New challenge to Forest dog bar plan
New Forest National Park Authority may face a Freedom of Information Act challenge from campaigners who claim rules appear to have been broken when dog walking restrictions were proposed.
The move comes from the New Forest Dog Owners Group which is fighting proposals in the Authority’s recently published management plans that would limit access to the Forest.
NFDOG committee member David Dickenson who attended NPA consultation meetings for stakeholders said: ‘There is a strong contrast between the draft drawn up by stakeholders in March which emphasises a light touch and consensual approach, and that presented by the NPA in June, which is highly proscriptive.
‘We want to know why these documents were altered so radically after the consultation took place. It looks like highly controversial proposals were slipped in as soon as the stakeholders’ backs were turned,’ added Mr Dickenson.
Mr Dickenson claimed that the two most hotly disputed measures proposed by the NPA -to develop the concept of dog free car parks and to introduce significant restraints on recreational horse keeping - were never discussed with stakeholders. He said proposals to use the planning system to enhance biodiversity were included in the Biodiversity Action Plan drawn up by NPA ecologist Ian Barker. It sets out a variety of measures to enhance Forest wildlife and allows for significant restraints on recreational horse keeping via planning controls.
‘Government guidelines mean that the NPA is obliged to consult the public over such matters,’ said Mr Dickenson. ‘We have recently uncovered the fact that the Biodiversity Action Plan should have been discussed at the stakeholders meetings last winter but this never happened.’
Mr Dickenson challenged NPA chairman Clive Chatters at a meeting of the Authority to state whether or not he had been responsible for inserting key proposals after stakeholder consultation had taken place, but Mr Chatters did not answer the question.
‘There were hundreds in the audience and they were stunned into silence when Mr Chatters ignored my question. He had already answered questions from an MP and so we all expected him to give me an answer. If I do not get a satisfactory answer, I will use the Freedom of Information Act to discover who was responsible for the late insertion of proposals,’ said Mr Dickenson.
NFDOG has received backing for its campaign against dog free car parks from Forest MPs Desmond Swayne and Julian Lewis, Hampshire County Council leader Ken Thornber and the Kennel Club. It claims there is no evidence that Forest users, including dog walkers, have any significant impact on wildlife.