The council’s Environment Committee is to write to the Justice Minister to ask him to review the levels of fines handed out to people caught illegally disposing of tyres.
At their monthly Environment Committee meeting on Monday, February 3, members were given a presentation by Pamela Patterson from the Northern Ireland Environment Agency’s Land and Resource Management Unit about the department’s Draft Tyre Action Plan - a blueprint for tackling the illegal dumping of tyres.
Also present at the meeting were two officials from the NIEA’s Environmental Crime Unit (ECU), who outlined the difficulties the unit faces in terms of achieving successful prosecutions, and the “disheartening” sentences imposed when individuals and companies are brought before the courts.
Pointing to the situation in Ballyduff last summer when the council had to fork out thousands of pounds to dispose of more than 5,000 tyres that had been dumped at the bonfire site, Cllr John Scott pointed the finger of blame at “the large tyre companies.”
“Until you take these companies to court and hit them hard then this is just going to keep happening,” he said.
Responding, one of the ECU officials said: “We put a lot of time and effort into these cases and it’s very frustrating for us when it gets to court and they get a conditional discharge or a suspended sentence or fine of £500. I understand your frustrations that you’re not seeing the big fines or someone going to jail, but there’s nothing we can do.”
Cllr Robert Hill welcomed confirmation that the ECU and the PSNI are now working together as part of a strategic partnership to tackle the problem, but echoed the need for tougher penalties for those brought before the courts.
“If someone is caught and prosecuted for a crime of this nature I would like to think that they would at least have to pay for the cost of disposing of the tyres, and a lot more on top if I had my way,” he commented.
The DUP man’s proposal that the council write to Justice Minister David Ford to ask him to review the level of fines being imposed for the illegal disposal of tyres was agreed unanimously.
The revelation that the department’s action plan doesn’t specifically address the problem of tyres being dumped at bonfire sites was described by Alderman John Blair as “almost inconceivable.”
Members were informed that the ECU doesn’t visit bonfire sites for “health and safety reasons” and doesn’t have the resources to remove tyres. However, it was stressed that there have been prosecutions taken against a number of individuals for dumping tyres at bonfire sites.
Alderman Blair went on to express concerns about the fee charged to motorists by tyre retailers for the supposed ethical disposal of tyres. He questioned the logic of the current system, given that the levy charged in not a legislative tax, but rather a fee set at the discretion of individual companies, with the money collected being retained by them.
Pamela Patterson confirmed that the fee charged by the tyre retailers doesn’t go to the government. But she stressed that making the levy “a mandatory tax” would be an issue for Defra and HM Customs and Excise in London.
“It might be better if that ‘tax’ was recouped by government to try to manage the disposal and recycling of tyres, and the management of the whole environmental issue,” Mr Blair added.