.  Worth doing, I thought.  Glad I spent the time, I thought.

It didn’t last long and back we go to PR puffery.  It turns out that my comments on the streetscene were the wrong comments.  It reminds of the wrong kind of snow or the wrong kind of leaves.  We want your comments (we can cope with the snow, we can cope with the leaves) but only if they are the right comments (the right kind of snow, the right kind of leaves).  When we say “streetscene” we don’t mean “streetscene” we mean, well what exactly?

On the forum on 4th December, (in the stream headed “Hounslow Borough – Fly Tippers’ paradise”) Councillor Guy Lambert then said, Joanna did send me a long email, largely about the recycling and waste service and partly about H Highways services.”  Yup. Both affect the streetscene. After being ticked off for his negativity and PR puffery, he tried to correct himself and still gets it wrong saying, I didn’t rubbish Cllr Biddolph’s suggestions, merely observed that many of them were outside the scope of the enquiry.”  The scope of the enquiry was, in his words, “Hounslow’s streetscene”.

What affects the street scene?

When the three of us first started tackling the horrible mess (the borough’s third-worst fly tip, recently slipped to fourth-worst) at the top of Princes Avenue in the north west section of Turnham Green ward, we were told by a team that included people from LBH and Hounslow Highways, that waste bins attract fly tipping.  Let’s think about that.  Bins (provided by LBH) attract fly tipping (dealt with by Hounslow Highways).  Therefore, surely, any workshop on the streetscene must include not only fly tipping (which I think is what Councillor Guy Lambert is getting at) but also waste (which he appears not to be interested in despite the clear link).  Here are the comments and suggestions I made, in 31 subheadings all about waste and recycling, for you to judge whether they are about “Hounslow’s streetscene”.  Do tell me what you think.

Sent by Joanna on 16th October and resent updated on 18th October 2018

Subject: Workshop on 23rd October : Tackling Hounslow’s streetscene

Dear Guy [and two officers],

Unfortunately, I can’t come to this workshop.  I would, however, like to pass on my “views and inputs on my experiences and expectations” in Turnham Green ward.

Residents in flats above shops want to recycle: This is a plea repeated frequently.  The pilot, using clear sacks for recycling, must start soon.  However, where are residents expected to put their recycling sacks and will they, as with residents of houses, be collected twice a week alongside the purple sack collection?  If some residents of flats have large bins for their waste, it will not always be appropriate to have two bins, one for waste sacks and one for recycling sacks, on pavements.  These ugly bins are ruining the streetscene wherever they are, and including in conservation areas such as the Gunnersbury Park Garden Estate (see below).

Distribution of purple sacks to flats above shops: Delivery of purple sacks seems too random; why is it so hard to provide them to tenants in blocks/houses divided into flats?  One resident has been trying since July to be given his due allocation of purple sacks; he is so annoyed at repeatedly not receiving them that he wants a reduction in his council tax and to complain to the ombudsman.  Sacks were being delivered but, if they weren’t addressed to him, were disappearing.  Another resident has not had the expected delivery of purple sacks and has asked me from whom she should re-order them.  I gather that sacks are distributed every six months and that to leave large numbers of sacks, for residents to help themselves to, is considered to be at risk of being abused.  People will use purple sacks whether they are given one bundle or six bundles so is this a perceived abuse rather than an actual one?  When I lived in a flat in a small block of 13 flats (in another borough) we asked for 50 rolls at a time, to keep communally.  No abuses occurred.  Here, staff make separate journeys as residents request sacks; if they do not reach the person ordering them, the staff have to make a repeat visit and sometimes numerous repeat visits.  This seems to me to be an inefficient use of officer time.  We need a better system for distribution to people in flats with communal letter boxes such as leaving multiple bundles left each time to be kept in a communal space and/or sacks distributed in packages with the name of the resident on the package.  Residents need information about how to order sacks, whether the system is changed or stays the same; a leaflet for them would be useful.

Informing residents of how to present their waste and recycling: There is a general lack of understanding throughout the Gunnersbury Park Garden Estate of how to present waste (overflowing bins that aren’t be emptied; sacks next to bins that aren’t taken away; wrong recycling in boxes that won’t be emptied; bulky items that won’t be collected left next to the bins/boxes).  The leaflet that was published when the new collection system started is good as far as it goes but it doesn’t go far enough.  I still refer to mine to make sure I put the right things in the right boxes and, if I need to refer to it, as a passionate recycler, the message is that it’s complicated (which it is).  Some who don’t get it right are tenants who have not had the leaflet passed on to them (I know this from my next door neighbours and other neighbours) and many don’t think (or know) about looking it up on the council website.  Others are not English speakers.  Some just don’t get it.  Regardless, it’s worth revising and reissuing the leaflet and/or printing a laminated (or similar – something that isn’t flimsy that is clearly meant to be kept for reference) card with all the information on it.  It should include not just what can be recycled and which bin to put it in, and what should be put in the waste bin, but also stress that waste bins must be completely closed or they won’t be emptied and that no black (or other waste) sacks or loose items will be taken away.  It should also include the Tidy Town collection service and fee, and the location of the nearest waste and recycling centre (for some of us it is Ealing’s Stirling Road centre).

Issue leaflets/labels on bins that can’t be emptied as the contents are wrong/presentation is wrong – This was part of the collection service at one point.  It should be revived as I see many bins left un-emptied with no explanations left for the residents concerned who don’t know how to change what they do – and therefore don’t change their behaviour.

Collection crews who don’t empty large bins that aren’t full: This happens in several places in Turnham Green ward (where there are large bins for collective use rather than the standard residential size bin) and I have asked, through casework, whether there might be a rogue crew or if this is the culture among many/all crews.  Crews arrive, lift up the lids of the bins, peer in and, if they aren’t full, leave without emptying them.  Sometimes it isn’t clear if the crews have been; sometimes it is clear because the bins have been moved but without being emptied first.  In one location, the crew turns the bins round so the lids can’t be opened and residents are forced to leave their waste outside it.  The result is that, by the next collection, the bins are overflowing and have attracted fly tipping and vermin; rubbish has rotted inside the bin making the bins unpleasant to use.  Is there a policy of only emptying bins that are full?  Is there one or more rogue crew behaving differently from the rest?  Is it the culture?  Whichever, surely all bins should be emptied regardless of how full they are.

Large bins not returned to their correct places: In one residential development, the large bins are meant to be kept in designated spaces so that residents know where the recycling bins are and where the waste bins are.  The spaces are marked by signs.  Crews repeatedly put the recycling bin in the waste bin slot and vice versa; some residents don’t notice the difference and fill the waste bin with recycling which other residents add waste to and which is then taken away as waste.  One resident in this location, previously a passionate recycler, has stopped recycling as he knows the bins’ contents will end up muddled together.  Crews need to be required (retrained?) to replace bins in the right spaces.

Different coloured large bins for waste and recycling: Bearing the above point in mind, perhaps making the different bins obviously different (such as by colour) would increase awareness, among crews and residents, and increase recycling rates.

Install attractive/decorated bins or build units to contain them: Some flats above shops have no outside space at ground level on which to keep their bins; their bins are on public pavements.  They are hideous and seriously affecting the streetscene.  Do they have to be so ugly?  I notice bins on private land in different colours and looking well-kept.  Alternatively, one of the officers trying hard to tackle the waste/fly tip at Princes Avenue suggested building a container in which to keep the bin.  This strikes me as a very good idea if the container is attractive and capacious enough to house both bins that will be needed if recycling is introduced here.

Landscaping to improve the public realm: Some areas might be suitable for landscaping/planting to encourage pride in the area and respect for the purpose; this might deter misuse and fly tipping.

Competition to encourage recycling: There are several possibilities including encouraging schools to run competitions which students can take home to encourage parents to do more.  If we are to consider decorating bins to increase pride in and respect for bins/recycling, could we hold a competition in schools to decorate bins?

Bins left out on pavements long term: What can be done to encourage residents to put back their bins on their property?  They affect the streetscene.  If there is to be a new leaflet, or a revised leaflet, this point should be included.

CCTV as a fly tipping deterrent: While Hounslow Highways does an excellent job removing fly tipping well within the 24-hour deadline, this doesn’t tackle the principal issue – deterrence.  Residents always call for CCTV cameras to be installed.  Other local authorities (including Hillingdon) have successfully used CCTV to tackle fly tipping.  It is worth considering here at fly tipping hot spots, of which we have many.

Public information campaign including other languages: There is a clear need to provide information in other languages.  There is a clear need to remind residents of the rules and the need to follow them.  Relying on Hounslow Matters to provide information isn’t enough – not all residents read it, especially residents who do not speak/read much English.

Food waste: Crew members remove bags from food waste canisters, without tipping up the caddies to empty them of all contents.  This means that some food waste is missed and shredded paper or newspaper at the bottom, wet from condensation caused by the bags, is left behind; it ends up in the waste bin.  Why can’t crew lift the caddies and turn them over to empty them into the food waste section of the lorry?

Sweep-ups after collections: The mess left after collections is of great concern throughout the Gunnersbury Park Garden Estate, and in other areas in Turnham Green ward.  I know of one section of the ward where this has become less of an issue but residents still frequently have to litter pick afterwards.  There must be a requirement on crew members who have dropped items on the ground to pick them up.  There should also be a requirement of them to pick up items nearby that might have been displaced by the wind.  It is absurd that our streets are filthy after a waste/recycling collection.

Introduce a weekend collection at fly tip hot spots – There is a build-up, at Princes Avenue, over the weekend and that has been the case consistently.  CCTV should be examined to reveal whether it starts to overflow on a Saturday or Sunday (if there is a pattern).  If there is, can an extra collection be introduced on the Sunday, or late on Saturday, to prevent the Monday mess?

HMOs – There seems to be a correlation between low/inaccurate recycling/waste presentations and HMOs.  In two cases at least (my neighbours) it is because the residents were not given the council’s information leaflet by the landlord.  Even after I provided it (several times) and gave the links to the information on the council website, it seems not to have been kept or passed on to new residents (who seem to be transient).  As the council knows where its HMOs are, it is worth distributing the leaflet to HMOs repeatedly.  It is also worth contacting landlords to emphasise the importance of them keeping tenants informed to improve recycling rates; perhaps there should be a requirement on the landlord to do so.

Offices: Offer businesses throughout the borough a waste and recycling service to reduce the number of commercial vehicles on our roads that either disturb residents during the night or clog up streets during the day; this might also reduce pollution.  This service must be at a lower price level than the service being provided by private providers and they must remain lower (to encourage take up).  Collections must be at a time of day that means no waste/recycling sacks are left on pavements for hours or overnight.  However, there must be an improvement in the service to residents before this service is offered; there is cynicism about the council’s ability to provide a service of a high enough standard.

Shops, cafes and restaurants: Offer shops, cafes and restaurants a recycling and waste service at a time of day that means residents and visitors don’t have to walk past sacks and piles of cardboard as they go home in the evening or leave for work in the morning.  This should be at a time to suit these traders (such as after shops have opened and after the morning rush hour, when roads are less busy).  This service must be at a lower price level than the service being provided by private providers and they must remain so, to encourage take up.  As with offices above, there must be an improvement in the service to residents before this service is offered; there is cynicism about the council’s ability to provide a service of a high enough standard.

And a fundamental change that will reduce the amount of fly tipping and waste strewn along pavements and roads:

Reintroduce weekly waste collections: There is an obvious need for this – it’s clear from the number of people who put out overflowing waste bins and sacks next to them; and it is clear from the amount of fly tipping there is throughout the borough.

Gunnersbury Park Garden Estate and the borough’s third worst fly tip – issues that might also apply elsewhere

As you know, this fly tip is being tackled – but the problem has not yet been solved.  On some days it is almost as bad as it was at its worst, before it was targeted for action.  It continues to be a problem that occupies far too much of my time and causes some of the most unpleasant comments from residents.  I am asked, several times a week, to do something more about it; pictures of the overflowing bin, fly tipping around it, and filth strewn down Princes Avenue are emailed to me and posted on Twitter frequently.  At my most recent surgery, all 11 residents who came raised it and in very strong terms.  Issues include:

  • Identifying whose dumped rubbish it is: At the start of the campaign to eliminate the problem, the aim was to inspect the contents of the bin and the fly tipping around it, every time the fly tipping was collected and every time the bin was emptied, for evidence of whose waste it was.  This is no longer done consistently yet, when team members do go through it, they find evidence and can follow up.  The other day during a meeting with an officer at the bin, I lifted up the lid and saw envelopes, with readable addresses, loose in the bin; most were for a resident in Hendon.  A few days before, two team members went through separate loads and both identified nearby residents’ addresses.  They followed up with warning letters and explanations.  Inspecting black sacks that should not be in the bin, and fly tipping around it (a horrible job and thank you to everyone who does it) is essential if we are serious about tackling this problem.
  • Writing better letters to Inform residents about who can use the bin and why: The team came a couple of months ago to deliver letters to residents explaining what was being done to tackle the problem and what would happen if they misused the bin.  I joined them (and proved to be far more efficient and fast at leaflet-dropping, thanks to decades of campaigning).  The letters (personalised by address) were very poorly written; the language was local-authority-speak mixed with legalese rather than plain English; there were no variations in other languages (a lot of residents here do not speak much English).  It would be just as bad if the letters were all PR puffery so let’s not resort to that.  Letters must continue to be personalised and in envelopes to increase their chances of being read; they must be well-written with a strong heading that relates to the resident, not us, to catch attention; they must be in clear plain English and seek to persuade and encourage.
  • Signage: Early on, the suggestion was made that we should install a strongly-worded sign on the wall against which the bin stands, informing passers-by that the bin is only for residents of flats above shops, and stating that a CCTV camera was in operation.  Despite reminders, the sign has not been put up (it has been requested since).  Its absence has encouraged occasional bad behaviour to become habit.
  • Passing information on to colleagues for action: I notice that while senior officers get the point, come up with a solution and say they will act, their actions are not fulfilled as intended (sometimes not at all).  Messages do not seem to be relayed as intended.  What about having a form to fill in where details can be recorded on the spot then passed on (instead of making scratch notes on phones that might never be properly unravelled)?
  • Ugliness of the bins: The bins, and the strewn filth, are at the main entrance to what would otherwise be a pretty conservation area.  An officer suggested, at my most recent meeting with the team at the bin, building a container in which the bins could be hidden; this idea has huge potential, particularly if the container were to be aesthetically pleasing, perhaps with scenes or designs painted by local school students for example.  They might be a target for graffiti but it seems to me that everything is already a graffiti target.  They might also encourage pride and deter misuse.  The current bins are absolutely hideous and quickly look even worse as they are treated roughly and carelessly.  They are seriously disfiguring the streetscene.  
  • Go through contents to identify fly tippers – This no longer happens routinely every time fly tipping is collected yet frequently it results in fly tippers being identified and either warned or fined.  In some areas, it’s important also to look for evidence of commercial waste from nearby businesses and act to tell them they must stop.
  • Talk to and write to businesses – To instruct them not to use this bin for their own waste.  It would be useful to see, from behind the premises, who seems to have commercial waste collections and who doesn’t and to stress to businesses that they must use their own bins.
  • Problem flat – There is one problem flat; occupants hold big, noisy parties every weekend and show no respect for neighbours or systems; they repeatedly leave waste on the pavement.  In these cases, it’s essential to get the landlord’s details then inform the landlord of the antisocial behaviour and ask the landlord to take action.  Send letters repeatedly until the landlord takes action.
  • Build an attractive container to make it less likely that passers by/fly tippers will use the bin – As suggested above, build a container for the bin and for recycling sacks and/or make the bin less ugly so it isn’t seen as a skip for anyone to use and might be respected more.  It could be decorated by a local school to make it an attractive feature.
  • Regularise waste management with Ealing on the boundary – It is utterly confusing to have one short section of pavement on the Hounslow side of Gunnersbury Lane managed by Ealing’s waste service and the other part by Hounslow.  It would be helpful if all waste on the Hounslow side could be collected by Hounslow.  Residents don’t know about the differentiation; it should not be so muddled.  If Ealing is paid for this, does this give us a chance to retain those funds in Hounslow and allocate them to the waste/recycling service in Hounslow?

Sorry for the length but there is much to be done.