In Northamptonshire polythene grows on trees

In Northamptonshire polythene grows on trees and no one picks it, at least if my journey down the A14 yesterday is anything to go by.

At the end of my journey I felt thoroughly wretched. There were burst tyres and other broken bits of vehicles strewn by the road. Of the many tons of litter along it I shall not speak. The Highways Agency had left orange and white plastic cones and the rusting frames of temporary road signs, with their accompanying sandbags, every few hundred yards. The overall impression was of a slovenly country for which no one cares. In one lay-by I saw a family happily sitting having a picnic, surrounded by large amounts of litter – to which they would no doubt add in due course.

I also drove on the M6 and the M6 Toll Road, a short diversion by which one can avoid congestion and for the use of which one pays about £5. There was a very startling contrast between the state of the verges of the M6 and the M6 Toll. The verges of the former were filthy in the way to which we have all, alas, become accustomed. The verges of the latter were beautifully-kept and virtually from of litter for its entire length of 27 miles. Why the difference?

Several possible explanations come to mind. The M6 Toll is much less frequented than the non-toll section. On the other hand, it is frequented enough (more than 40,000 vehicles per day), and has been open for long enough, for it to be littered like everywhere else.

Perhaps the private company that owns it takes care of it better than any British council would do. Perhaps the class of person using it is different from those who decline to use it because of its cost. Or perhaps the people who use it, having paid for the privilege of doing so, are rendered more reluctant to ruin the appearance of what they pass through.

At any rate, the causes of the contrast are worth investigating. Why are our councils and the Highways Agency so negligent and slovenly? Why do our people turn practically every road into a ribbon development of the rubbish dump of a Latin American town? Although these might seem minor questions, they surely go straight to the heart of the matter. The answers tell us both about our government and our culture. The proper study of Britain is litter.

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