Microsoft cloud computing helps to clean up London’s streets

It took a little free thinking for one borough to come up with an idea that would transform its rubbish collection problems.

Cloud helps run a website allowing residents to report problems with refuse collection

Cloud helps run a website allowing residents to report problems with refuse collection

Nigel Tyrell, head of environment at Lewisham

Nigel Tyrell, head of environment at Lewisham

By Sue Tabbitt

There’s nothing like financial pressure to foster new thinking, especially where the required results are “more for less”, and Lewisham Council is an example of an organisation pushing the boundaries to deliver real progress.

Lewisham Council’s LoveCleanStreets initiative transformed the local clean-up of waste and graffiti through innovative use of the internet, and is now being adopted all over London. And what’s making this possible? Cloud computing.

The project is the brainchild of Nigel Tyrell, head of environment at Lewisham. Conceived in 2004, the idea was to reverse the negative impact of overflowing rubbish, fly-tipping and graffiti, but at a reduced cost, with the help of the public and street workers. Anyone who spotted a problem was urged to upload a photo to a designated website. The council’s environment department would then deal with the problem and provide an update, with new photos.

Thanks to this initiative, the time taken to process a complaint has been cut by 87 per cent and the time-consuming office casework has been cut by 21 per cent. Cleansing spend, meanwhile, has been held at 2002/3 levels, yet standards have unfailingly improved. The venture has been so successful that yesterday Mayor Boris Johnson launched a London-wide version of the scheme to help clean up the capital. Now, anyone in the capital can send a report to

In Lewisham, the facility is generating revenue. Because bin collections are more closely monitored, Mr Tyrell’s department can promote new or enhanced collection contracts to commercial premises. “Last year we increased our income from trade waste by £20,000,” he says.

Not surprisingly, others want to follow Lewisham’s lead and Mr Tyrell is keen they shouldn’t have to reinvent the wheel. It was this vision that led Lewisham to move its web project into the cloud. The council had previously used its own IT systems, which meant it was limited by finite internal resources.

“We had a vision for taking our project to the rest of London, but we didn’t have the capacity,” Mr Tyrell explains. “Lewisham handles some 300-400 clean-up jobs each week through the website.” This could be multiplied by 30 as the service is now being extended to London as a whole.

Following approaches from councils across the UK in 2010 Mr Tyrell launched a new generic, cloud-based version of the service. This is based on Microsoft’s Windows Azure web services platform, designed for the development and delivery of cloud-based applications, allowing them to be scaled and replicated.

Now, one core system, supported by potentially unlimited IT resources (available at the flick of a switch, paid for as a monthly utility-based service charge), has the potential to serve any number of councils and affiliated organisations, who can customise the application. Being able to switch on more IT resources as needed means the service won’t slow down when people upload lots of large image files at the same time.

“It makes no sense for everyone to develop their own web applications if we’re all trying to do the same thing,” Mr Tyrell concludes.