Single-Point Contact for Local Environmental Issues

Single-Point Contact for Local Environmental Issues

This is an idea that’s simple in concept – and I suspect relatively simple (and therefore inexpensive!) to put into practice. It would certainly make the lives of many community volunteers easier and would probably encourage others to take action to help their community.

I’m both a local flood warden and a duty officer in our local Resilience Team at a village in Leicestershire. Both roles are voluntary and I’ve been doing them for just one year. Thankfully, neither role takes up much time, but when it does my work – and that of my fellow volunteers – is complicated by the plethora of different agencies we’re supposed to contact in different circumstances. An example should explain the situation clearly.

Let’s say it’s autumn, has been raining for several days, the rivers and brooks are overflowing their banks and run-off is adding to the surface water on roads and streets, some of which are by now in a dangerous state. Residents are contacting us for help and advice. We need to alert the authorities to issues, both urgent and less so. If it’s an emergency, it’s 999 of course. But if not (usually the case), who do we contact? Well, to raise an issue related to a watercourse, we must phone the Environment Agency 24-hour incident hotline. To report surface water flooding, it’s the ‘Lead Local Flood Authority’, which is an email address at Leicestershire County Council (LCC). If this flooding is on the highway, for example from a blocked drain, it’s an LCC phone number – but if it’s leaves on the pavement it’s Charnwood Borough Council (I think). If it’s creating a ‘dangerous highway situation’, it’s LCC Highways on another different number or an online form on their website. If it’s a burst water main or an overflowing sewer, it’s a phone number at Severn Trent. There are also different phone numbers if there’s an associated problem with gas or electricity.

That’s nine different points of contact over six different agencies. I may have forgotten some. And remember that we’re probably out in the wet, maybe the dark, probably on foot, with just our phones to hand and with residents understandably wanting to know what’s being done. It’s not just flooding. The same situation would arise with, for example, overhanging branches, blocked footpaths and so on. These are not police issues: no crime has been committed. To figure out whom to contact about any issue is a complex question, it’s time-consuming and it’s diverting us from the matter in hand.

It’s also avoidable.

The solution I suggest is, for each local area to provide a single – and memorable and preferably short – phone number which either residents or wardens can call to report a non-emergency issue in their environment. This would complement 999 for emergency numbers. The call-handler at that number would, ideally, log the details down and pass the information to the relevant agency themselves; but alternatively could simply transfer the caller to the correct agency. This would be a great help to those of us who voluntarily helping our communities.

The government’s task would be to consult with local government to assess which geographical level would be appropriate (maybe region, maybe county, maybe city, maybe different in different parts of the country) and then task those authorities with implementing it. The end user – you, me, any other resident, any other warden – would need to remember only one number. We wouldn’t even need to know to which level of local government we were being connected. Perhaps it could even be the same number nationwide, but automatically connecting to the relevant locality.

No additional agency, no investment other than in the call handlers and their equipment. Sounds cheap to me. Small cost, great benefit.