by Neil Burton
National Dog Warden Association
[The following article appears within the NDWA’s latest newsletter and explains, from a Dog warden’s perspective, how the Clean Neighbourhood and Environment Act will operate at the sharp end, for the Dog Warden having to deal with dog fouling and control issues:]
The fast tracking through the remaining stages of the Parliamentary process prior to the dissolution of Parliament before the general election means that the Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Act (CNE Act) has now become law.
The Act received Royal Assent on Friday 8th April 2005 and will allow Local Authorities and the Environment Agency additional powers to improve the quality of the local environment. The main areas that it will tackle are:
l Fly tipped waste
l Nuisance Alleys
l Fly-posting and graffiti
l Abandoned and nuisance vehicles
l Nuisance from artificial lighting and other issues
As a piece of legislation it is long overdue, unfortunately the Government has missed the point on some areas and seems to be unaware of the current effectiveness of Acts such as the Dogs (Fouling of Land) Act 1996. The CNE Act has arrived and presents local authorities with a number of problems rather than solutions.
The Act appears to offer Fixed Penalty Notices as an alternative to prosecution. It allows council’s flexibility to set a rate which can be more than the recommended £75 fixed penalty set out in the CNE Act. A danger here is for councils to think, ‘great, we can raise income using these fixed penalties’, the Government encourages this by allowing Councils to retain any monies brought in.
A £75 fixed penalty notice will probably be more than a Magistrates Court would fine an offender.
What about payment of such fixed penalties, in Court people are allowed to pay instalments, will the council have this option too if an offender claims they cannot pay? Under the current system, non payers are summoned to Court where they can face a fine of up to £1,000, what happens if a large percentage of those caught are unable or unwilling to pay? Will the council ‘let them off’ or use even more resources to get them to Court?
When the Dogs (Fouling of Land) Act 1996 fixed penalty was increased from £25.00 to £50.00, Dog Wardens discovered straight away that the public were less willing to accept a notice. The amount is a psychological barrier as I discovered myself when serving fixed penalties. £25.00 penalties were usually taken with no comment or occasionally perhaps, ‘hurry up then’. When it was increased to £50.00, the first one I issued ended up with the dog owner not paying and being taken to court. How irresponsible dog owners will respond to being handed a £75 or more notice will be interesting, will a higher penalty amount result in more people refusing to pay? If this is so, the use of fixed penalties as an alternative to prosecution will have failed and the Government’s own Act will be shown to have been badly thought out.
The repeal of the Dogs (Fouling of Land) Act 1996 is surely a negative move; at least this Act provided a uniform method of designation and enforcement across England and Wales. Scotland has ironed out a number of problems with its version, The Dog Fouling (Scotland) Act 2003 and uses it effectively.
As Cuthbert Jackson an Environmental Education Officer from Bolton Metropolitan Borough Council told delegates attending the National Dog Warden Association seminar in Shrewsbury in March 2005, ‘why change something that is working, dog owners will go from one area to another, not knowing what dog laws are in force’. He also explained that the Fouling of Land Act at least provided dog owners with one nationally known law. He also highlighted the issue of enforcement by parish councils, would it be a case of a public spirited volunteer acting for the council, what level of training would these people have?
Instead of providing uniform enforcement parameters, the CNE Act effectively creates chaos and confusion for dog owners. Primary and Secondary (Parish) Councils might have conflicting By-laws in operation in the same town. Who is going to enforce this? Will Parish councils have to employ their own enforcement staff or employ contractors who may be from the primary authority and do or do not already enforce the same type of dog control order? How many different dog control orders could there be in operation in any one area?
The new dog control orders replace By-laws with a new, simplified system that enables local authorities and parish councils to deal with fouling, ban dogs from designated areas, require dogs to be kept on leads and restrict the number of dogs that can be walked by one person.
Far from simplifying the system, the danger arises of an area having none, some or all of these By-laws operating in different parts of the same area at the same time, dog owners and enforcement officers are going to be confused!
An exaggerated example would involve a dog walker taking several dogs out for a walk, as they get from A to B they may be crossing areas where one minute it is ok to walk several dogs, the next it is not, then just when you thought you were safe, you have crossed into a dog’s on lead area as you took your dogs off their leads earlier!
How will the dog owner ‘on the street’ be aware of what they can/cannot do? The repealing of the Fouling of Land Act will mean that those signs out there that advertise DFLA on them will become obsolete. Will there be a requirement for a plethora of signs informing dog walkers what they can and cannot do, maybe it will be easier for councils to issue maps that show areas where this, that and the other Dog Control Order are in force?
The possibilities for confusion, misunderstanding and confrontation are greatly increased.
In the middle as usual are the Animal/Dog Wardens, you know when you are on a hiding to nothing when some sections of the community say Dog Wardens have it in for dogs, yet another section writes that Dog Wardens promote dog ownership? Perhaps the anti-dog group that wrote that should amend their website to read ‘promote responsible dog ownership’. Do the Police promote crime or the Fire Service promote fires - they as we know promote the answer to them.
Instead of maintaining the balance between education and enforcement, Animal/Dog Wardens may be seen as being more anti-dog; this is definitely not the case at all. There are already enough anti-dog people like that out there as it is to fill that category. People on both sides forget that Animal/Dog Wardens work for the benefit of the whole community not one specific group and unbelievably they are neutral!
The Police WILL be handing over responsibility to local authorities; BUT the Act says the change will come into force ONLY when the transfer of resources has been agreed. This has already been ignored by one police force in the south of England.