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St Paul’s residents call for action on ‘upsetting and depressing’ fly‑tipping in their neighbourhood

After years of what they say is disproportionate dumping in their area, and too little action to find lasting solutions, a group of BS2 residents are taking their concerns to the doorstep of City Hall.


It’s a gorgeous early June evening in St Paul’s – groups of friends gather by the triangle on Grosvenor Road, kids play by the learning centre and neighbours sit chatting on front walls.

Sunlight glows off the pastel-coloured fronts of houses, and casts tree-shadows onto the gable-end murals that dot the area – but slide your eyes down and the view is less pleasant.

From Lower Ashley Road through to Hepburn Road, every few dozen metres there’s a pile of rubbish: furniture, black bags, cardboard, builders’ waste. Six days later, on a much greyer afternoon, most are still there – just a few have been removed, and some have grown – despite targets set by the council saying that such tips should be cleared within three days.

“It’s upsetting and depressing,” says Gemma Buchan, 43, who has lived in St Paul’s for 20 years. “My youngest is at school up the hill, and you can literally see the transition [in cleanliness] – what do you say to them, why are we treated differently?”

Gemma Buchan says she is sick of her area feeling dirtier than others (credit: Alex Turner)

Recent reports that the chief executive of Bristol Waste, the council-owned company responsible for the city’s rubbish, pocketed £224,000 for just over 10 months’ work, did not improve Gemma’s mood. “It makes me feel sick thinking, where’s our money going?” she says.

The problem is not new, nor of course exclusive to St Paul’s – with a council survey finding that 94% of people in more deprived Bristol suburbs find litter a problem. But many residents believe that for a range of reasons their area has it particularly bad.

After a period of improvement following previous complaints in 2020, and an apparent cleanup before the local elections in May, they say things are worsening.

In the first week of July, a campaign group – Better Streets-St Paul’s – will stage an exhibition next door to City Hall, in what they say is an effort to make those with power in the city recognise the scale of the problem, and the impact it has. They hope this will help push Bristol Waste bosses and the city’s new Green-led administration to take action and improve things for the neighbourhood.

‘The old system was also a nightmare’

In most parts of Bristol, people living on inner-city and suburban streets have their waste collected in the familiar system of a wheelie bin plus recycling boxes. But in much of St Paul’s, the council has instead set up large communal bin areas – a bit like mini versions of its main recycling centres – where residents can put their waste.

This system was put in place more than a decade ago, partly because of the area’s mix of tight 19th-century terraced streets and bigger blocks of social housing. It was also trialled elsewhere, including in parts of Clifton, old council reports record.

It’s continually grinding you down – it’s frustrating, and also embarrassing

Georgina Milne, St Paul’s resident

“Customer satisfaction door-to-door surveys have been conducted for all the streets in Clifton and show the scheme to be a resounding success,” says one from 2010. “The streets in St Paul’s will test whether this is the case with very different demographics.”

St Paul’s locals with long memories agree that the neighbourhood, with its narrow pavements, and steep steps up to front doors and down to basement flats, needed a different approach from some other bits of Bristol.

“I will emphatically state that the old system of black wheelie bins in St Paul’s was a nightmare,” says Alex Hutchings, a resident of 30 years. “Even where you don’t have steps, entranceways are narrow, so bins were always blocking the pavements – you couldn’t get pushchairs or wheelchairs past.”

When bins were full, people with no front yard space to speak of would also put rubbish out next to bins, he adds, which could then end up strewn around the street.

It’s clear though that the communal bin system, which most people we speak to describe as an experiment that has been left to run and run, has not fixed things. 

We encounter lots of residents using the bins exactly as they are intended. But the street-corner zones are also home to some of the worst fly-tipping – along with other uncollected rubbish – in St Paul’s.

Several are piled high with old sofas and mattresses, despite notices warning against dumping bulky or trade waste there. In other locations bins are overflowing, with waste sometimes left for weeks, according to interviewees.

‘This isn’t a tip’

Clearly, some of this rubbish comes from people living locally. “If you’ve not got much money, you don’t have transport, and you want to get rid of an old kitchen or a mattress, you’re not going to get on the bus and take it to the tip,” says Alex.

Others point out that the communal bins can be hard to use for people who are below a certain height, or disabled – meaning people are more likely to not close them properly, or leave items next to them.

Some residents say though that they feel insulted by the idea that people in St Paul’s don’t know how to care for their area. A campaign by Bristol Waste in 2022, which involved residents in producing colourful designs for the communal bins, focused on “changing people’s mindsets” and “encouraging difficult conversations” among locals – but those we speak to argue that there are other factors at play.

One is that St Paul’s is close to the city centre and M32 and very accessible, via its main roads, for people to come into and dump rubbish. Residents say this is more likely to happen when existing waste is not cleared quickly, fuelling the impression that it’s fine to tip there – which Alex says he sometimes hears builders do in the early mornings.

Alex Hutchings (L) near his home in St Paul’s, and a pile of dumped waste we saw on the same corner while walking around the previous week (credit: Alex Turner)

Then there is litter from people passing through after a night on Stokes Croft, and sometimes drug and sex paraphernalia from customers of local support services.

Another is a growth in population, which has also become more transient, with increased numbers of HMOs, students moving in and in parts of St Paul’s, housing being used for Airbnb-style lets. “Landlords put out their dirty mattresses, etcetera,” says Caz Simms, 57. “My neighbour caught one recently putting out a fridge on Brigstocke Road, said this isn’t a tip – he said he was just leaving it for the council.”

‘Fly-tipping really pulls you down’

Whatever the exact combination of reasons, people we speak to say they feel exhausted by reporting issues – which can easily become a job in itself.

“It took, I think, about six hours the last time [my area] was properly cleaned, before there was something else,” says Georgina Milne, 49 who has lived in St Paul’s 27 years and says the issues have become worse. “It’s continually grinding you down. It’s frustrating, and also embarrassing.”

Studies into the impact of living among litter and fly-tipping have often not conclusively linked it with worse mental health, but several St Paul’s residents tell us it has impacted their wellbeing. “It really does pull you down,” adds Caz. Then there are potential physical health hazards, with both food waste and soft furnishings providing an environment in which vermin can thrive.

Between two visits a week apart, dumped rubbish remained in many locations (credit: Alex Turner)

People we interview believe the council and Bristol Waste should take more initiative to find solutions. Several warn that expecting residents to constantly monitor and report fly-tipping problems is not only unfair and unrealistic, but could put people at risk.

“Say there’s a van full of gnarly builders, dropping their shit off, and you say, ‘Hey, mate, I’m gonna take a photo and report you,’” says Alex, who was recently threatened after confronting an apparently drunk driver who damaged cars on his street. “Are the police or the council going to be there when they come back to exact their revenge?”

Some people we speak to say that if residents are expected to be the council’s eyes and ears, they should be offered explicit incentives to do so. Others say that while they hate the idea of more CCTV, cameras and more aggressive enforcement are needed at least in the short term to deter people from coming into the area to dump waste. The council recently increased its fixed-penalty fine for fly-tipping – which cost it £740,000 to deal with last year – to £1,000, the maximum allowed under the law.

‘We need to take a strategic look at this’

Any such answers will though be in the future. The first steps being taken by the campaign group are to put the issues on prominent display, at the Vestibules space on the side of City Hall.

“We all feel a bit helpless in this situation – we’ve been shouting into a big black hole for change, and nothing’s changing,” says Emma Reynolds, who raised awareness of dumping in St Paul’s in 2020. “The main point [of the exhibition] is to have it on their doorsteps, what we have to have on our doorsteps daily, and to draw attention to it.”

In a statement to the Cable, a Bristol Waste spokesperson said: “We are aware of issues with fly-tipping in this area, and our crews work hard to clear items, often revisiting streets multiple times per week.

“We share residents’ frustrations about this behaviour, which is both illegal and antisocial, and has such an impact on our city, neighbourhoods and communities,” they added. “In St Paul’s, we work with communities to manage waste and recycling, and help keep Bristol clean and safe. Later this month, our Big Tidy project team will be joined by volunteers from locally based companies for a community litter pick in the area.”

Tim Wye, one of the Green councillors for the Ashley ward in which St Paul’s sits, tells the Cable he is aware both of the current situation and the planned action, which he says he backs. 

He reiterates many of the factors mentioned by residents – and says he agrees that while other areas experience similar issues, “St Paul’s often has it worse” on fly-tipping.

“We need to look back at why [the communal bins] were put in, was there a masterplan, what the evaluation is – and what specific action is needed now,” he says. “We’re still [as a new administration] in the process of looking at where our cost pressures are, whether we’d be able to squeeze any more money out – but we need to take a strategic look at this.”

The Better Streets-St Paul’s exhibition will run from 1 to 5 July at the Vestibules space next to College Green.

Note: Tara Miran, one of the campaign group, is in the process of being inducted as a director by the Cable. This had no influence on the editorial team’s reporting of this issue, which was raised previously and which we looked into independently.

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Report a comment. Comments are moderated according to our Comment Policy.

  • I think the most depressing thing about this article is the fact that it misses the point completely. Fly tipping, though it is A problem in St Pauls, it is not THE problem. The actual problem is the fact that Bristol Waste simply do not turn up and that includes our recycling. I was really happy that Bristol Cable was doing an article and was hoping it would be a step towards changing this for us residents but no, lets put the blame on persons unknown from out of the area, not on the fact that Bristol Waste simply do not turn up and when they do the place is such a mess and all the recycling is contaminated that, by their own rules, they are not allowed to collect it. It would’ve been simple to put the blame where it should be but you failed in that one job and for some reason diverted everyone’s attention away from those responsible for it who have been getting away with it for years and with your help, will continue to. Thanks for nothing.


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