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countyhallchambersUPDATED: Members of the Isle of Wight Council’s Conservative Group have tonight exposed what they describe as a “major misrepresentation” perpetrated by the current Independent council administration about the cleaning of the Island’s beaches.

The Isle of Wight Council has recently written to Town and Parish Councils regarding some discretionary services that they will no longer be able to fund. One of these is cleaning of the Island’s beaches and they have asked all the councils for financial contributions. But, during Thursday’s briefing for IW Councillors on the new waste contract, it was confirmed that as the IW Council is a Litter Authority, cleaning the beaches is a statutory duty not a discretionary one.

Cllr Wayne Whittle and Cllr Julie Jones-Evans spotted this during the presentation and it was confirmed by an officer to the members present that keeping the beaches clean is a duty the IWC must perform.

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Under section 89 of the Environmental Protection Act 1990 a litter authority must as respects its relevant land, which is open to the air, under their direct control and to which the public are entitled or permitted to have access with or without payment, ensure that the land is, so far as is practicable, kept clear of litter and refuse. “Practicable” as opposed to “reasonably practicable” means physically possible without regard to cost. The standard to which they must be cleaned to depends on the character and use of the land.

Cllr Jones-Evans said:

“I am astounded by this news. We’ve have been led to believe for months that the beach cleaning was under threat. Officers have worked hard to come up with a formula to work out what the individual town and parishes could contribute, my own council of Newport was asked for £26,000, despite not even having a beach.

“The recent IWC peer challenge revealed that too much emphasis was being placed on the savings from discretionary services and now the council will have to look at this whole issue again, wasting valuable time.”

Cllr Whittle said:

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“This applies to all land under the direct control of the authority such as open spaces and parks. Only if a Town or Parish has a licence or lease from the IWC would they become responsible for the cleaning.

“The IWC needs to rethink their approach on this issue and look for other ways that local councils can assist in delivering services.”

Conservative Group Leader, Cllr Dave Stewart, says:

“The Deputy Leader of the Independent Group, Cllr Steve Stubbings, has personally met with parish and town councils all around the Island to persuade them to take on discretionary services. My colleagues have now exposed that in fact beach cleaning is a statutory responsibility. I will be calling for an investigation by the Council’s Managing Director into how this major misrepresentation arose.”

The Government’s Code of Practice is very clear in relation to amenity beaches stating:

“Amenity Beaches should be generally clear of all litter and refuse between 1 May and 30 September inclusive. Individual local authorities should decide the level of cleanliness that they are able to provide to any non-amenity beaches, and where practicable, beaches must be inspected from time to time and cleaned as necessary.”

Cllr Chris Whitehouse added:

“Truly astonishing. The Isle of Wight Council has a legal duty to keep our beaches clean but is not being open and transparent about this. A top level investigation into the misrepresentation is clearly urgently required.”

UPDATE MONDAY @ 13:45 – In a statement issued by the Isle of Wight Council today, Luisa Hillard, Executive member for sustainability, environment and public realm said:

“When the council agreed the medium term financial plan in February 2014 it outlined a potential reduction in its budget for beach cleaning of £160,000 per annum from 2015/16.

“The report clearly states that the target position for the council would be for ‘all beaches to be maintained by third parties at their cost or the council to only undertake minimum levels of maintenance to meet its liabilities as the land owner or leaseholder’.

“The council currently meets the minimum levels for the maintenance of its amenity beaches as required by the Environmental Protection Act by carrying out daily handpicking of litter above the mean high water line between May and September. This is the level of service it would need to maintain to meet its liabilities referred to in the report to the Full Council.

“However, above this the council also carries out sand levelling and raking on the amenity beaches using tractors. This ‘mechanical cleaning’ is non-statutory and makes up the vast majority of the beach cleaning budget. There is no requirement for the council to carry out this extra level of work.

“The proposals made to town and parish councils were that they could make a contribution to the costs of maintaining the beaches at the current levels, including mechanical cleaning. Officers have met with representatives of all town and parish councils to outline the position and discuss the implications of any possible changes.

“The council is currently reviewing all of its budget options set out in the agreed medium term financial plan and is keen to understand the position of all town and parish councils with respect to the standards of beach cleaning before it makes any final decisions about future funding.”

Councillor Steve, Stubbings, Deputy Leader of the Isle of Wight Council, added:

“The council is working hard on each of the proposed budget options and a dedicated budget review steering group is looking at a number of issues. Particular attention is being focused on statutory duties, where the council can best add value to the outcomes for the Island with innovative opportunities for change and exploring different delivery models.

“Detailed work is also being undertaken through our organisational change team on the council’s statutory duties in respect of all services.”

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