Mid and East Antrim Borough Council will clamp down on litter louts and dog fouling by bringing in a private enforcement company before Easter.
A pilot scheme is expected to be up and running in the borough’s three town centres by April 1, it has been confirmed.
Members of the council’s Direct Services Committee were told last week that the introduction of the scheme has been delayed by “procurement issues” but is now said to be “back on track”.
The council has said that an external company will be “working alongside the existing enforcement team patrolling identified hotspots to increase the detection of offenders and get improvements in general cleanliness”.
Speaking at a previous meeting of the committee, Ulster Unionist Coast Road Councillor Maureen Morrow warned that “no leeway” is given by some firms employed to enforce penalties.
She said she had been told by a Scottish counterpart of the mother of a child who dropped a toy from a pram and was given a £100 fine for littering and a pensioner who accidentally dropped a tissue from a pocket was also fined £100.
Offenders in Mid and East Antrim may face a fine of up to £250 after the borough council was asked by Newry and Mourne District Council to support a request for dog fouling legislation to be updated, for penalty setting powers to be devolved to local authorities and for fixed penalties for dog fouling and littering to be increased from £80 to £250.
The fines are expected to be pocketed by the new company.
Just three fixed penalty notices were issued for littering and dog fouling in Mid and East Antrim during 2019/20.
The council says it is “reliant on members of the public to submit details of any dog fouling incidents they witness”.
Dog fouling complaints dropped from 195 in 2018/19 to 111 during 2019/20 and the issuing of fixed penalty notices of £80 has been described as “random”.
Ulster Unionist MLA John Stewart has asked the council to adopt a “zero-tolerance policy” on dog fouling and littering.
He described Larne and Carrickfergus as the “poor relations” to Ballymena when it comes to the issuing of fixed penalties for litter and dog fouling.
“From figures, I obtained from the council, there were 258 fixed penalty notices handed out in Ballymena for fly-tipping, dog fouling and litter offences between 2017 and 2020. In the same period, there were only 41 in Carrickfergus and just 38 in Larne. That is a massive discrepancy.
“The council must demonstrate that it is not all about Ballymena. They need to put the resources into Larne and Carrickfergus, adopt a zero-tolerance policy to litter and back up the fantastic volunteer work of the Eco Rangers.
“It is fantastic how the Eco Rangers have tapped into community spirit over the past few months. The amount of rubbish Abe Agnew and his group are bagging up is quite remarkable. However, it does demonstrate again what a throw-away society we live in.”
The Larne Eco Rangers group set up by Abe to help combat littering and keep the area tidy is continuing to grow with more than 40 new volunteers in recent weeks.
He has been clearing rubbish in the town for the last few years, previously with just his dog Bobby for company,
Abe says that on average, he has lifted between 15 and 20,000 pieces of litter each week and the number of discarded masks, wet wipes and tissues is increasing but bottle, tin cans and fast food wrappers are the most commonly discarded items.
A spokesperson for Mid and East Antrim Borough Council said: “Environmental Health Officers have a wide range of duties including enforcement and there is the same staffing resource in each area, where there is evidence that an offence has been committed enforcement action will be taken which includes the issue of a FPN (Fixed Penalty Notice).”