A road in south east London now resembles a sea of rubbish after fly-tippers have continuously dumped their rubbish there over the last 20 years.
Images show furniture, fridges, tyres and household and industrial waste strewn across Wallhouse Road in Erith. It has been a hotspot for illegal waste disposal since local resident Kevin Richards moved to the area at the turn of the millennium.
The 56-year-old uses the dead-end road to get to Darent Industrial Park and says driving through it at night has caused damage to his vehicle. The father-of-one claims authorities have ignored the problem, and it has significantly worsened in recent years.
"During the night there's fly-tipping in the middle of the road,” Richards said. "I damaged the front bumper of my minibus one night, which is costing me £500 to repair. I've contacted Bexley Council, my local MP ( Conservative Sir David Evennett) and the Environment Agency about it, but they are all passing the buck and saying it's nothing to do with them.
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"In the summer of 2022, there was a huge fire down the road and it was closed off for three days. The fire got rid of most of the rubbish but now it's worse than it was before. Because it's down a dead-end road and not many people go down the estate, it's out of sight, out of mind.There are no streetlights at all. It's pitch black down there.
“People know that they can go down there and tip as they're not going to get fined or anything. No one's going to say anything to them. So basically, it's a free landfill. I've actually seen people dumping rubbish in full daylight – they just know there's no repercussions. Nobody wants to know."
Richards believes many people dump their rubbish on the road as legally disposing of it is expensive. He says responses from authorities have all proven disappointing - saying there is even some confusion as to who is responsible.
“I've spoken to people who are in their 50s and 60s, and they tell me when they were a child, they used to go down that road to play," Richards added. It was a lovely, beautiful area with the dike on the other side of the road - they used to go fishing. You'd be lucky if there's anything in there now.”
A spokesperson for Bexley Council insisted it took fly-tipping seriously and was working to add more CCTV cameras and deterrents to discourage would-be dumpers. The spokesperson said: “We remove any waste which has been deposited onto the highway as quickly as possible. The ditches which run alongside the highway are privately owned and we are working on solutions with the landowner.”
The council reported 83 Fixed Penalty Notices issued for illegal waste deposits on Wallhouse Road last year, along with 21 issued to non-compliant waste carriers and nine to residents lacking due diligence when arranging for a contractor to collect their waste.
Meanwhile, the Environment Agency says it collaborates with local authorities, police, and businesses to tackle fly-tipping and is reportedly seeking a long-term solution for the fly-tipping problem on Wallhouse Road.
A spokesperson for the government agency added: “We carry out targeted days of action with partners to disrupt those who are intent on breaking the law when carrying waste. We will continue to work with all partners to develop a long-term and robust solution to stop the complex fly-tipping issues on Ray Lamb Way and Wallhouse Road."
Fly-tipping punishments in England
Local authorities in England reported over a million fly-tipping incidents in 2022, according to the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (DEFRA). These incidents could have resulted in various actions from the council, including investigations, warning letters, fixed penalty notices and criminal prosecutions.
However, an analysis by LoveJunk, a waste removal marketplace, revealed that only a tiny fraction of these incidents led to any punitive action. Out of the 1,091,019 fly-tipping incidents reported in 2022, just one in 100 resulted in a fixed penalty notice that was paid, and only one in 500 resulted in a criminal prosecution.
The amount of the fine or the length of the prison sentence depends on how bad the fly-tipping is. People who dump small amounts of waste may be fined up to £1,000. But those who dump a lot of waste could be taken to court and fined up to £50,000 or even sent to prison.
To stop fly-tipping, the government has taken steps such as increasing enforcement and using cameras to monitor places where people often dump waste. Last year, on-the-spot fines for litter, graffiti and fly-tipping were raised as part of a crackdown on anti-social behaviour.