The challenges of tidying up Tooting
10:13pm Wednesday 11th August 2010 in News
By Community Correspondent, Stephen Evans
In an alarmingly out of touch letter to the Wandsworth Guardian last week, Conservative Councillor Sarah McDermott suggested that Tooting's streets are amongst the cleanest in London. This is an insult to the intelligence of anyone who actually lives in Tooting.
Apparently, complaints are at record lows. Councillor McDermott claims this is “due to the hard work and resources council putting into keeping the streets clean”. However, I for one have given up complaining. Not because of any improvement, but because complaints seemed to make such little difference.
Councillor McDermott admits that combating litter is an ongoing battle, but offered little in her letter to explain how the Council intend to fight this battle. A recent copy of Brightside did give an indication of what tactics the Council are employing to crack down on litter. According to the report, two members of staff swapped their normal work uniforms and dressed up as life sized cigarette butts while another donned an apple core costume.
This, it was explained, was a light-hearted and eye-catching way of making a serious point. I seriously hope the Council can do better than this.
The fact is, especially at weekends, residential streets in Tooting are strewn with rubbish and our neighbourhood is being spoilt by litter filled streets.
Don’t get me wrong, first and foremost I blame the few residents that spoil the neighbourhood for everybody. But the Council have a problem and as far as I can see they’re not doing enough to solve it.
One cause of the problem, that is perhaps being overlooked, is the bin bags left out for the Monday refuse collections. Without being sealed in adequate bins, foxes rip these bags apart and scatter the litter around. On a walk around tooting last week I came across dirty nappies, plastic meat containers and tin cans. This isn’t dropped litter; this is litter from bags, torn apart by foxes. I don’t blame the foxes, I blame the humans, but the Council should be ensuring that all households have a secure fox-proof bin. Anyone who leaves bin bags exposed before collection day should be fined. As far as I can tell this is the primary cause of litter on Tooting’s residential streets.
Tooting MP Sadiq Khan has rightly identified another problem. “Fly tipping and litter have long been major concerns for Tooting residents” said Khan. “Too often, waste from firms and households is allowed to pile up — as well as being unpleasant and illegal, this can also be a health hazard.”
Wandsworth Council charge £55 for removing DIY waste while many councils do this for free. People simply refuse to pay the charge so dump it on the streets where it sits for days, before the Council eventually clean it up. The Council should seriously consider if their waste collection charges are adding to the problem.
The reasons why Tooting faces cleaning challenges are many and complex. Mark Clarke, Conservative Parliamentary Spokesman for Tooting, identified the following points.
• Lots of street traders generate litter in the everyday course of their work.
• Tooting is a very busy place - Tooting Broadway station has more people go through the barriers than Clapham Junction.
• Tooting attracts people during the daytime who don't live in the area. We all know that you respect a place more when you live there than when you are just pass through.
• Much of Tooting is a Red Route which means that the Government have decided that Transport for London, not the Council, controls it. This makes co-ordination difficult.
• The Government have taken eighty police away from Wandsworth in the last ten years. This makes it difficult for local police to stay on top of low level anti-social behaviour like littering. In fact the Government have told the police not to target such low level crime.
All of the above are no doubt true, but the points fail to address why our residential streets, the streets in which we live, are so littered.
There is, it could also be argued, a cultural aspect to the problem. Tooting is home to a significant population of people who come from parts of the world where littering is not seen as being anti-social. That’s not to say that minority groups are responsible for the litter problem, but I suspect that the attitudes of some makes the challenge of keeping Tooting tidy that little more complicated.
We somehow need to create an inclusive, cohesive community where residents share values and a sense of civic pride. Unfortunately, I don’t see this happening. The doctrine of multiculturalism has left our communities divided, with people living side by side but leading completely separate lives. Future policies must re-evaluate notions of commonality: nationality, citizenship, and community.
Everyone should enjoy access to safe, clean community spaces. The key to achieving this is taking pride in your home and area in which you live. If more of us did that, we wouldn’t have to rely on Wandsworth council to clean up the mess. The Council may have failed in their duty, but so have we citizens of Tooting.