Litter & Debris vs. Fires, Spills & Blow-Outs

13/05/2019: An email to Highways England, The M25 contractor and ‘CleanHighways‘ about litter & debris and concerns they were linked to fires, spills & blowouts was the subject of a response ( TO 256739 Final ) the relevent extract from which is as follows:

In respect of the points you address to Highways England, you assert that there is a link between increased litter and vehicle fires. There is no valid evidence to support that assertion nor do we accept that levels of litter and debris have increased on our network. In the context of any claim in which the presence of litter may be an alleged factor, that would need to be considered on its own merits based on the available evidence of causation.

We have replied as follows:

07/06/2019 to: Tej Bains @ highwaysengland.co.uk Head of Claims and Policy
Highways England, Green Claims, 5 St Phillips Place, Birmingham B3 2PW

Subject: RE: Contribution Request TO 256739: Debris / Litter – Highways Fires, Spills, Blow-Outs – their cost.

Whilst I thank you for your email of today ( TO 256739 Final ), the indifferent response reinforces a problem; rather than address an issue you dismiss.  There is an increase in fires and spills; why and what are you doing about it?  Am I the first to have noticed this and brought it to your attention? Surely you must be receiving more requests from contractors to pay for these repairs – twice as many?

I have not ‘asserted’, I have suggested.  I do not appreciate your distortion.  I have written:

I do not believe it unreasonable to link the lack of Highways maintenance, the failure to litter pick, to an increase in

    1. blow-outs,
    2. fires and
    3. spills

 in turn, to what is likely an increase in DCP (damage to Crown property)  incidents

I write in respect of 3 issues (‘a’ to ‘c’ above), you respond citing fires in isolation.  My email was clear ‘Debris / Litter – Highways Fires, Spills, Blow-Outs – their cost’   I have raised spills and blows outs and from your silence on these, it appears you acquiesce, take no issue.

Litter and debris cause fires, spills and blow-outs.  There appears to be an increase in litter, your contractors do less to remove and there is an increase in spills and fires.  When I have asked contractors for evidence litter was picked, my requests are ignored – why?  Please convey this to the M25 contractor.

No evidence to support an increase in litter & debris?  In 2015 a Commons Select Committee (LINK) reported:

Not getting worse is not the same as acceptable. We take no satisfaction in it but the evidence of our own eyes, the photographs tweeted to us, and the evidence we took during this inquiry lead us to the conclusion that England is a litter-ridden country compared to most of Europe, North America and Japan. Change is needed.

It does not follow litter & debris cause every fire, spill or blow-out but to suggest there is no valid evidence of a link between litter & debris and fires (spills & blow-outs) flies in the face of common sense.

A fire or spill is caused by something within or without the vehicle.  Litter causes some fires and some spills.  The more fires & spills, the greater the likelihood litter is responsible.  However, as there appears to be less interest in litter / debris picks, if these reduce, the proportion of fires, spills & blowouts cause by them is likely to increase. A contractor was clear; litter picks have reduced.

Fire: Highways England warns of litter risk in soaring temperatures:

Recently, on the M5 in the Midlands, Highways England worked with the emergency services to support a serious fire involving a HGV that was carrying hay. The incident took place on the southbound carriageway last Thursday afternoon between junction 7 (Worcester south) and Strensham Services.

Spills: 24/03/2018 – Kent Fire & Rescue:

Fuel spillage on M2 at J3 near Chatham

 Kent Fire and Rescue Service responded to a large fuel leak on the M2, junction 3 slip road, London-bound in the early hours of this morning. A truck carrying approximately 1,800 litres of fuel had a hole in its fuel tank, thought to be caused by a piece of debris. Upon the arrival of KFRS, it was estimated that around 1,000 litres of fuel had leaked onto the slip road. Crews used a clay putty to block the hole in the fuel tank and stop the flow, and covered nearby drains with clay mats. Crews liaised with the Environment Agency, and Highways England was in attendance.

A difficulty with spills and particularly fires, is that the evidence of causation is often destroyed.  But this does not stop you or your contractors asserting (onerously) that it is for the vehicle owner to demonstrate a well maintained vehicle while failing to evidencing a well maintained road.

Rather dismiss my concerns, please explain Highways England’s reconciliation of the figures and efforts to understand and reduce incidents.

Highways England keep the statistics, they have provided them.  A driver is twice as likely to suffer or encounter a fire or spill that 5 years ago

Please:

  1. Provide your analysis of the information and
  2. The records you possess about cause in respect of each incident
  3. Your actions to address the concerning increase in fires and spills
  4. To what do you attribute the increase?
  5. Evidence your contractors undertaking the litter picks for which they are paid

I have also raised Highways England’s onerous approach to drivers and their vehicles; that a failure of an MoT in a car’s history blights it in the eyes of your Authority, even through the issues are addressed and a pass follows; one strike and you are out, there is no rehabilitation of a vehicle accepted by you.

But, if the vehicle was not at fault, you have no one to claim against.  If the cause was litter or debris, you cannot claim against the driver, fleet, hauliers or insurer.  Indeed, they could potentially claim against you.  With incidents doubling and resurfacing starting at over £10,000 possibly no one is interested because, to date, you have been making successful demands against the victims?

Possibly the issue should have been considered by someone other than the Head of Claims and Policy, Highways England Green Claims i.e. claims against Third Parties (drivers, fleets, hauliers or their insurers)?

cc: Stephen Shuster @ dft.gov.uk


An extract from a letter we send to Highways England following a spill, fire or collision following a blow-out:

In February 2016. your witness, Kier Highways claims manager explained with regard to litter / debris:

… there’s a big push on it. But again, you know, we have to somehow pay for it out of somewhere, ’cause someone was saying the other day actually, ‘Well we want you to go and do more litter picks,’ and we were like, ‘With what money? How do you think we are going to pay for this?’

Additionally:

… debris is a direct consequence of this zero carriageway crossing thing, because the guys that work on the networks get very frustrated with it because they feel that they should still be allowed to cross the carriageway.

The point being made by Kier Highways was that with the zero-carriageway crossing policy to litter / debris pick on a central carriageway they must now install traffic management (TM) and this costs money. A further irony is that it seems the debris that may have caused an incident is only picked after and because of the incident!

There is more about debris and Kier’s failure to address it on the basis of costs here:

www.englandhighways.co.uk/hazards/debris/debris-damage/

www.englandhighways.co.uk/litter-who-cares/

If, as appears to be the case, Highways England do not ensure our roads are kept clear yet litter /debris is a known cause of damage and accidents, how are you not applying a double standard as to what you expect drivers to do in maintaining their vehicles?

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