Misinformation over the new dog control orders

THERE has been considerable misinformed comment in your columns regarding the draft dog control orders which the council proposes to introduce to replace the existing system of dog controls set out in various byelaws, orders and designated areas. These n

THERE has been considerable misinformed comment in your columns regarding the draft dog control orders which the council proposes to introduce to replace the existing system of dog controls set out in various byelaws, orders and designated areas.

These new dog controls were introduced under the Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Act 2005 which replaces the existing system of dog control.

The letter from Clive Byles at Wood Green Animal Shelters was particularly disappointing. He clearly admitted that he was unclear as to the exact nature of the proposals but proceeded to criticise the council's approach without making contact with this office.

To clarify matters, I can assure him our wardens are frequently involved in education of the public. Our current proposals are not contrary to the spirit of the Animal Welfare Act and we do not prefer enforcement to education.

The point that seems to have been missed or misinterpreted by a number of your correspondents and contributors is this: by and large, the controls proposed by the council will be the same as before and will cover exactly the same offences in the same areas - other than in locations where new residential development has occurred or parks or play areas have been expanded.

An example of the changes we propose is in Hinchingbrooke Park, which is currently covered by a number of byelaws made by Cambridgeshire County Council in 1990. One of these requires that dogs be kept on leads in a major part of the park, including the grassed area in front of the visitors' centre. The draft order proposes to reduce that requirement to the western part of Bob's Wood and the triangular plantation to the south. The countryside rangers believe this level of control is necessary to protect wildlife habitats in that area. This proposed change is to the benefit of dog walkers.

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Another area where changes are proposed is at Paxton Pits, which are not currently subject to any dog control byelaws.

The rangers have made representation that there should be dog fouling controls throughout the pits and a dogs-on-leads requirement on roads within the pits with a speed limit of 40 mph or lower. Otherwise, dog owners would be free to walk their dogs off-lead within the area of Paxton Pits.

Generally, the only places where dogs currently have to be kept on leads are in built-up areas on roads with a speed limit of 40 mph or lower and on land presently designated as "dogs-on-leads" in a byelaw. There are a total of six of these areas in the whole of the district. These same controls are in the draft order.

Dogs will continue to be excluded from certain areas such as fenced children's play parks which have to be signed accordingly. Dog exclusion byelaws currently exist in certain parts of the district - for instance, Huntingdon Town Park has a dogs exclusion byelaw - and these have been carried forward into the draft orders.

Dog fouling controls already apply to roads with a speed limit of 40 mph or lower, other footpaths within our towns and villages and places such as parks, playgrounds, open spaces, village greens, burial grounds and schools where such land is controlled by a relevant local authority or by a landowner who has requested that such control be attached to their land to which the public have a right of access, and these controls have also been repeated in the draft order.

The 2005 Act replaces the existing system of byelaws and revokes the Dogs (Fouling of Land) Act 1996 and therefore no new dog controls can be introduced under these instruments even when new development takes place.

The council has not attempted to introduce draconian new dog controls but to achieve a balanced solution by updating the present system. We have sought to consolidate the existing byelaws into a modern regime put forward by Defra.

The new orders can be amended locally, they will be backed up by higher fixed penalties - £75 instead of the current £50 - and there will be a maximum fine of £1,000 if the matter goes to court. As before, all areas affected have to be signed accordingly.

The council has two dog wardens and these will be our principal enforcement officers but town and parish councils can appoint their own enforcement officers, subject to undertaking approved training, and police community support officers can also enforce the new controls.

The proposed new orders are considered both necessary and proportionate to the needs of this area. Overall, I do not believe that they introduce any unwarranted reduction in the freedom of owners to walk their dogs in public open spaces, and responsible dog owners should have no difficulty in complying with the new orders.

JOHN ALLAN, Neighbourhoods Intervention Manager, Huntingdonshire District Council

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