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Scrap dealers accused by councils over metal theft

A row has broken out between councils and scrap metal dealers over the metal theft crisis.

Clyde Loakes

A senior local government figure accused metals recyclers of allowing the crime to grow - while an industry leader retorted that councils had failed to keep pace with the sector.

MRW reported earlier this month that the Scrap Metal Dealers Act (1964) could be replaced by the end of the year as the Government overhauls regulation of the industry to tackle high levels of metal theft.

The British Metals Recycling Association called for a national licensing regime to be introduced to “close off all the current loopholes”.

But Labour councillor Clyde Loakes - environment portfolio holder at Waltham Forest Council, and vice-chair of the Local Government Association’s environment committee - dismissed the comments.

“If the industry is just waking up and smelling the coffee, that’s good, but unfortunately it is about 30 years too late,” he told MRW.

“So why on Earth would we listen to anything they have to say? They’ve allowed the situation to get to where it’s got to now. Local government has to be at the forefront of this.”

Ian Hetherington, director-general of the BMRA, hit back, saying councils had “sadly, for reasons beyond their control, failed to keep up” with a changing industry.

“The situation has got to a point where many local authority records of scrap metal dealers are up to 80% inaccurate,” he added.

Hetherington said BMRA wanted to see a “national licensing regime in parallel with the environmental permitting system”.

Loakes said local government already had a track record of delivering licensing schemes and would be able to deliver a national scheme. He said there was no need for police or magistrates to be “over-burdened” when councils already had mechanisms in place.

He was speaking after launching Waltham Forest Council’s campaign for local authorities to be given greater powers to deal with waste and environmental crime.

Wiping Out Enviro-Crime was launched at Parliament with the support of shadow environment secretary Mary Creagh and Chartered Institution of Wastes Management chief executive Steve Lee.

Creagh backed calls for Defra to transpose legislation passed in 2005 to allow councils to seize vehicles associated with fly-tipping. Waltham Forest council said the powers had not been formally granted by the Government.

She said: “That’s a law we made in 2005, and we were in government for another five years, so it’s probably our fault. But now it’s the Tories’ fault so I’ll be asking [environment secretary] Caroline Spellman why she’s done nothing about it because it is now her problem.”

Loakes said the Government was failing councils and residents by not empowering local communities to act tough on environmental criminals. He said communities wanted to see real localism with enforcement powers given to councils.  

Steve Lee

Lee backed the campaign’s proposals to introduce visible waste carrier licence discs for vehicles, and for extending producer responsibility to commonly fly-tipped items such as mattresses.

He said many of the regulations required to tackle waste crime were already in place but needed to be properly enforced.

“People want to know why that fly tip hasn’t been removed, and why that graffiti is still there. And the answer is that the Government hasn’t given us the powers,” he said.

A Defra spokesman said: “Flytipping is irresponsible, damages the environment and spoils everyone’s enjoyment of their surroundings.

“The menace of fly-tipping costs taxpayers more than £40m every year. That’s why we’re cracking down by giving enforcement authorities stronger powers to seize suspected fly-tippers’ vehicles, and working with the courts to make sure the punishment fits the crime.” 

Wiping Out Enviro-Crime

The campaign called for:

  • Fixed penalty fines for fly-tipping.
  • Waste carrier licence discs.
  • Power to immediately remove fly-posters, and charges for venue owners.
  • Enforced hoarding of empty property to prevent fly-tipping and litter.
  • Graffiti removal after 48 hours rather than 14 days.
  • Manufacturers and letting agents to contribute to cost of disposing of dumped mattresses.
  • Removal of estate agent signs immediately and without notice.
  • Outlet codes on takeaway packaging to identify businesses responsible for litter.
  • New council-run licensing regime for the scrap metal industry.
  • Fixed penalty fines for spitting and urinating.

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