Greenwich Council’s abandoned sweepers’ bags – mystery solved?

An abandoned bag left split open at Victoria Way, Charlton
An abandoned bag left split open at Victoria Way, Charlton

Not much time for new stories at the moment, but a quick word about something old that’s just a teensy bit annoying, which may be the dullest post this site has ever featured..

Last night, the Twitter feed of Greenwich Council’s deputy leader John Fahy – it’s the only place to find him these days, he seems to have been airbrushed out of the weekly Greenwich Time again – sprang to life with a strange little comment.

Rachel Blundy? Who’s that? Man the borders! Guards, stop her!

Actually, it turns out she’s a journalist at the Evening Standard, who had the exciting job of writing up a story about nine out of the 10 most miserable places in the UK being in London. Greenwich comes seventh – one place more miserable than Luton.

Of course, she never had to leave the paper’s Kensington HQ to write it – it’s purely based on a survey of 25,000 people conducted by Rightmove. It’s the sort of stuff that’s easy clickbait, and people who rarely look deeper than the headline get really excited by this kind of thing.

I wonder how statistically sound this survey is – you’re looking at no more than 200 people per council area surveyed, for a start. We also don’t know where in each borough these people live – in Greenwich, you’re likely to be vastly more satisfied if you live on the Ashburnham Triangle conservation area than if you go home on the 177 to the Abbey Wood Estate.

But in terms of getting lovely, lovely clicks, there’s no room for this kind of question. And no time. So, essentially, it’s a councillor blaming a journalist who’s been told to write a fairly rubbish news story. So far, so typical.

Even the Tories are getting defensive.

But hang on a minute. Let’s dive into these figures. Asked about the upkeep of their local area, respondents rated Greenwich 119th out of 130 council areas – 27/33 in London. As a local council, you’ve got some direct input over this. I’d be asking some questions here. So perhaps the good councillor Fahy shouldn’t be so dismissive. And maybe there’s something for new Tory leader Matt Hartley to get his teeth into.

Rightmove survey

Too often, Greenwich is dismissive of those who claim the place looks like a dump – even while a contracting cock-up means weeds are threatening to displace puny humans from many parts of the borough.

To be fair, they are making efforts to change – finally embracing the FixMyStreet app for reporting faults (erstwhile Dear Leader Chris Roberts is said to have actively discouraged techological fixes like this), and using a 25-year-old law to finally get tough on shopping trolleys.

But if you live in well-tended Eltham avenues as the council leadership does, you may not see the fly-tipping that blights other areas. And you also may not see these…

Council sweepers' bags left out in Highcombe, Charlton - a well-known flytipping hotspot
Council sweepers’ bags left out in Highcombe, Charlton – a well-known flytipping hotspot

Abandoned street sweepers’ bags started cropping up a year or so in my own neck of Charlton. They also appear in parts of east Greenwich, while I’ve had reports of them in Abbey Wood too. They come and go – I remember them being left out all over Christmas in many areas. We seem to be in a summer of them here, left lying around for anything up to a week, blocking pavements and getting in the way. More often than not, they’re left out for a whole weekend. Essentially, the council is flytipping its own streets.

They’re not the only ones – cross into Lewisham, and you’ll often see huge piles of blue bags shoved up against walls awaiting collection. It’s the same in Southwark. But in Greenwich, half-empty bags are just left in seemingly random places to moulder for days on end. It happened today in my part of Charlton – I’m pretty fearful they’ll be left out for the weekend, making the place look a dump for the first day of the football season.

Personally, I’ve complained plenty of times, only really getting anywhere when local MP Matt Pennycook gets involved. Otherwise, reports are often ignored, both by council staff and by councillors. (I accept this is probably because it’s me doing the complaining.)

But today, I got some answers. I bumped into a street sweeper leaving these bags out, and asked him about how it works. I won’t say where to protect his identity. It does seem, though, that this practice shouldn’t be happening. If you come home from work in the evening and your street is littered with bags, then chances are they shouldn’t be there.

Apparently, these bags should be collected within two hours. However, the vans that do the collecting often don’t get round to them – some staff are more “efficient” than others, according to my man with the broom. So, it appears that they just get abandoned. The bags are half-empty because otherwise staff can’t throw them onto the van otherwise (!), and staff are told to leave the bags on the edge of the pavement – even though it often blocks the pavement.

It looks like something’s gone wrong at Cleansweep, the council’s in-house litter service – nobody’s really monitoring whether this relatively new way of working is actually successful. And, I’d argue, because people are often used to poorly-kept streets, they aren’t really pressing the council on it. It also doesn’t appear that councillors are doing much work on this either.

So, ladies and gentlemen – we have some work to do here. If you see a bag that’s been left out for a day or so, report it. The FixMyStreet app is great for this if you have a smartphone. Ask it to send you updates on your problem. They’ll ring you back sometimes to check details. If the council comes back and tells you it’s “awaiting collection”, politely ask them to collect it. Hopefully, they’ll get the message and fix this.

Because otherwise, the next step is seeing if the council can be fined for flytipping its own streets – and that would be a bit embarrassing, wouldn’t it?


  1. What a great app FixMyStreet is! Perfect for a moaning codger like me. I shall be making Royal Borough of Greenwich work…

  2. Thanks for the pointer to Fix my street. Seems others are also perturbed by the triffid like weeds colonising Charlton.

  3. For years Greenwich was good at street cleaning especially with the mechanical sweepers. This year this has all seemed to grind to a holt – the pavements are often weeded over and the gutters full of dirt. After a complaint (3 weeks ago) for Kidbrooke there has been a half-hearted attempt but the bags of dirt are littering the pavements days later. Bad management or cost cuts or both?

  4. Since moving to Plumstead I have really noticed how much rubbish there is lying around everywhere. Think the council needs to get tougher on fly tippers.

    Would also be good if the council informed the King’s Troop that like dog owners, they should pick up their horses’ business from the roads they trot around….. 😉

  5. Less worried about the horse poop (good for the roses) but do they really have to exercise during rush hour and block the traffic for miles around??

  6. Its a fall back option to when Europe finally runs out of petrol and diesel since Cameron is trying to kill off renewable energy development 🙂

  7. Paul – I’m not sure how far those mechanical sweepers roam, I’ve never seen them in my part of Charlton. As for cuts – Cleansweep’s had its budget *increased* recently. It seems to be a management problem.

    As for the King’s Dung – it’s a similar problem with police horses for football at The Valley (indeed, some days are double dung days if the military horses go for a trot around SE7 on matchdays). It does wash away, at least…

  8. A couple of years ago I inquired why street weeds were no longer cleared. I was told that new rules on weedkiller chemicals had come into force and the council no longer had the money to operate the service. Some people are so fed up with the mess that they clear weeds in front of their own houses and remove litter from the gutters into the nearest bin in between “Cleansweep” visits. Otherwise, it’s “Grubby Greenwich” with frequent fly tipping and inadequate council services. Rather rich when the council leaves its own mess on the streets too. And at the same time Greenwich is promoted as a tourist destination! Around the Cutty Sark perhaps, but Greenwich has plenty of other squalid areas so perhaps it is not a surprise that the borough fared so badly in the “survey”.

  9. We live in East Greenwich and the standard of street cleaning around here is awful. I’m constantly reporting small flytips which I seem to have to constantly chase up. The council use a mechanical sweeper in our road which is no use as the road is full of cars – street cleaners with brooms would be so much more effective and they could no doubt deal with some of the smaller flytips. The whole area around the flyover really needs much more attention.

  10. Mmmm… the council was late in appointing a contactor to remove the weeds, and the first treatment programme doesn’t seem to have been completed. Leave it much longer, Greenwich council, and weeds’ll die off anyway and you can say “Sorted”! We’re so hacked off we’ve cleared our own front.

  11. Certainly not the dullest topic ever! I, too, had wondered about these bags which are on many street corners in Charlton. In a way it would be better if it was fly-tipping because at least you can keep an eye out for them and do something about it if you see them, but he news that it’s done by people cleaning the borough is depressing!
    As for the weeds, I’ve cleared them from outside my house, but I’m not going to do the whole bloody street.

  12. The other part of the problem in E Greenwich is the post Monday morning detritus left after foxes have trashed rubbish bags left out on Sunday for the Monday AM collection. The rubbish blows around until the faithful street sweepers do the rounds, which can be days after. Perhaps the council should send those guys around following the bin lorries to mop up what they leave behind.

    And then there’s the bin men who seem to think bumping wheelie bins off the sides and bumpers of parked cars is just part of the job… just you dare to ask them to take a little more care please…. As they fling them back in the general direction of your house, bumping off cars, fences, hedges…

  13. I saw you mention fixmystreets recently so had a look at a few areas’ reports. It appears Greenwich council have ignored a fair few, as I saw things still the same quite a time after reporting. Still worth using though I suppose – if nothing else as evidence that things are being reported and council depts are failing to operate as they should.

    Mechanical cleaners often seems a waste of time and money. They can’t get near most kerbs with cars parked, and when on paving leave trails behind and miss half the crap. What’s needed is brooms and pans for day-to-day. Jet washing for town centres every month.

  14. Engaging residents to create cleaner streets is a key priority for the Council. Thank you for highlighting the introduction of the App which residents are now using to great effect . Very much hope this will continue. Thank you for highlighting a number of issues and the points raised will be addressed. We share a common objective.

  15. @fahy – surely if you are leaving it to residents to alert you to the fact that our streets are not clean, you are missing a trick. You have operatives on every street, every day of every week who can alert you to such matters – from refuse collectors to traffic wardens to Police Specials. If residents have to tell you that your service is sub-standard, I would recommend taking a more pro-active look at how you can get your eyes and ears on the streets working more productively for you and us.

  16. Pirate King,of course our operatives are out there doing a fantastic job but need to endured that residents can report on individual incidents as they see them. Working together should result in cleaner streets and challenge who constantly fly tip.

  17. It’s clear that different parts of the council’s streets and refuse services don’t talk to each other. Refuse teams don’t report flytipping, for example.

    Take a look at this Fix My Street report for buck-passing – the dumped sweeper’s bag is still there, five days after I reported it.

  18. Sounds about right. I’ve just seen on twitter another example of terrible & illegal parking. It’s in a spot where the council have been told on twitter, email, fixmystreet and more on dozens of occasions. They say they ticketed a ‘number of times’. That’s a very ambiguous phrase and hasn’t made any impact. Three cars a month ago? Who knows. Processes are broken in a fair few departments – Cleansweep, Highways, Housing, and Parking to name four.

  19. Just where does John Fahy plan to take Ms Blundy?
    I need to see his list of mind changing places.

  20. Darryl, certainly not a dull post, actually well spot on! I did some research recently which involved riding local buses. You notice the rubbish and that it gets much worse as you travel through Greenwich to other side of the borough (on the 177). I was genuinely shocked at how much rubbish was next to the bin rather than in the bin at Thamesmead bus stops – in the residential areas! The Greenwich side also has the issue though I don’t think Woolwich Rd surrounds is anywhere near the worse I’ve seen in London or the borough.

    I honestly don’t know why the council doesn’t run litter asb ad campaign, say on bus stops? It could start by pointing out how much it costs in council tax to clean up rubbish, flytipping, solidified chewing gum etc and fines which already exist. Other councils like Waltham Forest are getting serious with tackling this. Ultimately, rubbish is our cultural problem (as one American comedian suggested), one of the first things I noticed when returning from overseas. Just back from Budapest which is soaring in heat in tourists. Whilst the bins are getting full, we actually noticed the streets were really clean. Ditto Edinburgh. Littering is a behaviour issue and the council needs to send an unequivocal message and stub it out.

  21. @fahy – Pirate King? Not a laughing matter sir, quite the contrary, although your unintended typo certainly adds a touch of comic irony. Endure is indeed what I suppose we’ll be forced to do!

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