Should ugliness be illegal?
The things that some people have to put up with is amazing. I can’t imagine what it would be like walking out into my backyard and having to stare at some old wreck of an aeroplane beaming down through the neigbours backyard.
Do your neighbours have the right to keep an old aeroplane in their backyard, even if it assails your eyes?
NSW MPs wrestled with these and other vexed questions during a parliamentary inquiry into rubbish disposal on private land, which has called for greater council powers, a new hoarding hotline and better clean-ups of illegal drug labs.
The lower house inquiry heard “compelling and emotional” evidence of the angst brought upon residents by waste on neighbouring properties.
It included the case of a resident who kept a “derelict” aircraft in a backyard for five years. A neighbour described his family’s suffering “due to the ever-present nature of a large unsightly object which … overwhelmed their property”.
Another landowner complained of neighbours who hoarded domestic waste, filling their front and back yards to fence height. The local council reportedly advised it could not intervene. The waste eventually caught fire, badly damaging both homes.
Waste is an irksome issue for councils: Warringah Council reported receiving more than 200 complaints in a single year about overgrown vegetation, stockpiles of building materials and cars.
Councils can compel clean-ups on heath, safety or environmental grounds. But Shannon McKiernan of Gosford City Council argued local government should not be “the pretty police”.
Resident pressure cleaning central coast company confirmed that there are plenty of properties that could do with a major clean-up.
NSW Council for Civil Liberties board member Martin Bibby cited 19th century English philosopher John Stuart Mill, saying power should be exercised against a citizen’s will only “to prevent harm to others”.
The five-member committee of mostly Coalition MPs found that ugly properties could cause “stress and loss of enjoyment of life” for onlookers.
Councils can order landholders to remove or screen “unsightly” material if it can be seen from a public place. The report recommended this power be extended to material that affects private properties.
It also called for a sliding scale of penalties to better match the offence, and clearer definitions of what constitutes waste.
In the case of serious hoarding, in which mental disorders are often involved, the inquiry found regulation alone was not the answer. It called for a broad response involving councils, government agencies, social services and residents, plus dedicated funding and a phone hotline to advise those managing the problem.
Wyong Shire Council also presented data it claimed showed the state government’s waste levy on material entering landfill was driving up rates of illegal dumping – a claim disputed by the Environment Protection Authority.
The inquiry found that councils were often left with the task of cleaning up toxic, illegal drug labs after emergency services had left, despite not having the expertise or resources. It said the EPA should take responsibility for the clean-ups.
The government is due to respond to the recommendations by December.