The following is an extract from the minutes of the Heckington Parish Council meeting of 28th September 2015.
DOGS ON PLAYING FIELDS
We have anticipated that there would be a delegation from dog walkers regarding the Playing Fields as there is a considerable amount of misinformation circulating around the village. Today the PC received a 4 page letter in which the majority of facts are incorrect and we will be replying to that letter. I therefore will read out a statement explaining the PC position.
The legal situation regarding both playing fields is these parcels of land were purchased specifically as playing fields and they are NOT public open space. These fields were purchased with grants from Sport England and the condition of that grant lists a number of conditions which included a ban on dogs and that condition was agreed by the then Parish Council and those conditions still apply.
The new signs simply replace those that kept getting vandalised. The original sign, which was originally situated at the formal entrance to the playing fields, has been relocated to the wall of the Pavilion so as to be covered by CCTV. All other signs erected over the past years have either been damaged beyond repair or removed. The new signs differ in that the Parish Council have made a concession which allows dogs to be exercised on a lead around the perimeter of the fields as we know that a small number of dog walkers like to socialize whilst exercising their dogs.
In the past there has been no problem with this arrangement as the vast majority of dog owners cleared up after their dogs. We accept that the enforcement of the ban has been somewhat lax in the past but has been forcibly brought to our attention recently because of three reasons.
First, the new law relating to dogs on leads which came into force on the 13 May 2014.
Second, the alarming number of incidents recently with dogs off their lead attacking other dogs or worrying people where Police were involved and the third reason is the most important as far as the PC is concerned is the threat that if we do not comply with the conditions imposed by Sport England then they have the authority to reclaim the £30,000 grant.
This situation can be laid firmly at the feet of a dog walker. The circumstances being was that someone visited the Lincolnshire archives and obtained details of the grant and then Sport England received a letter stating that they did not want caravans and car boot fairs on the only open space in the village where our dogs can be exercised off the lead.
Having been brought to their attention that dogs were on the fields, they immediately contacted us and we have been forcibly reminded of the conditions agreed to by then Parish Council in obtaining this grant. The consequences being that the Parish Council would have to repay the grant of several thousands of pounds if the conditions are breached.
So the solution is with you; if that concession is abused then those irresponsible dog owners will give us no option but to seek other alternatives. One such alternative is to make the land subject to a Public Spaces Protection Order (formally Dog Control Orders), which would indicate that these fields are open to the public. They are not and at times it is necessary the fields can be closed whenever there are organised matches or events or ground maintenance. It could also affect our public liability insurance.
We hoped that by informing people of the reason for the ban on the playing areas would be sufficient and the vast majority have accepted them and abided by them. However it was impossible to inform the many visitors who visited the last two remaining boot fairs of the reinforcement of the ban. The advertising material relating to the boot fairs is produced at least a year ahead and those people attending the last two fairs would have only known when they arrived and seen the signs. Details of next year’s events contain the notice that dogs are not permitted.
We are a democratically elected body and as such we have to consider all our Parishioners. We acknowledge that our decision may not be what you want to hear but we also have to think of the 1,600 other council tax payers who have no interest whatsoever in the playing fields or dog walkers but I am sure they would not be happy if we told them that we would have to raise the council tax by £30 – £40 a year to re-pay Sport England’s grant.
UPDATE: Extract from October 2015 PCM re Dogs on the playing field – Matter to be deferred:
Cllr Higgs said that at the previous meeting we had been asked several questions regarding the legality of our decision. He again stated that the Parish Council owned the land and it was for use as playing fields only. There had been a covenant imposed on it from the outset, which was still in place. Cllr Higgs continued saying that the 5metre perimeter strip still allowed dog walkers plenty of exercise space.
Cllr Higgs asked PCSO Welby to clarify the Dangerous Dog Act. He said that this was an emotive piece of legislation which came down to people’s perception of ‘out of control’ and said that a dog did not have to be ‘dangerously’ out of control. He said that PC Green had recently spoken at length to someone whose terrier had been off a lead. PCSO Welby said that the CPS would only prosecute if an attack was against a person and not a dog to dog attack, as dogs were seen as property, which would be a civil prosecution. Cllr Higgs said that anyone could perceive there to be a problem and PCSO Welby confirmed that a dog off a lead could definitely be perceived as dangerous. PCSO Welby continued saying that the recommendation of the 2014 legislation suggested that a dog should be muzzled if it growled or pulled on a lead but it did not say that a dog should be on a lead.
PCSO Welby said that dog walkers would not face prosecution for using an extendable lead although he said that on a lot of pet forums the use of extendable leads was frowned upon.
Cllr Higgs confirmed that dog fouling was the responsibility of NKDC, who would collate information from dog wardens and from any member of the public who wished to report it.
Cllr Higgs said that there had always been a dog ban on the play area but following the removal of the trim trail, as Heckington Sport had not wanted the responsibility, Sport England had contacted the Council to see if we would be happy for it to come under our control, which was why this area had been allocated. He said that he had received correspondence from various users, including one from the junior football team manager, as well as an email from our insurers. Our insurers stated that as Heckington Parish Council had clearly displayed signs stating that dogs should be kept on leads and must keep only to the perimeter if this was not adhered to then any claim should be against the dog owner, although the Parish Council could get drawn in to the situation. Cllr Higgs read a letter from the junior football club stating that there had been a vast improvement in the amount of dog mess, and holes, since the introduction of the signs. However a few months ago a dog had urinated over the team’s equipment, with no apologies from the dog walker. The dog walker in question said that she had cleaned up after her dog and apologised.
Cllr Higgs said that the Parish Council would need to consider whether to erect a fence and had set aside £4,000 for this. He said that new legislation would also come in to force on 1st December but would not be introduced by NKDC until January, which would give us far greater powers to deal with the issue.
Cllr Higgs said that a dog owner regularly drove a white van to the playing fields and let their dogs out to exercise and Cllr Peto asked if the vehicle could be traced. Cllr Higgs said that it happened at night and despite the CCTV camera the license plate had not been visible.
Cllr Higgs proposed that the matter be deferred until January to see if the matter improved however if owners continued walking their dogs off leads the Parish Council would consider erecting fencing. Cllr Garlick said that if the public had concerns and suggestions could they not write to the Council and Cllr Higgs said that any correspondence could be brought in to Chambers.
RESOLVED to defer this matter until 25th January 2016.
Proposed by Cllr Garlick, seconded by Cllr Palmer and agreed.