THE INSIDIOUS Six Dog Rule planning regulation that threatens all dog enthusiasts who own six dogs or more is being exercised by local authorities across the country.
Owners are told by planning officers that the ownership of six or more dogs is enough to compel them to apply for change of use for their homes.
Considerations such as the health and welfare of the dogs, as well as the conditions in which they are kept are, according to one local planning department official, irrelevant, as is the size or breed of the dogs. However, planning departments have any idea as to what status the owners domestic dwelling should be changed.
The most recent case came to light via the Dog Legislation Advisory Group. A well known Shar-pei breeder and exhibitor from Dorset keeps 18 dogs in kennels on his property. He was investigated by the local dog warden for an unrelated issue and was then visited by a planning officer. The officer appeared uninterested in the welfare or conditions of the dog, but simply stated that Mr P (name withheld at owners request) would have to apply for planning permission as he had over six dogs and this made his home "no longer a domestic dwelling".
Mr P, who is also a local JP asked the officer (whom we identify as Mr Y) what his home would be re-designated as. "I put it to him that it wasnt a breeding establishment most of my dogs are retired, and I only breed one or two litters a year, so I dont even need a licence. Nor is it a sanctuary, or a boarding kennels. He simply shrugged and said he didnt know, but stated that in his view owning more than six dogs was not for domestic or residential purposes.
Soon afterwards, Mr P received a letter from Mr Y explaining that he had 21 days to apply for planning permission or he would receive an enforcement notice requiring him to reduce the number of dogs on his premises to six. Additionally, the cost of planning permission was £220. Mr P pursued the matter further with the planning officer and asked a number of searching questions of the planning officer by letter.
Mr P recently received a brief reply from Mr Y, who stated, quite clearly that he was "unable to answer (Mr Ps) questions, but that "every case was determined on its merits" and reiterated that he expected Mr P to apply for planning permission for change of use.
Mr P was somewhat taken aback by this response. "In a nutshell, he has simply ducked the questions, and slides out with 'every case is determined on its merits. This is highly predictable, and patently unacceptable, in that the applicant is effectively being asked to apply blind, with no idea of what criteria are to be used, or what any precedents are. On top of that the applicant is being asked to shell out £220 up front to find out. In my view, the questions remain fundamental and are basic information that any individual has a right to know BEFORE he applies."
From what Mr Y said in his brief reply, it would seem that some issues have been clarified, notably that it is purely the number of dogs that individual planning officers believe should be kept on a property a figure arbitrarily arrived at as six that triggers the planning requirement.
"So its just the numbers, nothing to do with welfare, size of premises, reasons for the numbers of dogs being kept etc. at this stage," adds Mr P. "Only when the application has been made, and fees paid, do they then involve welfare, and it would sound as if the applicant's future is then entirely in the hands of a minion who apparently has total power to decree whether in his/her opinion you keep your dogs 'properly' and the premises are appropriate. This is a very dangerous position to put yourself in. So we have a planning requirement, but largely if not entirely determined by a different department, Environmental Services. Confused?? Me too!!"
This leads to an interesting paradox. According to Mr Ys logic, it is possible that the welfare officers might tell a dog owner that they think the owner needs better kennelling or more purpose built accommodation to satisfy THEIR criteria, which in itself may then be a barrier to the granting of the planning permission, because the planners would say the property is then 'overdeveloped' in their terms a total No Win situation for the owner.
Mr P feels the whole issue is far more insidious and goes far deeper than just a matter of pet ownership: "From what he is saying, it seems to me that it all revolves around the word 'incidental', and that they believe THEY have the right to determine what is 'incidental' in YOUR home, even though you may be causing no harm or hindrance to anyone, nor breaking any law. This, I believe, is a fundamental breach of an individual's Human Rights. It may be a different matter if the 'hobby' does cause a problem for neighbours etc. (through noise, smell, inconvenience etc) but those issues are in any case covered by standing environmental law.
"It is interesting that later in his letter, Mr Y moves tangentially from the point about 'development' i.e. outbuildings etc., to link this directly with the number of dogs. The implication again is that if you DON'T put up proper kennels etc, you're less likely to come under this planning umbrella, even though you, with your own standards may want to do so...so it could be argued again here that the planning requirement could actually work to the significant DISADVANTAGE of the dogs welfare, by discouraging people from putting up good accommodation so they do not then get caught in the planners 'development' rules -whatever they may be!"
Mr Ys letter continues, referring to a case that dates back to 1989 and 1990 from an ENTIRELY DIFFERENT LOCAL AUTHORITY, which apparently serves as a guideline for all similar cases:
One particular case was Wallington v S.O.S. for Wales & Montgomeryshire D.C. 20/2/89 and 7/11/90. This case was taken to the High Court and Appeal Court. it was asserted that the keeping of dogs was a hobby which an inspector accepted, but he stated that the intensity of the use had so changed the character of the property that it could not be regarded as incidental. The appeal court judges held that the Inspector was entitled to have regard to what people normally do in a dwellinghouse to decide whether, as a matter of fact and degree, the keeping of a large number of dogs was incidental and exceeded what could reasonably be regarded as incidental and exceeded what could reasonably be regarded as incidental. Whilst rejecting the Inspectors figure of six dogs as arbitrary, the judge let it stand.
This case has since been used as a guideline for other cases where dogs are kept at residential properties and within this Authority the view is held that planning permission is required for the keeping of more than six dogs at a residential property. As part of the application process the Councils Environmental Services Department provide advice as to the suitability of the property taking account of its size, location and proximity to other residential properties.
In view of this I must ask you to proceed with sub,mission of the retrospective planning application as requested in my letter of 27th June 2003.
Mr P adds incredulously: "Mr Y has apparently miraculously now discovered that 'this Authority' has held the view, based on the case he quotes which dates to 1989/1990 - 13 years ago- that six dogs is the maximum. Interesting then that in 13 years nobody I have found in 'this Authority's' area - and I know many who have been deep in dogs for many years - has ever heard of it, which leads again to some of the obvious questions, such as how many cases have there been in 13 years? What dates? What circumstances? What results? And then to 'what were/is the objective of pursuing a particular individual, as against all the other 'qualifying' individuals, and how was the 'selection' made? So all the issues of fairness of application, discrimination, prejudice and natural justice still remain unanswered!
"And as for the Environmental Services Dept providing advice as to the suitability of my property to keep the number of dogs I have, I take that as an insult to my common sense, intelligence, integrity and personal standards, if only on the basis that WE choose to live here with our dogs in the way we do. The thought of some council minion, possibly driven by prejudice, jealousy, ignorance or career aspirations (or a combination of all four!!) being put in a position to pronounce on us is the ultimate in presumption, and simply makes me angry.
Especially as it is almost certain that the Planners, as they have no other sources, would take their word as gospel, and accept any recommendations they make, which in the very nature of the way these minions work, is highly likely to be negative."
The matter remains unresolved, with far more questions raised than have been answered. Mr P informed OUR DOGS that he will be consulting again with DLAG, and hopefully getting the advice their legal contacts on what would be the next best move. He will also be sending correspondence to his MP and to the Chairman and to the District Planning Officer at his local authority.
"As an indication to them of the concern this has raised in the dog world, and amongst the legion of dog owners nationally who could be potentially targeted on this, I will send them a copy of your articles. It would I think help the general cause to keep the issue well publicised, as this will be another clear indicator to the planners of the magnitude of the general concern, and the scale of the potential backlash and repercussions.
"We have always tried to be highly responsible dog owners, and have over the years gained an excellent reputation for the high standards of care and welfare we provide for our dogs.
Wherever we have been, we have also given the utmost consideration to any neighbours, and been very conscious of our responsibilities to those around us. No one has ever complained, nor had cause to do so. We get on exceptionally well with our present neighbours. Against this background, we would of course wish to comply with any statutory requirements, and believe we have always done so. But I am not at all happy about being coerced into applying for planning permission on the tenuous grounds put to me under a ruling that is questionable in law.
"I am particularly concerned that people who, through their deep involvement in the world of dogs, are usually as well informed as ourselves, could know nothing of such a guideline, which, if implemented in the simplistic form in which it was notified to us, could have a devastating impact on the way thousands of dog owners like ourselves were now to be allowed to enjoy their hobby in the privacy of their own homes."
Since the publication of the original article last month, OUR DOGS has been contacted by three readers who have suffered similar harassment from their local planning departments, all citing the spurious six dog rule, Each case is slightly different in its focus, although all the individuals concerned have been told that they must apply for planning permission to change the designation of their property although, as in Mr Ps case, this designation has not been made clear.
OUR DOGS will continue to publish updates in this ongoing matter and would be pleased to hear from any other readers who have or who are suffering similar problems.
Please write to Nick Mays, Chief Reporter at the usual editorial address,
or e-mail to: ChiefReporter@aol.com