An eye-sore urban railway line, described by a local resident as an “environmental disaster area,” has finally been cleaned up after Greener Leith threatened Network Rail Scotland with legal action.
Local resident Mr Kleszyk who first raised the issue with Greener Leith in May after drawing a blank from the council and Scotrail, said in an email today: “I couldn’t believe my eyes this morning. I’m so glad that, thanks to your invaluable help and commitment, this has finally been sorted. It’s a relief…”
The Network Rail Clean-up followed a carefully conducted campaign by Greener Leith that aimed to make sure that the body lived up to its responsibilities set out in the Environmental Protection Act. It took several online interventions including blog posts, photos, tweets and publicly posted legal notices to persuade Network Rail to take action.
Ultimately it was the threat of being served a “Litter Abatement Notice,” that forced Network Rail into action.
Mr Kleszyk reflected that: “It’s been slightly worrying to see how much effort it’s taken to clear a few square meters of land. Do we really have to resort to Twitter, write a blog entry and finally issue the litter abatement each time we want authorities to clean their mess? This could have so been much easier and it’s really small potatoes. What about serious environmental issues? On the positive side, it’s reassuring to know that there are people and organisations, like Greener Leith, who are dedicated to these environmental concerns – without your know-how and the legal backbone I would have never come this far.”
Following the clean-up a statement from Network Rail Scotland staff said: “The fly- tipping and litter have now been removed from under the bridge at Dryden Terrace. Due to the limited line side access and the volume of materials we have bagged, all the items have been placed in a safer location, on NWR land, with a view to returning with a trolley during a possession (where there are no trains running) to remove completely.”
“I would like to point out that local residents are throwing carrier bags over the bridge full of dog waste. There are no litter bins in the area and our maintenance has been trying to get the council to implement something since 2010 in the area. He will be raising the matter again with the Council and perhaps this is something that you and Greener Leith could also raise.”
Greener Leith has passed on the feedback from Network Rail to local council officials.
As it’s understood that there may be several other organisations – near and far – interested to learn more about the process that we followed, we hope that any readers who are less aggrieved than we are by Litter will indulge us if we give a fairly detailed recap of what happened.
Greener Leith first got involved with this area after Mr Kleszyk drew a blank from a number of other local organisations who probably should have helped. Council officials did not help him to get the area tidied, they simply told him it was “out of their remit.” Meanwhile, officials from Scotrail reportedly gave him the brush off – telling him that the area would be cleaned “sometime in the future.” But nothing ever seemed to happen.
So, photos were taken, and a new complaint lodged with Network Rail Scotland, which was subsequently tweeted and blogged.
Following our complaint, Greener Leith received a call back from someone in Network Rail Scotland – they also tried to suggest the problem lay with other organisations. They were politely, but firmly, reminded at the outset of Network Rail’s responsibilities under the Environmental Protection Act, and warned at the time that a Litter Abatement Order would be forthcoming if no action was taken within the three months lead time specified in the legislation.
Fast forward a few weeks, no action. So, Network Rail Scotland received a tweet to ask them what was happening with a new picture of the problem area. They said that they’d put the work out to tender, and promised once again that the clean-up would happen “sometime in the future.”
— Network Rail Scot (@NetworkRailSCOT) June 21, 2013
Again, on Twitter, it was made clear that a Litter Abatement Order would be forthcoming if no action was taken.
Fast forward to the end of the three month notice period. Still no action. It was becoming clear that Network Rail Scotland were apparently banking on volunteers forgetting, giving up, or failing to follow the legislation properly.
Fortunately, Keep Scotland Beautiful were able to supply template letters, and a detailed explanation of the process and what to expect at each stage. KSB staff also supplied encouragement, which is a vital ingredient for a small charity with limited resources that relies on volunteers.
So, more photos were taken, with the help of Mr Kleszyk, proving that the site had remained an utter midden and that Network Rail Scotland had failed to take any practical action to clean up their land. And then Greener Leith embarked on the first stage of the legal process.
A “Notice of intention to make a summary application for a Litter Abatement Order” was duly sent to Network Rail by email, and perhaps in a small piece of environmental campaigning history – the document was posted in public on Google Documents too, and tweeted to Network Rail Scotland too.
— greenerleith (@greenerleith) September 10, 2013
This approach had the benefit of ensuring that Network Rail Scotland knew that the whole process was happening in public. It is much harder for an any organisation to give people the brush off, if everything is public.
It also had the secondary, but no less important, benefit of other local residents being able to check for typos! Thanks Three from Leith!
Once an organisation is served with a “Notice of intention” letter, they have five days to take action.
In this case Network Rail Scotland finally took action within six working days of receiving “our notice of intention.”
Consequently we did not need to initiate formal legal proceedings at the court. But we were ready to.
Background reading and resources
Greener Leith would like to thank KSB for producing many of these invaluable resources.
- Code of Practice on Litter and Refuse
- Information for a member of the public aggrieved by litter.
- Summary Proceedings for people aggrieved by litter.
It’s also helpful to bear in mind that these laws only apply to organisations that are considered “Duty Bodies” under the Environmental Protection Act.
Generally speaking, this means that members of the public can only use this legislation to get land cleared if it is “open to the public,” and owned by a public body such as a local authority, network rail, port authorities, educational institutions and British Waterways.
It’s worth bearing in mind that Network Rail are allowed some of the most lenient time-scales in the book before they have to clear-up.
In most situations, the process we went through above could be conducted more quickly as the statutory time scales for a response are usually shorter in urban areas. For example, local authorities are legally required to clean-up city centre areas within 1 hour or receiving a complaint!
- The process is easy, if long-winded and bureaucratic, when it comes to railway land.
- Be polite, but firm with organisations who may try to evade responsibility. Make it clear what you intend to do from the outset.
- Document everything, take lots of photos, and keep records in public.
- The council can use the same legal powers. Local authority officers should take responsibility for getting all land cleared up if they receive a complaint from the public – not just land under the control of the council.
- Public officials are often more keen to work in “partnership,” with other organisations and are loathe to criticise bad practice in public. That’s a fail and lets down the people they are supposed to be serving.
Is there an area of land near you that needs cleaned up? Get in touch to let us know.