Skip to main content

Language: English / Gàidhlig

Chamber and committees

Meeting of the Parliament (Hybrid) [Draft]

Meeting date: Tuesday, September 27, 2022

Agenda: Time for Reflection, Topical Question Time, Scotland’s Population, Urgent Question, Point of Order, Motion without Notice, Decision Time, Adopt a Road


Adopt a Road

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Annabelle Ewing)

The final item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S6M-05590, in the name of Kenneth Gibson, on adopt a road. The debate will be concluded without any question being put. I ask members who wish to speak in the debate to press their request-to-speak buttons, please.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament notes calls on local authorities to consider introducing the Adopt a Road initiative, which, it understands, works successfully across North America; understands that such a scheme offers individuals, organisations, companies and volunteer groups the opportunity to contribute to their community and local area by taking responsibility for a length of road, usually in the vicinity of the sponsoring group or person, from one junction to the next and that, while no money changes hands, the sponsor agrees to keep the sponsored road free of litter and reasonably clean, contacting the local authority to uplift any refuse gathered, having given at least 24 hours’ notice; further understands that such a scheme recognises sponsors through the provision of signs on the sponsored road, which are designed, provided and erected by the local authority; understands that the programme originated in the United States when an engineer for the Department of Transportation sought the help of local groups to sponsor the cleaning of sections of the highway, as litter pick-up by the local authority was too expensive to undertake as often as was necessary; is aware of reports that, as of 2021, more than 120,000 California residents have participated in the initiative to remove litter and graffiti, plant trees and wildflowers, and clear vegetation along over 15,000 shoulder miles of roadside, and notes the view that such a scheme could be successfully piloted in North Ayrshire and other local authorities across Scotland.


Kenneth Gibson (Cunninghame North) (SNP)

I thank everyone who signed my motion to secure debating time in the chamber. I also thank colleagues who will speak in the debate this evening.

There is no denying that Scotland has a massive societal problem when it comes to fly-tipping and littering—sadly, probably more so than most other countries in north-west Europe. Unsurprisingly, the majority of Scots believe that litter is in some way a huge problem in their own community. The negative impact of litter is well known. It is not only bad for the health of the environment but is proven to adversely affect people’s mental health.

Although we have seen promising measures delivered by the Scottish Government in recent years, such as the ban on single-use plastic items, which came into force on 1 June, it is obvious that littering remains a challenge as long as some people—a lot of people, unfortunately—thoughtlessly and selfishly throw things away without regard for others or the environment. According to Keep Scotland Beautiful, 50 tonnes of litter are abandoned on Scotland’s roadsides each month, and litter was recorded as being present on 83 per cent of motorways and A roads.

A high level of littering tends to lead to a vicious circle, with the detriment to the cleanliness of an area also having a significant and lasting impact. A landmark 1990 study showed that littering more than doubles in areas that already have litter, and some people who are usually inclined to bin their waste consider it acceptable to leave rubbish in areas that appear rundown and dirty.

I welcome recent cross-party efforts to reduce littering. I was glad to read that Murdo Fraser’s proposed member’s bill to reduce the incidence of fly-tipping is expected to be incorporated into a Government bill following a meeting with the minister.

Littering can be deterred to a modest degree by the threat and enforcement of fines. However, today I wish to focus on more positive solutions and the factors that Zero Waste Scotland identified as the most important in cutting the problem: a sense of personal responsibility; awareness of environmental consequences; and feelings of community.

The strategy is well tested in areas across the world. For instance, Rwanda has the national holiday of Umuganda, which takes place on the last Saturday of every month for nationwide community work from 8 am to 11 am, resulting in a notable improvement in the cleanliness of the country. In North America, the adopt-a-highway concept, which began in 1980s Texas, has been another huge success and has become national practice across much of the US and Canada.

The adopt-a-highway scheme started when volunteers rallied to keep the state’s highways clear of litter, with community service clubs adopting a 2-mile stretch of motorway and taking responsibility for its clean-up. As the idea spread, companies started taking responsibility for clean-ups in return for small advertising signs along the road to recognise their efforts. As of 2021, more than 120,000 California residents have participated in the initiative, removing litter and graffiti, planting trees and wildflowers and clearing vegetation along more than 15,000 shoulder miles of roadside.

That example shows that mobilising communities, community organisations and local businesses is a most powerful remedy to the social factors driving littering, along with anti-litter education and legislation. Such initiatives are more than just a temporary fix; they encourage respect for the environment by building a sense of civic pride and belonging.

I have supported and encouraged the road adoption locally for years, but sadly with little success. I was delighted, therefore, when in November last year, after I contacted North Ayrshire Council about road adoption—not for the first time—the council approved a similar adopt-a-spot initiative as part of its streetscene volunteering strategy, which followed the evaluation of an initial pilot involving a volunteer group in Irvine that was shown to have significant benefits.

Similar to schemes in North America, the programme has been designed to encourage and support individuals, local businesses, schools and other groups. Each carries out voluntary litter picks in a community space of their choice, as part of a sustained effort to engage local communities and bring about environmental improvements. The chosen spot will be in a mutually agreeable area within council ownership, such as a street, park, beach, path, business frontage or route to a local school. A simple application form is supplied electronically or by post for the volunteers to complete. It is then up to the council to review the spot and assess its appropriateness and safety. Once that has been agreed, volunteers informally adopt the spot while the local authority provides them with the appropriate equipment such as litter pickers, plastic bags, gloves and high-vis vests.

North Ayrshire Council also envisages using its mapping portal to record areas that are still available for adoption to help to co-ordinate the existing network of volunteers who regularly collect litter. The litter-picking work is recognised by the council through social media and an appropriate sign in the spot where the litter was picked to highlight that partnership work. The scheme will hopefully improve civic pride and empowerment in our communities and gradually lead to a change in littering behaviour. Businesses and charities can also participate and gain recognition by taking ownership of a spot.

I believe that similar initiatives could be piloted in other local authorities across Scotland, and it would be helpful if the Scottish Government could encourage them, not least by including provisions for such schemes in its national litter and fly-tipping strategy. I urge every member present to write to their respective councils and encourage them to pilot their own adopt-a-road initiatives.

It is clear that a range of actions will be necessary to tackle Scotland’s shameful litter problem. The adopt-a-road initiative has been trialled across North America for decades and has proven to be hugely successful in removing countless tonnes of roadside rubbish. Public acknowledgment of volunteers’ contributions helps to invoke people’s civic pride and creates a greater sense of personal responsibility, which are concepts that are found to be among the most effective ways of changing littering behaviours.

I hope that the successful pilot of adopt a spot in North Ayrshire will inspire more local authorities across Scotland to successfully take forward similar schemes.

I look forward to hearing other contributions to the debate.


Siobhian Brown (Ayr) (SNP)

I start by thanking my colleague Kenneth Gibson for bringing the debate to Parliament.

Fans of the hit TV show “Seinfeld” may recall the episode when the eccentric Kramer announces with great delight that he has become the proud father of a 1-mile stretch of road and that he is part of the solution. In typical fashion, he decides that he will do everything himself and will even bring the roadside home to clean in the sink. Unfortunately, the episode ends in disaster after he decides to widen the lanes and spills flammable paint thinner everywhere. Civic pride is important, although perhaps not in that instance.

Prior to being elected as an MSP, I was a councillor at South Ayrshire Council. I was always extremely frustrated by the litter that was left on the side of the roads, our beaches and our streets, the anger created by and, sometimes, the public perception of litter.

As a councillor, I received many angry emails from constituents who walked past litter, got their phones out and took a photo, emailing a complaint to me about the lack of council litter services. I genuinely believe that some people have an expectation that, because they pay council tax and therefore pay people to lift the litter for them, they do not need to lift litter and have no responsibility themselves. The blame seems to be put on the council instead of the real culprits.

South Ayrshire Council covers close to 400 square miles, and in my constituency Barassie, Troon, Prestwick and Ayr all have a large beach. In the summer, our beaches are destination points for thousands to flock to and enjoy the sun. Our beaches have wooden footprint signs that say “Leave nothing here but footprints”, but unfortunately that is never what happens.

I remember one extremely sunny day when my daughter was at the beach with my mother while I was working. I went down after 5 pm and there were thousands of people on the beach and in the water. The entire beach was littered with empty drink cartons, soiled nappies and discarded towels, buckets and spades. I was a councillor at the time and knew only too well that we had issues with water quality at Ayr beach and that, if that litter was not collected, it would all be washed out to sea that night.

I put out a call on my social media and thankfully around 40 volunteers turned up with under an hour’s notice to meet at 6 pm at the beach, once most of the crowds had gone. We removed the rubbish so that it did not go out to sea. It would have been impossible for the council workers to remove all the litter from every beach in South Ayrshire that evening.

As a ward councillor, I also held Ayr town centre blitzes once a month to highlight the problem with litter on private property, which is outwith the council’s responsibility. A group of volunteers and I committed just one hour on a Saturday when we would go to private properties, such as tracks to the train station and private car parks, which many people walk through, and remove litter. In some months, depending on how many volunteers turned up, we collected more than 40 bags of rubbish in one hour. We left Ayr a better place, and we felt better about it.

Many of us have civic pride and want to clean the world, but it should not be left for just a few to do. We must all have civic pride, and the desire and responsibility, to look after not only our communities but our nation, other countries that we visit and, collectively, our world.

Kenneth Gibson has already explained how the scheme works. An individual organisation adopts a small stretch of road, taking responsibility for picking up the litter and keeping it clean. Those organisations can contribute to the community and businesses can get promotion and advertising out of it.

There has been huge uptake of the scheme in the USA, with every state having an adopt-a-road programme. The state of Texas led the way with its slogan “Don’t mess with Texas”, encouraging people to put their litter in the bin and take pride in their area. As Kenneth Gibson said, 120,000 people in California have taken part, removing litter and graffiti and planting trees and wildflowers along more than 15,000 miles of roadside.

As I have said, it is not realistic to expect the council to clean up every bit of litter across its area. I think that the adopt-a-road programme would prove successful in South Ayrshire because it would allow individuals and groups to split up what is a large area, caring for a small part of it. It is a sad sight to drive along a road with plastic bottles and crisp packets lying everywhere. It reflects badly on our area and on the country as a whole when visitors see that.

The people of Scotland have already shown that they will engage with moves to address the problem. In my constituency, Alloway Rotary, the Rotary Club of Ayr, Prestwick Community Council and the friends of Troon have been doing such work for many years. That demonstrates the community spirit that the people of Scotland have.

I conclude with this quote:

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world: indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”


Graham Simpson (Central Scotland) (Con)

I congratulate Kenneth Gibson on securing the debate. I have to confess that I was surprised to see Mr Gibson’s name against a motion because he, like me, is not a great user of the parliamentary motions procedure, but this one is really worth it, I think. I was amused to be chosen by my whips’ office to take part in the debate. I think it says something about the whips. They must have just looked at the title “Adopt a Road”, seen the word “Road” and thought, “That’s one for our transport spokesman”. Of course, the motion is not about roads; it is about litter.

The motion—the very long motion, I have to say—concentrates on a scheme in America. After looking up some details about that particular scheme, I would issue a word of caution should we roll it out across Scotland. In an early part of the scheme’s roll-out, the KKK adopted part of a highway. Fortunately, that did not last, and I do not think that we will have that problem here.

I am not convinced that we have to replicate what exists in America because we already have a number of very good schemes that are run by volunteers in various parts of Scotland. I agree with what Siobhian Brown said about the beaches in Ayrshire. My family likes to visit Troon beach so I have been down there quite a lot, when I have often seen litter pickers wearing yellow jackets picking up litter. Such littering is a real shame, because it is a wonderful part of the world.

In my patch of the region that I represent, we have a number of local groups. I have been out a few times with East Kilbride community litter pickers. It was formed during the pandemic in March 2021 and its Facebook group now has 1,700 members. That is a lot of people and they are out every single week, several times a week, in various parts of the town. South Lanarkshire Council supplies them with rubbish bags and they then tell the council where the bags are and it comes and picks them up. It really works.

When I have been out with the group, I have come across all kinds of odd things. It is mainly drink-related—cans and bottles; something called Dragon Soop features quite a lot. Once I saw a sofa that had been dumped, but I could not get that in a litter bag. The group has found some really odd things, such as a 1970 crisp packet and an inflatable pink flamingo.

Kenneth Gibson

Graham Simpson reminds me of when I was first elected in 2007 and asked the council to clear up the Haylie Brae in Largs. No one had mentioned it to me, but I had noticed that there was a lot of rubbish there, including, I found out, some cans displaying what were called Tennent’s lager lovelies from the 1980s, meaning that the area had not been cleared for some 20 years. It is now kept clean by the local authority.

The point that I want to make is that the scheme is not about being the only scheme; it is about being additional to other schemes. It gives people a sense of ownership over a wee part of the road. I have organised and participated in many beach cleans—I imagine that most if not all members have done so. The scheme is about giving a wee bit more pride to a specific community in a specific area and trying to ensure that a bit more long-term work is carried out to clear up a specific location.

Graham Simpson

Kenneth Gibson makes a good point. This is not one size fits all. I am merely saying that there are already schemes out there. There are a lot of people who want to clean up their area, and they are doing it with council support. In my patch, North Lanarkshire Council helps a number of local groups. Time does not allow me to name them, but good work is going on. If there is a council out there that wants to set up such a scheme, and if it works, good.

I can go litter picking to an area or a road that has been done—I know that because I have been out there a couple of weeks earlier—and it is just full of rubbish. I find that frustrating. I think, “Why do people do this? Why do people mess up the areas that they live in?” That is the problem; the problem is not the community-minded people who clear it up. We have to tackle the problem at source.

I say well done to Kenneth Gibson for bringing the debate, and I look forward to hearing from other members.


Christine Grahame (Midlothian South, Tweeddale and Lauderdale) (SNP)

Before I proceed, I have to say that I am disappointed that the previous speaker had to be whipped to speak in this delightful debate—he made such a delightful contribution. Members’ business debates should be free and easy and should not require whipping. I just wanted to raise that with the member, knowing that he is an experienced politician.

I thank my colleague Kenneth Gibson for bringing forward this motion for debate, particularly as it has introduced me—and I suspect other members—to the adopt-a-road concept, which is completely new to me. I am aware of the adopt-a-station programme; indeed, I am the sponsor of a planter at Gorebridge station. That arrangement, which is of some years’ standing, took a substantial effort by local residents and negotiations with Network Rail, including on issues of safety, a matter that I will return to with regard to the adopt-a-road scheme.

I also endorse everything that has been said about littering. It infuriates me—and I have to say that is not always caused by local people. People just drop stuff out of car windows and then drive on. Of course, for some people in society, leaving sofas by the side of the road is almost essential. I do not know why.

I have noted the experience in North America; in particular, I have taken California, Texas and British Columbia as random samples. Their programmes are not identical, but they are similar. In the Californian adopt-a-highway programme, individuals can donate materials, equipment and services, and they can also help prevent pollutants. Seventy-three per cent of the people involved are volunteers and 27 per cent are sponsors.

In Texas—only in Texas—they have the wonderful motto, “Don’t mess with Texas”. Any group can apply to their local co-ordinators, where they are provided with—and here I come back to the safety issue that I mentioned earlier—safety vests, which they call “trash bags”, and safety training. There are also signposts that identify the adopters, so the people involved get a bit of credit for what they are doing.

The rules in British Columbia are different. Participants between the ages of 12 and 16 must be supervised, which just seems common sense, but you also have to give a 10-year commitment, which is a lot to ask of volunteers. As we know, people can be dead keen at the beginning and then they start to drift away like the melting snow.

In principle, I think that the programme is a good idea. I can think of several communities in Midlothian, South Tweeddale and Lauderdale that would express an interest in it; of course, I am not going to name them and land them in it, but I know that they already take good pride in their communities. Such a move might also encourage motorists to attend to the 20mph speed limit through many of those communities, particularly if there are signs identifying community engagement and the need to keep the area tidy.

I want to take the idea to both councils in my constituency—Midlothian Council and the Borders Council—but I also come back to what for me is the key issue: safety. It is why I find the requirements in Texas of particular interest. It is one matter picking up litter in a park, but doing so beside a busy road is another matter entirely. Moreover, such a scheme must neither supplant nor replace the duties that it is incumbent upon the local authority to carry out as a result of the council tax that we pay. It is an add-on.

With that caveat about safety, I will, as I have said, be contacting both my councils. Indeed, I have already thought of slogans like “Don’t mess with Texas”. Please bear with me, as they are only works in progress, but the ones that I would suggest are “Don’t blight Borders” and “Don’t mess up Midlothian”.


Willie Coffey (Kilmarnock and Irvine Valley) (SNP)

I thank and congratulate Kenneth Gibson for bringing this debate to Parliament. This is a great idea, and I hope that members will take it on board with their councils, as Mr Gibson has asked us to do.

The scheme focuses on the important single issue of adopting a road to promote and encourage civic pride in how our communities look, but it also comes at a good time, as the Government puts the finishing touches to its national planning framework. We hope that the NPF will contain some detail on how we better deal with the wider problem of dereliction in our cities, towns and villages: the derelict empty buildings—mostly empty shops—and the derelict and long abandoned parcels of land. I am sure that all of us will recognise the problem in our own communities, and it extends beyond the litter issue. Kenneth Gibson’s proposal therefore fits neatly, in my view, with the ideas coming down the line via NPF4 as we consider what our communities could look like in the future.

This stretches back many years now, but one of the most frustrating things that I have had to put up with in my term of office is our ability—or lack of it—to take effective action against owners so that they make an effort to clean up what they own in our town centres. Empty shops are often left to deteriorate; the signs fall off; graffiti and posters get stuck to the windows; and weeds abound. A little bit of effort might have prevented that sort of thing from happening.

I also know of many vacant parcels of land, especially in the urban setting, that are simply abandoned and left to rot. Inevitably we turn to the council to step in and try to help, but I think that it is unfair to expect the public purse to continually bail out the private sector. After all, it has the responsibility of maintaining its own properties and land. The amenity powers under the Town and Country Planning (Scotland) Act 1997 simply do not do the job, because the burden can still fall on the public purse even if cases are successfully pursued.

One of the biggest issues is that we do not know who the owners actually are. They can be local people, but often they can be fund management companies that, frankly, do not give a jot whether our towns and villages look nice. I think that it is time that they did.

Something needs to change. Perhaps we need stronger legislation, but the initiative that we are talking about might be the beginning of a new process that can turn these problems around voluntarily. We can start with the adopt-a-road idea, but what about going a little bit further if it is a success? What about adopting a street, an unused piece of land, a roundabout and even the “Welcome” signage for our towns? The list could grow, and we could engage the business sector to sponsor these sites in return for advertising space in the areas that are being adopted.

Over the summer, I travelled around Ireland and Scotland from Dingle in county Kerry to Dingwall in Ross-shire, and I was struck by the cleanliness of many of the features in the towns and villages through which I passed. Clearly local pride was to the fore, with businesses often working in partnership as key sponsors. Streets were clean and litter free; the signage coming into the towns was attractive; and even the roundabouts as we entered were landscaped and had some public artwork installed. It was all very impressive.

I recently put some of these ideas to my own council, East Ayrshire, and I think that it is fair to say that I have a job of work on my hands to persuade it to embrace some of this approach, particularly the elements involving the local road network. However, I will keep at it until it sees the light.

This initiative that Kenneth Gibson has brought to our attention is a great opportunity for our communities to play a direct part in making their areas look as good as possible. Local businesses must play their part, too, and I hope that the idea will take root and that we will see continual year-on-year improvements that will make us all proud of the cities, towns and villages that we call home.


The Minister for Green Skills, Circular Economy and Biodiversity (Lorna Slater)

I am sorry that I have shifted to a different seat, Presiding Officer; my card did not work at the desk where I was sitting, which I will note.

I congratulate Kenny Gibson on securing this members’ business debate. I also thank the members who contributed; I welcome their views.

Littering is unacceptable, whatever the circumstances, and there is no excuse for such behaviour anywhere in Scotland. Cleaning up litter costs public bodies £53 million a year, so any suggestion about how to tackle this scourge on our local communities is welcome. The issue is incredibly important for our citizens and for our environmental goals.

From listening to the views that were expressed, it is clear that tackling litter—particularly roadside litter—is an important issue for constituencies across the country. Litter can be tackled only through a shared approach and through collaboration between all stakeholders across Scotland to encourage litter prevention and behaviour change. Exploring the use of flexible and innovative interventions in support of litter prevention and removal is vital, and so is sharing best practice from within Scotland and internationally, as we have heard.

The enthusiasm that has been shown in the debate is testament to the strength of collaboration, volunteering and the empowerment of communities. In my speech, I will make clear the Scottish Government’s views on litter, as well as reiterating the value and importance of innovative approaches and volunteering.

Countless individuals and community groups clear up our beautiful country all year round, and I take the opportunity to thank them for their efforts and commitment to preserving our national environmental quality. The Scottish Government values the massive contribution that volunteers make to people’s lives. We recognise that they give their time to volunteer and make things better for others. Volunteering is good for the volunteer too, as it builds skills, enhances employability and supports mental wellbeing. Across Scotland, volunteers make vital contributions every day to their families, communities and society as a whole. They do it because they care and want to help and support others.

Throughout Scotland, people are volunteering and contributing on the issues that matter to them. “Scotland’s Volunteering Action Plan” will increase awareness of volunteers’ vital role in the delivery of services across Scotland in health and social care, services for children and families, and sport. Volunteering is powerful and it matters.

As the debate is focused on roadside litter, I clarify that the trunk road network is maintained on behalf of the Scottish ministers by Transport Scotland through contracts with a number of operating companies and design, build, finance and operate concessionaires. Under the Environmental Protection Act 1990, litter collection is the local authority’s responsibility even when the road is a trunk road, with the exception of motorways. It is for locally elected representatives to decide how best to deliver services in their communities and to respond to litter on public land.

However, I understand the important role that stakeholder collaboration and awareness raising can play in the battle against littering. Since 2016, Keep Scotland Beautiful has co-ordinated a roadside litter campaign called “Give your litter a lift, take it home”—I do not know how that sits with Christine Grahame’s slogans—which raises awareness of the scale and impact of roadside litter and encourages road users to do the right thing. It is rolling out new materials to deliver its key message.

The Scottish Government is committed to doing its bit to tackle litter. Scotland’s deposit return scheme will launch next August. By giving plastic and glass bottles and other containers—as identified by members—a value of 20p, we expect to see a big reduction in littering of such items.

That is not all that we are doing. Earlier this year, I launched two important consultations. The first was on our waste route map to 2025, which is a strategic plan to deliver Scotland’s zero waste and circular economy ambitions. It sets out how we intend to deliver our system-wide, comprehensive vision for Scotland’s circular economy. The second was on our proposals for legislation—for a circular economy bill—to give us the powers that we need to deliver on our ambitions.

The circular economy bill proposes to introduce a new penalty for littering from vehicles. Respondents to the recent consultation were asked whether they agreed with the introduction of a new system that stipulates that the registered keeper of a vehicle is ultimately responsible for criminal offences such as littering from or in relation to their vehicle. Such an enabling power would help to reduce the tonnes of litter that need to be cleared from our roads each month.

Of course, legislation is only part of our toolkit; we need to consider all the policies and levers that we have at our disposal. We will publish a new national litter and fly-tipping strategy later this year, which will group key actions under three key themes of behaviour change, services and infrastructure, and enforcement. A key objective of the strategy will be to develop and adopt a shared approach by stakeholders to litter prevention and behaviour change across Scotland. The new strategy will also aim to empower community groups to take action to tackle littering behaviour at a local level.

I recognise the amazing contribution of volunteers. We want to ensure that everyone who wishes to can contribute to their local community and beyond through volunteering. Volunteering can help us with some of the biggest challenges that we are facing, and it brings benefits for volunteers who experience disadvantage and exclusion.

It is also important to note that the new national litter and fly-tipping strategy will frame the dialogue around littered or fly-tipped materials within the context of a leakage to the circular economy, which is a loss to Scotland’s wider economy.

While we recognise the importance of litter picks and other valuable citizen-led activity, such as the one that is suggested at the heart of the motion, we are striving to create a Scotland where the need for such activity in the future is eliminated.

Meeting closed at 17:52.