The Scrutiny Support Officer submitted a report to provide the Panel with further information in respect of the current scrutiny topic of dog fouling and to propose terms of reference for the topic.
The Panel had been provided with an introduction to the topic at its previous meeting and, as a result of issues identified at that meeting, draft terms of reference were outlined for the Panels consideration, as follows:-
To examine the current position regarding dog fouling in Middlesbrough, in particular to consider the current scale of the problem.
To consider available resources and staffing, particularly in light of recent Council budget reductions.
To examine how the issue could be best addressed, including enforcement and education.
Further information in relation to dog fouling complaints, the Green Dog Walker scheme and Area Care staffing had been requested by the Panel and details of each were contained within the report.
The Panel was advised that there had been an increase from 360 to 440 reported complaints of dog fouling between 2010 and 2012, however, the relevant Service Manager advised that this did not necessarily indicate an increased level of fouling. In some areas, the increase could be due to increased public awareness of reporting.
There was also evidence that where areas had been brought up to a high level of cleanliness, members of the public were less tolerant of any instances of litter, dog fouling etc.
K Garland, Neighbourhood and Area Care Manager, A Mace, Operations Manager, K Larkin, Senior Environmental Protection Officer and L Turvey, Principal Environmental Protection Officer, were in attendance at the meeting to respond to any questions in relation to Area Care staffing and dog fouling. It was suggested that another possible reason for the apparent increase in dog fouling was due to the bad weather and that people noticed it more once the snow had melted away, however, it was acknowledged that if this were the case similar trends would have been apparent in previous years. The Panel highlighted that a 22% increase in reported dog fouling was unlikely to be solely due to raised public awareness and that a contributory factor in the increase must be due to the loss of 37 Area Care staff. It was also highlighted that the number of mechanical brushes had also reduced.
A Panel Member suggested that there appeared to be an increase in dog ownership in general and it was queried whether there was any mechanism for identifying dog ownership. The Senior Environmental Protection Officer advised that there was no way of knowing the number of dog owners since dog licences were abolished, however, once micro-chipping became compulsory a figure could be placed on the number of dog owners.
The Neighbourhood and Area Care Manager advised that approximately £30,000 had been spent over the past three years on dog bin provision. This might suggest raised public awareness in relation to cleaning up after their dogs in terms of increased demand for dog bins.
Reference was made to the problems with dog fouling in alley-gated areas and the Senior Environmental Protection Officer advised that it was difficult to catch people letting their dogs foul, however, if a dog was found unattended in a gated area it would be picked up by the Dog Warden and treated as a stray.
It was queried whether there were any examples of good practice where other authorities had encountered similar problems in terms of dog fouling in gated areas. The Panel was advised that Hartlepool had introduced Dog Control Orders in such areas, however, the Government was planning to scrap the introduction of new Dog Control Orders as they would be incorporated into the new raft of anti-social behaviour legislation. It was anticipated that the new legislation would be introduced in 2015 and would streamline places orders and community protection orders. In relation to identifying irresponsible dog owners, evidence from residents was heavily relied upon in terms of providing information regarding dates, times and places. It was confirmed that the Environmental Protection Services working hours were 9am to 5pm Monday to Friday, however, where there was evidence of a pattern in relation to dog fouling, arrangements would be made to inspect the site. The services of the Street Wardens were also utilised after hours where appropriate.
In terms of staffing within the Environmental Protection Service, the Panel was advised that the team currently consisted of four Environmental Protection Officers and one Dog Warden. Each of the four Environmental Protection Officers also worked as a Dog Warden one day per week on a rota basis.
Further information In relation to the Green Dog Walker Scheme, introduced on a trial basis in Hemlington, was available from the Councils website and was attached at Appendix 1.
Hemlington Ward Councillors, J Walker and N Walker were in attendance at the meeting to comment upon the operation of the scheme to date.
The Panel was advised that the Green Dog Walker Scheme was introduced in Falkirk where it had proved successful. Following discussions between the Ward Councillors and Environmental Protection/Dog Warden staff, it was decided that a non-confrontational approach involving the community was required in order to change peoples attitudes towards dog fouling. It was explained that people signing up to the scheme were asked to wear a Green Dog Walkers armband as often as possible when out walking their dog and to ensure that they always cleaned up immediately after their pet and to dispose of the waste bag in an appropriate bin. Members of the scheme were also asked to encourage other dog walkers to clean up after their pets and to carry additional dog waste bags to distribute to others if required.
The Hemlington Ward Councillors advised that they had identified dog fouling hotspots and would return to those areas to ascertain whether there was any improvement following the introduction of the scheme. A particular problem had been identified around the Hemlington Lake area.
In addition to the introduction of the scheme, two doggy fun days had been held in the Hemlington ward that had involved the local community in fun activities and events whilst raising awareness of the scheme and the health implications of not cleaning up after pets. The Dogs Trust, local vets and microchipping service had also participated in the events and free microchipping had been available. It was anticipated that another event would be held this year and it was intended to try to involve local schools in raising awareness, if possible.
** CHAIR OF MEETING, VICE CHAIR IN THE CHAIR
At this point in the meeting, the Chair was unavoidably called away and the Vice Chair of the Panel, Councillor Clark, took the Chair for the remainder of the meeting.
It was queried what the cost of running the scheme was. The Panel was informed that a licence had been purchased from Falkirk, costing approximately £500. Now that Middlesbrough had purchased the licence, there was potential to roll the scheme out to other areas of the town at no extra cost. It was highlighted that the only other running cost was the armbands and the cost of the current supply for Hemlington had been met by the local Community Council.
The Chair thanked the officers and Ward Councillors for attending and for the information provided.
AGREED as follows:-
1. That the Terms of Reference, as set out in the report, and above, be approved.
2. That the information provided be noted.
3. That the Environmental Protection Manager be invited to the Panels meeting scheduled for 15 April 2013.