Sign warning of CCTV and that fly tippers will be prosecuted.
Westminster Council warned fly tippers in Foley Street that it was watching them. Photo: Fitzrovia News.

New CCTV cameras which use artificial intelligence (AI) to track fly-tippers in central London have earned nothing in fines since going live in February, a Freedom of Information request has revealed.

Westminster City Council clocked 458 referrals from cameras in three hotspots in the borough — including in Fitzrovia West — but chased up a fraction of them.

The local authority said keeping streets clean is a priority and the pilot programme had been successful in tracking and driving down fly-tipping in the area.

Warlock Road in Maida Vale had the highest number of alleged fly-tipping incidents with 237 between February and August this year, according to data seen by the BBC’s Local Democracy Reporting Service.

This was followed by 183 in Denbigh Place, Pimlico, and 83 in Foley Street in Fitzrovia West.

But the council made only three referrals for information on pinged licence plates to the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Authority (DVLA) during this time period.

The supercomputers were installed in February to catch people dumping washing machines and soiled mattresses in the middle of Central London streets.

The cameras flag suspected incidents of fly-tipping before the footage is reviewed by officers and licence plates are sent on to the DVLA to identify culprits and hit them with fines.

The council said most referrals weren’t acts of fly-tipping and were pursuing cases where vehicles had been identified.

A report to a council scrutiny committee in July had noted that “CCTV was unlikely to assist” when there was no vehicle involved as “we would be unlikely to be able to identify them”.

The report stated that fly tipping is a criminal offence and there “must be the criminal standard of evidence” to prosecute.

Which begs the question: why were they deployed in the first place?

The council claimed the cameras have led to a drop in dumping in Denbigh Street and Foley Street and have moved those cameras because of a lack of activity.

Councillor Paul Dimoldenberg, lead member for city management and air quality, said: “Making sure Westminster’s streets stay clean and safe for residents is the council’s top priority and we have seen a clear reduction in rubbish dumped in several of the hotspot areas where the cameras have been installed.

“Our City Inspectors, in partnership with Veolia, remain vigilant to make sure dumped rubbish is removed within 24 hours of receiving a notification. We will continue to use the CCTV camera pilot as a means of tackling the issue and hand out warnings and fixed penalty notices where we have the evidence of who has committed the offence.

“The council offers a quick and efficient service for residents to dispose of waste instead of irresponsibly dumping it on the street, which continues to be as popular as ever with our residents.”

Since 2018, the number of goods dumped on Central London’s streets has shot up. White goods such as washing machines and fridges have been found on street corners, along with furniture and toilets.

The council said there were 1,700 offences recorded in 2022 and in one hot spot, there were 192 offences, roughly one every two days.

Since February, officers have cleaned up fridges, lounges, barbecues and building waste like wooden panels left behind by fly-tippers.

The council has previously found new flat screen TVs and shoes left in their packaging as well as old pet cages, kitchen cupboards and car tyres dumped across the borough.

In February, Cllr Dimoldenberg told BBC Radio London said the council was determined to “get tough” and “issue fines” to people who were making “a complete mess” of streets in central London.

The Labour councillor said the council would prioritise prosecuting professionals for illegally dumping their rubbish following concerns the council may target residents who hired them.

Report from the cabinet member for city management and air quality, Councillor Paul Dimoldenberg (agenda item 5) Communities, City Management and Air Quality Policy and Scrutiny Committee – 31 July 2023.

Additional reporting by Linus Rees.

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