Fight Unfair Dog Restrictions in Southwark
Southwark Borough Council has initiated a consultation aiming to use Public Space Protection Orders (PSPOs) to introduce blanket restrictions on dog owners across the borough, including woodland areas much loved and used by people with dogs all year round.
Blanket restrictions target everyone. They criminalise responsible dog owners for simply wanting to give their pets proper exercise.
If they are brought into law, these orders will have a severe impact on families and the elderly, who will struggle to walk to other spaces. Removing the regular users of the areas will make them unsafe and will attract crime.
The Council’s consultation was poorly publicised and the document itself was highly flawed and misleading. The survey was not ‘one person, one vote’ as there was no limit on how many times an individual could respond - how can this be acceptable?
If Southwark Council succeeds in imposing blanket restrictions on these areas, other open spaces will become much busier and parks are likely to become the council’s next target.
People have kept dogs as pets for centuries. The controls will negatively affect the daily lives and wellbeing of many vulnerable residents. The consultation completely overlooks the positive impact that dogs have on everyday life. Isn’t it time Councils acknowledge the joy these family pets bring into our lives and communities?
1. Southwark Council should acknowledge that blanket restrictions will deeply impact the daily activities and wellbeing of a majority of responsible dog owners, including the more vulnerable members of society.
2. Southwark Council must recognise the positive impact dog ownership has on keeping these spaces safe and populated all year round.
3. There is little justification for the severe restrictions outlined in the proposals. They should be reconsidered by the Council and existing laws enforced.
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- Cabinet Member for Communities and Safety, Southwark Council.
Councillor Barrie Hargrove
- Leader of Southwark Council
Councillor Peter John OBE
- Deputy Leader & Cabinet Member for Housing, Southwark Council
Councillor Stephanie Cryan
- Cabinet Member for Public Health and Social Regeneration, Southwark Council
Councillor Maisie Anderson
- Cabinet Member for Finance, Modernisation and Performance, Southwark Council
Councillor Fiona Colley
- Cabinet Member for Adult Care and Financial Inclusion, Southwark Council
Councillor Richard Livingstone
- Cabinet Member for Children and Schools / Chair of Corporate Parenting Committee, Southwark Council
Councillor Victoria Mills
- Cabinet Member for Business, Culture and Social Regeneration, Southwark Council
Councillor Johnson Situ
- Cabinet Member for Regeneration and New Homes, Southwark Council
Councillor Mark Williams
- Cabinet Member for Environment and the Public Realm, Southwark Council
Councillor Ian Wingfield
- Member for Camberwell and Peckham
Harriet Harman MP
- Member for Dulwich and West Norwood
Helen Hayes MP
- Member for Bermondsey and Old Southwark
Neil Coyle MP
Dear Mr. Hargrove,
Re. Southwark Council’s ‘Dog PSPO’ consultation (April – June 2017) which could lead to the council being able to ban dogs from all Southwark woodland areas (including Nunhead Cemetery) or to force dogs on leads in these public spaces.
I have signed this petition calling on you to withdraw the recent flawed consultation on ‘Dog PSPO’s’ and would like to draw your attention to the following:
1. Background to this petition
1.1 As you are aware, in April 2017, the London Borough of Southwark Council invited people to respond to a consultation on whether to introduce a Public Space Protection Order (PSPO) that would either ban dogs from the borough’s ‘cemeteries’ and ‘nature reserves’ or that would force dogs to be kept on leads in these areas. The reason for the proposed introduction of these measures was a perceived increase in ‘anti-social dog behaviour’ in these public spaces.
1.2 To people who do not use these areas, it might seem reasonable to suggest that dogs at least be kept on leads in Southwark’s cemeteries, especially if there is indeed evidence of a problem with ‘dog anti-social behaviour’ within these public spaces. However, All Saints Cemetery Nunhead, (or ‘Nunhead Cemetery’ as it is known), is a 52-acre nature reserve consisting mainly of woodland copses. The site was abandoned in the latter half of the 20th century and allowed to run wild. Since the site was officially re-opened to the public in 2001, only two, relatively small areas within the reserve have been re-claimed for use as modern burial sites. The rest of the site has been allowed to revert to (managed) woodland.
1.3 Since this space re-opened to the public as a ‘nature reserve’, the accepted regulation has always been that dogs be kept on leads when crossing through (or next to) the two modern burial areas, and allowed off-lead in the large woodland areas – as they have always been in other woodland areas within the borough (and are, of course, in similar public woods elsewhere in the UK – e.g. the New Forest, Epping Forest etc.)
1.4 We contend that responsible dog owners who allow their dogs to exercise off the lead in Southwark’s woodland areas (including in the designated areas that make up most of All Saints Nunhead) - constitute the principal users of these spaces – they clean up after their dogs, they keep them under control, they are mindful of their duty of care for these special places.
1.5 These woodland areas (included under the ‘nature reserves’ title by Southwark Council in the consultation), are a greatly valued and rare resource in an inner-city area for reasons of animal welfare, as they provide spaces for adequately trained dogs to exercise properly, under supervision, off the lead. Furthermore, according to the Animal Welfare Act 2006, local government is obliged to ensure that there are appropriate areas available to dog owners that allow them to exercise their pets off the lead. Research by the Kennel Club shows that restricting dogs on leads at all times is the top reason dog owners stop using a space. Our contention is that even forcing dogs onto leads in Southwark’s woodland spaces would amount to an effective ban: owners would be unwilling to subject their animals to the frustration of suddenly being kept on a lead in places where they were formerly able to move about more freely. This proposed change in regulation would, in turn, lead to a capacity problem in Southwark’s parks: dog walkers would be forced to exercise their pets in the only other spaces left available to them (e.g. Peckham Rye Park), where dogs are allowed off-lead but where most users are (currently) not principally people exercising dogs. In addition, if people feel forced to exercise their dogs off-lead in woodland areas outside the borough, this would inevitably lead to an increase in car use with attendant environmental impacts. (That is, for those dog owners who have access to or the means to use a car)
1.6 Aside from the animal welfare issue, we (the petitioners) also assert that the ability to exercise their dogs off-lead in these woodland areas in Southwark, (including in the majority designated woodland areas of Nunhead Cemetery), is crucial to the daily physical, mental and social wellbeing of responsible dog owners themselves – most of whom are local Southwark residents. As the principal users of these spaces, this amounts to a diverse and significant number of people on any given day.
1.7 Little thought appears to have been given to the consequences for these woodland spaces if a ban on dogs is enforced or if people are obliged to keep dogs on leads in these areas (and therefore withdraw from them). Aside from sporadic dog-owners and their pets, the next most substantial current user group in these spaces on a typical weekday (from our observations) tends to be solitary joggers – male and female, and, occasionally, a mum with a pram. The question needs to be asked: how safe would these individuals feel if they found themselves suddenly exercising in areas that had been virtually abandoned? Fifteen years ago, as many long-term Southwark residents would testify, the woodland areas in question enjoyed a far less savoury reputation compared to today. Indeed, even the Friends of Nunhead Cemetery actively encouraged dog owners to walk their pets there as, in their words, they were ‘keen to encourage such visitors since the cemetery had been largely shunned by the public and dog-walkers went some way to discouraging vandals and other unwelcome visitors from anti-social behaviour.’ (FONC Newsletter, July / August 2017). The area is now a safe space for families and children and we would suggest that this is testament to the benefits of the activities of responsible dog owners. Should dog walkers stop frequenting the area, we believe Nunhead Cemetery will overwhelmingly lose its current footfall and there is a risk it will revert to its previous ‘unsafe’ reputation.
2. We (the petitioners) believe the consultation process employed by Southwark Borough Council in the recent Dog PSPO survey is fundamentally flawed, for the following reasons:
2.1 Limited notification and publicity around the survey’s existence: Southwark Council shared the survey with various ‘Friends of…’ groups, attached to the areas in question, (such as the Friends of Nunhead Cemetery), some of whose committees are avowedly opposed to dogs off-lead, and who did not consult their members before taking this stance. Many dog owners - and those sympathetic to dogs exercising off-lead in Southwark’s designated woodland areas - were entirely ignorant of the consultation’s existence. (These are not definitive statistics: however, this petition’s working group approached 150 people over 2-3 weeks immediately before the closure of the survey on June 5; they estimate that at least 80 per cent didn’t know anything about the survey and, of those who had heard something about the consultation, less than half understood the scale of the spaces that could be affected).
2.2 Lack of evidence / bogus rationale for consultation: The pre-amble to the council’s recent consultation survey asserts the need for a solution to a perceived problem of ‘dog anti-social behaviour’ in the spaces in question: this appears to be in response to undocumented, anecdotal reports of incidents of ‘dog anti-social behaviour’ coming from potentially biased individuals, (including those belonging to organisations that regularly lobby the council). Yet the changes to legislation proposed by this consultation threaten to bring about massive alterations to the quality of life of a substantial number of Southwark residents (and not just dog-owners). We would counter these assertions with the view that anecdotes are not enough: evidence is required to justify this kind of draconian initiative. Responsible dog owners, (who, as the council acknowledges in the survey, form the majority of Southwark’s dog owners, and who, we assert, are the principal day-to-day users of the woodland spaces in question), will testify that the bleak and negative depiction of an explosion in ‘dog anti-social behaviour’ depicted by Southwark Council in this consultation simply does not concur with their daily experience. There will, of course, always be occasional instances of isolated, poor practice on the part of neglectful dog owners (the acknowledged minority), in any public space. And this may impact negatively on other users of these spaces. We suggest that a targeted rather than a blanket approach would be a far more effective response to the problems posed by these few people and their animals. The council already has regulations in place in these public spaces that require people to ‘keep dogs under control at all times’ and to pick up after their dogs; why not enforce the regulations as they stand?
2.3 We (the petitioners) request, under Freedom of Information legislation, that the council grants full disclosure of any evidence that may have been presented to it that could feasibly justify its proposal to introduce Dog PSPO’s in Southwark ‘cemeteries’ and ‘nature reserves’.
2.4 Disparity between internal documentation and published version: When deciding to ask the community about this issue, Southwark Council put together an approval document to ensure that the consultation covered the points it wanted to address. However, the questions in the final consultation are far more severe than those that are mentioned in the original approval document. Specifically, there are 3 areas where the final survey questions differed considerably from the original approval document:
2.4.1 There are two questions in the final version of the consultation about ‘nature reserves’ (to restrict dogs on lead at all times, or to ban them completely); however, in the approval document, ‘nature reserves’ are not mentioned at all.
2.4.2 The approval document mentions ‘exclusion zones’ within cemeteries. However, by the final consultation, exclusion or restricted zones are not mentioned as an option and there is only a question about dogs being excluded completely from cemeteries or forced onto leads.
2.4.3 The approval document mentions changing the existing dog control order in One Tree Hill, restricting people to no more than 4 dogs under their control to a new Public Space Protection Order. However, when it reaches the final document, it is written to suggest that there is currently a borough-wide restriction on number of dogs per person which needs simply needs updating to a PSPO. This is not true.
When the petitioners’ working group questioned the Council about the severity of the final consultation compared with the approval document, they said that point ‘b’ in the approval document covered these points, however point ‘b’ is not on the minutes document that it is downloadable from the council’s website. Yet the council was able to email a different version of this document to which point ‘b’ had been added.
2.5 We (the petitioners) therefore request, under Freedom of Information legislation, that the council grants full disclosure of the decision-making processes that went into the preparation of the survey document and which will explain the disparity between the contents of the original, internal document and the final version that was presented to the public.
2.6 No systems in place to prevent multiple responses to survey: There was nothing to prevent people with a negative view of dogs-off-leads completing multiple surveys, either on-line or in writing.
2.7 Lack of clarity on definition of ‘dog anti-social behaviour’: People could feasibly become upset if a friendly dog ambles towards them in a Southwark woodland area. Under the proposed legislation, would that result in a potential fine? The proposed regulation could then lead to the criminalisation of that dog’s owner. There is a grievous lack of clarity and far too much room for bias and a lack of objectivity in the existing scope for proposed ‘Dog PSPO’s’.
3. In conclusion, we (the petitioners) request the following of Southwark Borough Council:
3.1 That the Council accepts that the existing PSPO consultation is fundamentally flawed: the council has not followed due process and, for that reason, the current consultation on Dog PSPO’s in Southwark ‘cemeteries’ and ‘nature reserves’ should be withdrawn.
3.2 That, if deemed necessary, a further consultation be put forward to the public that assesses the need for dogs to be kept on leads in Southwark’s working cemetery areas only, if clear evidence of ‘dog anti-social behaviour’ can be presented that would justify the enforcement of a PSPO in these areas, and if a clear definition of what constitutes ‘dog anti-social behaviour’ can be agreed as part of that consultation.
3.3 That any further attempt to restrict dogs in Southwark ‘cemeteries’ be confined to bids that require dogs to be kept on leads, rather than total bans: threatening grieving families with a ban on their pets being able to visit their loved ones’ graves altogether is, we believe, inhumane.
3.4 That a clear distinction be made between Southwark public spaces that can be defined as being both ‘nature reserves’ and ‘cemeteries’ (i.e. Nunhead Cemetery) as opposed to those defined as being simply ‘cemeteries’; and that any legislation implemented that results from further consultation into keeping dogs on leads in Southwark ‘cemeteries’ be confined to areas within these ‘dual purpose’ public spaces that are accepted as being specifically maintained as ‘cemeteries’ - as in modern burial areas - rather than areas consisting of historic graves that have reverted to nature and which are now defined as being ‘nature reserves’ or woodland.
3.5 That, in the interim period before any further, proper, consultation takes place (if this is deemed necessary), and any further regulations are introduced following this consultation, Southwark Council clarifies the existing ‘restricted zone’ policy in Southwark woodland ares, including Nunhead Cemetery, where there is a requirement for dogs to be put on a lead in specific areas within these public spaces, and that Southwark Council empowers its wardens to enforce these regulations.
3.6 That the council empowers its Community Wardens to sanction owners who fail to clean up after their dogs in all public areas and that it clarifies the existing FPN powers that are available to Community Wardens in this regard.
3.7 That the council provides clear signage in all public spaces, where necessary, that would indicate in what areas dogs are required to be on a lead, and in what areas they are allowed off-lead; and that sanctions be applied to individual owners who fail to comply with these regulations.
3.8 That, in summary, the London Borough of Southwark Council desists once and for all from these flawed, costly, regular attempts to encroach on the everyday liberties of responsible dog owners and their pets, and that it instead concentrates its time and money on enforcing the existing regulations that are available to it concerning animals in all public spaces within the borough. At a time when Southwark is facing growing knife-crime, Brexit uncertainty and cuts to public services we would argue that the amount of time and resources being spent on this consultation (as well as those previously attempted) are excessive and, we would argue, an ill-founded waste of Southwark council tax-payers’ money.
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