Wirral Council has rejected claims its litter rules target smokers, despite admitting over 90% of fines aimed at combating the problem in Birkenhead were for dropped cigarettes.

It’s been revealed that in the past six months, 1,800 fixed penalty notices (FPN) were issued to litter louts in the Birkenhead area, with 93.6% of those given out for discarded cigarettes.

Green Party councillor Pat Cleary, whose ward is Birkenhead and Tranmere, said the local authority’s litter enforcement policy targeted smokers and was “heavy handed and ineffective”.

He said: “We all want cleaner streets and litter is a blight on our community. But deliberately targeting smokers does little to reduce litter. However, it does make plenty of profit for a private company.

“This sucks money out of the local economy and gives it to wealthy shareholders.”

Litter enforcement in Wirral is “over zealous”, he said, adding: “Apart from a complete break down in common sense it falls foul of the DEFRA Guidelines: ‘When not to issue a fixed penalty- when the offence is so small it’s not in the public interest’. Examples given are things like a ‘small piece of orange peel’.”

He said the “overwhelming focus” on cigarette litter indicated the council and enforcement firm Kingdom was “as a revenue generator rather than as a method of seriously changing behaviour”.

But the council refuted those claims, saying the high percentage was because cigarettes were the “most common form” of littering, and there was no deliberate ploy to target smokers.

The local authority issued the statement in the form of a notice of motion to be discussed by full council on March 19.

The notice, proposed by cabinet member for environment, cllr Phillip Brightmore, and seconded by council leader, Phil Davies, said: “This council reaffirms its support for a zero tolerance approach towards litter in the borough.

“This Labour Administration makes no apology for clamping down on people who drop litter. In the last six months 1,800 litter FPNs have been issued in the Birkenhead area. This is approximately half of all litter FPNs issued in the Borough. Although 93.6% of these were for cigarette litter, this simply represents the most common form of littering rather than any attempt to target smokers.”

According to the report, the figure of 1,800 FPNs in Birkenhead counts for half of all fines for litter in the entire county borough.

The motion, entitled Zero Tolerance of Litter, continued: “Council believes that the Green Party’s stance of being soft on litter louts is not shared by the vast majority of residents who are pleased with the priority the Council is giving to tackling this issue. This Council will not tolerate littering and rejects Green party calls to do so within Birkenhead.”

It comes after Wirral resident Jeff Hughes, who was facing a criminal record and fine of £2,500 for dropping cherry stones, had his case dropped in December.

Cabinet member for environment, Cllr Phillip Brightmore, said: "People who live and work in Wirral tell us every day that litter, anti-social behaviour and the cleanliness of our borough is the most important thing affecting their quality of life - we make no apology tackling those who do not care about their environment.

"Cigarettes account for over 40 per cent of street litter and filters can take up to 12 years to degrade - during which time they leak harmful toxins. It is reported that every day UK smokers throw away about 200 million butts - which have subsequently been found in the stomachs of fish, birds, whales and other marine creatures, who mistake them for food.

"Wirral Council has made eradicating environmental crime - keeping our borough clean, free of litter, fly-tipping and dog fouling - a key priority, and one which reflects what residents tell us is important to them.

"It's also important to recognise and support the hard work and dedication of the many community groups and volunteers across Wirral who have taken responsibility for carrying out litter-picks and beach cleans, as well as our enforcement officers who battle environmental crime.

"Wirral Council will not tolerate environmental crime. Our zero tolerance approach supports their work, and a fall of 10 per cent in cigarette letter in the last year indicates this is working."