The council is consulting on the most draconian anti-dog rules in Britain.
One of the most punitive rules being proposed is to fine dog owners if their dogs poops anywhere that the public can access, even if the public pay to access the land, even if it is cleared up.
There is a welcome prospect of dog owners being fined if they don’t clear up poop. Shropshire Council has had these powers since 2013 but it hasn’t used them more than a few times. The proposed Public Space Protection Order (PSPO) will extend the power of issuing a fixed penalty notice (FPN) to a wider range of council officers and the police.
The council also plans to insist that dogs being walked on the highway are on a lead no longer than one metre. That’s difficult if you own a large dog.
Given our experience of parking fines, we can expect zealous enforcement of new rules.
The most contentious issue is the council’s plan to slap a fixed penalty notice on a dog owner whose dog poops anywhere the public can access. This applies to fields to which landowners have given access and to an owner whose dog poops at a dog show. It applies to fields let out to allow owners to exercise their dogs on a lead. Pooing on what remains of the Foldgate Lane field will be subject to a fine. These will not be fines for failing to clear up the mess a dog has left. They will be fines for the audacity of allowing your dog to poop in an area where the public has access, even if you pay for that access, even if it is cleared up.
The council is also proposing that dogs must be on a lead on the highway. It is already an offence under the Section 27 of the Road Traffic Act 1988 to walk a dog without a lead on a public highway. Shropshire Council is aiming to extend the national prohibition by fining dog walkers if the lead is longer than one metre. Many dog walkers will find that length impractical. My border collie for example measures 70cm from collar to the beginning the tail. Add 20cm for the back legs. She often pulls and is always ahead of me. A one metre lead would lead to me stumbling over the dog. I can only assume that the councillors and officers pushing this forward own chihuahuas, if they own a dog at all.
These measures will be rigorously enforced. Fixed penalty notices can be handed out by the police, community support officers, civil enforcement officers, designated council officers and employees of other delegated organisations. Civil Enforcement Officers (CEOs) routinely slap penalty charge notices on vehicles in Ludlow Town Council for the slightest infringement of parking rules, even if motorists are not aware of the restrictions. I have a nightmare vision of CEOs asking to measure the length of a dog’s lead. “Sorry, the lead is 10cm overlength. Just wait while I take photographs and issue you with a fixed penalty notice.”
There are no formal grounds for appeal against a fixed penalty notice (FPN). A person who receives an FPN can challenge it in court if they believe the penalty should not have been issued to them. If they lose in court, they could be liable for a fine of up to £1,000. Most will pay the FPN fine of £100.
These measures will have a significant impact on the visitor economy. Many dog owners use the park and ride service to get into town. If after a journey to Ludlow, the dog needs to poop, the owner could be fined if it does so on the park and ride site or the NHS field alongside, even if they clear the mess up. If the dog poops in the town centre where there will be more observation, a fine will be issued. Like with parking fines, visitors who are fined will not come back to our town again.
The council says there is an exemption to the proposed rules for “registered assistance dogs”. I do not know how this will work because there is no national assistance dog register in UK (though there are private schemes).
By putting forward such an ill-thought out Public Space Protection Order, which is supported by opposition party leaders, Shropshire Council is bringing public authorities into disrepute. It is damaging its integrity and its relationship with responsible dog owners. It is undermining public support for the decent measures it is proposing. I can’t find any other council that has introduced such oppressive measures.
Fining people for not clearing up dog mess is long overdue. Fining dog owners if their dog poops in a public space is beyond crazy. Requiring dog owners to keep their dogs on a lead on the highway is fine. Insisting that the dog lead is no more than one metre long on the highway won’t work for owners of larger dogs.
The PSPO will affect the owners of around 11,000 dogs in the SY8 area and of 148,000 dogs across Shropshire. I urge everyone to take part in the consultation which is open until 21 December, even if you only bring your dogs to the county occasionally.