OPPOSITION councillors have voiced their dismay at the lack of action against fly-tippers in a borough where it has been claimed the equivalent weight of 525 double decker buses was dumped last year.

Labour members of Darlington Borough Council were speaking as a study by waste removal company Clearitwaste.com found 275 kilos of rubbish dumped from black bag incidents and more than two million kilos was dumped from tipper lorries in 2019 in the borough.

The council has repeatedly pledged to crack down on fly-tipping, and in 2018, as the number of incidents in which truck-loads of rubbish were dumped rose by more than 110 per cent, said it would use extra funding and intelligence to prosecute offenders. In July that year officers said 2017 had seen the number of prosecutions rise by more than 150 per cent, to 105, that a data analyst was set to start examining fly-tipping problem areas and the authority would seek to prosecute fly-tippers whenever it had evidence.

This week, the council stated it had not prosecuted anybody for fly-tipping in 2019 and had issued three £400 fixed penalty notices for the offence, all since October, when it launched its Back Lanes Project.

Firefighters had warned blazes from loose and fly-tipped refuse was putting lives at risk and holding up officers from dealing with road traffic collisions and serious house fires.

A meeting of the authority heard councillors emphasise residents had been promised enforcement action, but instead an overwhelming volume of fly-tipping was continuing.

Councillor Eleanor Lister said: “I had one this morning. It had been cleared up the day before yesterday and today there’s sofas, mattresses, there’s all sorts. It’s just appalling. Our residents are getting sick of reporting it because as soon as report it, it’s back again.” Councillor Helen Crumbie added the authority had been sent photographic evidence on several occasions which clearly identified the houses responsible for fly-tipping only to be told “no evidence has been found”.

The council’s community safety portfolio holder, Councillor Jonathan Dulston, said the launch of the Back Lanes Project hadn’t been “half as successfully as we hoped”.

He said the initiative had been hampered by numerous staffing issues, adding: “I am thankful that going forward you will see a full complement of civic enforcement officers, back to the numbers that we launched it with. In addition to that we have a fire officer who is working with us two days a week. Fingers crossed, you should see a substantial improvement in the service.”

After the meeting, leader of the opposition, Councillor Stephen Harker, said: “I am disappointed by the lack of progress. My concern is that residents will see some people are persistently not being prosecuted or fined, so they end up thinking what’s the point in making the effort.”