Is rubbish becoming Bath’s main attraction?

This is the view that greeted a party of tourists one Sunday morning on a tour of the city with Mayor’s Guide member Michael Noakes.

He told me: “I took the attached photo on my way to start my walk the Sunday before last! I get rather fed up apologising to the visitors I take round the city for the amount of rubbish on the streets.

The bags are not gull proof; perhaps the Council should insist/provide ones that are and fine people for non-use. Saying that we, as a country, are too casual about litter.

I was recently on holiday in N Ireland visiting several coastal cities and towns that were clean and tidy with few seagulls in spite of their coastal locations. There is no doubt that it is our rubbish is the main attraction!”

Well, as it happens, l had a face to face meeting today with the new B&NES cabinet member for Neighbourhood Services, Cllr Tim Ball.

Cllr Tim Ball, B&NES cabinet member for Neighbourhood Services.

I went prepared for a video interview but – to be fair to him – he’s only been in the job for a few weeks but – to his credit – has already taken action to clean things up.

‘I’ll talk in a month’, he says, ‘when we’ll see if the measures l am taking are working’.

Tim told me that individual businesses were signed to many different refuse collection companies who pick up bags, off the street, early in the morning or evening.

He admits the present collection service is not working very well and the council has already started fining businesses who put inappropriate waste on the street. Things not bagged properly in the sacks or containers provided.

He wants to see the twice daily system changed to once a day – early in the morning before the tourists are about – and coordinated so all companies are collecting around the same time.

He admits such a scheme will involve ‘ a fair bit of negotiation’ but he is also setting up a city centre working group which will bring together B&NES with the Southgate Management and Bath BID. They meet for the first time next week.

One issue is that the national and international chains all use the same refuse carrier so its not as easy to involve them in any local deal. However, all companies will have to be seen to be putting all food waste in bird proof containers. Tim even admitted the council had not always been doing that.

B&NES has appointed an enforcement officer to check on what is being left outside for collection and – though he has only been seen on the streets most working day mornings – the intention is for him to soon be checking on things during early evenings as well.

B&NES can’t take over the collection service themselves, Tim says, as the council doesn’t have the ‘kerb resources’ in manpower and refuse lorries.

Don’t think this is just an inner-city commercial issue either. B&NES is starting to knock on the doors of domestic users too – trying to get residents to think about how they are presenting their food waste for collection.

Air BNBs were also an issue, he said, as they are not regulated and often users are not given instructions on how to bag the waste they create. ‘We can chase the owners but it’s not easy’, said Tim.

There, l said, l could have done a video interview. Put it in your diary for four weeks time, he replied. A man confident that, if he can get this new approach working, we will be also starting to tackle the gull issue too!

A lot of you are commenting online about this story but here’s an email l have received from Karen Harrowing:

The rubbish situation is getting worse and it is good to see that you are going to be following up with the relevant councillor. There needs both short and long-term approaches to waste. 

I have recently been sweeping up more & more litter in our street, cleaning up smashed glass from next street and reporting fly-tipping on fix my street dumped by the telephone box. I have also witnessed on numerous occasions that “residents” (maybe owners, short or long-term tenants) using the public bins for household waste. This seems to have increased recently in Great Pulteney Street with the larger bins now available.

I was keen to ensure the seagull-proof bags were rolled out in Bathwick some years ago, as I was fed up with clearing up the rubbish blown into our basement. However, there are now new issues as people do not take in the bags and food waste bins are left hanging on railings.

 Laura Place used to look quite tidy but recently the seagull-proof bags are never taken in and they are often put out on the wrong days and become ‘litter bins’ for the passing public. There seems to be a lack of pride and this may only get worse with more holiday lets (AirBnB etc).

Also, even though I try to keep my recycling bags clean and tidy, the operators throw it all in together to speed collections. So the bag I have cleaned becomes soiled again with other people’s rubbish & I have to clean it again.

You can see why, after a time, people would not want to take in bags if they have no storage. 

I appreciate that the current economic crisis and ageing populations need care means that the Council is short of cash but it would be good to know that there are plans for improvement – even if this can’t be initiated at this time. 

We have visited areas in France where there are key fob-controlled communal bins and glass recycling units below ground and have seen other mechanisms.

It may be helpful to ask if any alternative schemes are going to be piloted when you next see Cllr. Ball. Thank you for your updates – always helpful.”


  1. My daughter and her family recently visited from Melbourne and were horrified to see the rubbish on the streets of their beautiful home city!
    They stayed in an Airbnb managed by Aiready who provided one bin for ALL their waste!!!!!!!
    Naturally it had food waste in it and is going in a black ‘general waste’ bag!
    Companies like this are charging a fortune for sub standard accommodation in the city centre..they can afford to pay some pretty hefty fines should the council choose to enforce them to pay for better waste disposal services!!!!

  2. I’ve recently visited Cambridge (which also has a large student population) and Worcester (which also has a lot of gulls, because of the Severn estuary). Both city centres were noticeably tidier and cleaner than Bath’s, so maybe it is worth finding out how they achieve this?

    I don’t understand why a single large commercial waste collector used by the chains (which have driven out so many other shops) has been allowed to have control over when and how waste is collected from the city centre, when it makes such a difference to the appearance of the place. If they want to make money from businesses here they should surely be governed by local by-laws?

  3. Sincere good luck to Cllr Ball, and welcome to ‘the road to hell’, a journey I don’t envy. The problem really has mushroomed, and is now one of Bath’s most serious, up there with congestion and air pollution. Unfortunately, not all businesses nor residents will ‘play ball’, so unless he is prepared to ‘play hard ball’ the current behaviour from Bath’s humans and gulls will not change – why would it?!
    Three things need to happen, imo :-
    1. our Council should provide Gull-proof sacks to businesses, large enough to hold their multiple waste bags. These should have a code stamped on them that identifies which business pays for them and for the disposal of their contents.
    2. Air-bnbs are businesses, and should be registered as such, and provided with similar stamped sacks. The owner of such a business should be held totally responsible for the waste management behaviour of their clients. They will therefore need to check all departures, personally.
    3. A team, not one or two, of enforcement officers needs to be employed by our Council, and sent to patrol our streets twice a day. As with our teams of parking wardens, they must be empowered to issue fines – fines to any person(business or domestic) caught fly-tipping waste on our City’s pavements or other public spaces. These fines should be comparable in severity to the parking fines that are currently issued. A ‘3 strikes’ policy ending in prosecution could be introduced to discourage repeat behaviour.
    The introduction of these measures, at first sight seemingly severe and expensive, will pay for itself. Fly-tipping is already a punishable offence, and careless litter dumping behaviour, as Bath Newseum has illustrated here, should be classified as the same.

  4. Thank you for this feature on Bath’s cleanliness – rather, lack of cleanliness. Every time I visit the city centre, I am appalled by the litter, rubbish bags, mess made by gulls.
    I am embarrassed when I show my visitors around Bath. Especially my Italian visitors. The area I visit in Italy has bins emptied throughout the day. Streets are washed daily. Shopkeepers keep the areas to the front of their premises swept, cleaned, washed.
    I think from the cleanliness aspect, Bath is a disgrace.
    Thanks for highlighting this on-going issue.

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