Environment Scrutiny Panel Minutes

Environment Scrutiny Panel Minutes

Date:
Monday 15 April 2013
Time:
2:00 p.m.
Place:
Spencer Room, Town Hall, Middlesbrough
 

Attendance Details

Present:
Councillor R Kerr (Chair), Councillor G B Clark (Vice Chair), Councillor D Davison and Councillor
J McPartland.
Observers:
G Brown - Members Office.
Invitees:
Councillor Brunton - Chair of Overview and Scrutiny Board.
Officers:
A Crawford, J Dixon, K Garland, A Mace and P Robertson.
Apologies for absence:
Councillor R Brady, Councillor J G Cole, Councillor C Hobson, Councillor M Saunders, Councillor P Sharrocks.
Declarations of interest:

There were no declarations of interest made by Members at this point in the meeting.

Item Number Item/Resolution
PUBLIC
12/50 MINUTES OF THE PREVIOUS MEETING OF THE ENVIRONMENT SCRUTINY PANEL HELD ON 4 MARCH 2013.

The Minutes of the Environment Scrutiny Panel meeting held on 4 March 2013 were submitted and approved as a correct record.

12/51 DOG FOULING - FURTHER INFORMATION.

The Scrutiny Support Officer submitted a covering report advising the Panel on the work undertaken to date and the terms of reference approved at the previous meeting in relation to the current topic of dog fouling.

 

Subsequently, P Robertson, Environmental Protection Manager, was in attendance at the meeting and made a presentation to Members with regard to the terms of reference.

 

The Service Manager advised the Panel that the population of Middlesbrough was 142,691, approximately 59,000 households. There were no actual figures in relation to dog ownership, however, it was believed that around one in three households owned a dog. It was, therefore, estimated that there were approximately 20,000 dogs in Middlesbrough.

 

The services carried out by the Council in relation to dog fouling were:-

  • Picking up waste.
  • Enforcement.
  • Tackle stray dogs/microchipping.
  • Education/changing behaviour.

The Panel was advised that two pieces of legislation were used in terms of enforcement - the Dogs (Fouling of Land) Act 1996 and the Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Act (CNEA) 2005. The CNEA allowed Dog Control Orders to be established and Middlesbrough had several designated areas including Albert Park, Centre Square and the crematorium. It was noted that the Dogs (FOL) Act ceased to apply where a Dog Control Order was in place. Under the Acts that had been adopted by the Council, staff were trained and authorised to issue warnings and fixed penalty notices to irresponsible dog owners. Law enforcement was a statutory duty that must be carried out but it was time consuming and costly and offered little return as resources continued to be reduced as a result of budget cuts.

 

It was highlighted that there had been 474 complaints in the last 12 months in relation to dog fouling. 1,300 actions had been taken in relation to those complaints, in the form of patrols, warning letters, etc which had resulted in four fixed penalties being issued and two prosecutions (as a result of unpaid fixed penalties). This was considered to be a poor legal outcome relative to the number of complaints.

 

The Service Manager advised that he believed there to be a link between the numbers of stray dogs and the numbers of dog fouling complaints as obviously stray dogs were unable to clean up after themselves.

 

Microchipping dogs helped to reduce the number of strays and was more cost-effective in terms of being able to reunite the dog with its owner rather than having to re-home the dog. It also appeared that dogs that were returned to their owners did not tend to stray again.

 

It was recognised that education was key in terms of responsible dog ownership and the Council had promoted various initiatives including provision of free poop-scoops, more dog fouling bins, better signage, press campaigns and a ‘light-touch’ approach to enforcement (ie giving owners the opportunity to pick up after their dogs so as to avoid a warning letter or fixed penalty). The general Enforcement Policy took into account various factors such as the attitude of the person, seriousness of the offence and whether there was a history of offences. This would determine the course of action that needed to be taken.

 

In relation to staffing, the Panel was informed that the dog warden service had reduced from two full time dog wardens to one full time dog warden plus support four days per week on a rota system from the Waste Team. The staff numbers in the Waste Team had also reduced from 10 full time employees to 3.6 staff with the additional work of dog warden cover and abandoned vehicles. Support was provided from the Street Wardens, particularly out of hours, however, the number of Street Wardens had also been significantly reduced.

 

The issues resulting from reduced resources included :-

  • Reduced resources meant that almost all of the team’s work was reactive.
  • Not always possible to carry out enforcement when a dog fouling complaint was received.
  • On average one visit per complaint was made, however, this was dependent upon the level of information provided by the complainant. A better outcome could be achieved if more detailed information could be provided (ie, descriptions/names, times, etc).
  • Due to competing priorities, there were times when dog fouling complaints could not be dealt with and no dog warden service could be provided.
  • A review of service issues was planned, together with a new service standard, setting out what could be done, timescales, etc.

Discussion ensued and the following issues were raised:-

  • A Panel Member suggested that it did not always follow that there was a link between the numbers of stray dogs and the numbers of dog fouling complaints and highlighted that some dog owners often met up socially whilst walking their dogs and were not always as vigilant as they should be (ie not always noticing when their dog had fouled). Another problem highlighted was owners who picked up after their dogs but then discarded the bags if there were no dog bins nearby.
  • It was queried whether there was any evidence of a variation in dog ownership numbers from ward to ward in Middlesbrough and also in relation to the numbers of strays. The Service Manager responded that as it was not compulsory to micro-chip dogs, there was no way of knowing the exact number in terms of ownership or the numbers of strays on a ward by ward basis.
  • In response to a query, the Service Manager stated that there could be variations from ward to ward in terms of the numbers of complaints received, however, this could be for various factors including number of strays, level of dog ownership and tolerance/expectations of residents. Information in relation to complaints by ward could be made available to Members of the Panel should they wish to see it.
  • A Panel Member considered that dog fouling was more of a problem during the winter months when the mornings and evenings were darker and it was acknowledged that that it was more difficult to carry out enforcement duties during the darker months.
  • K Garland, Neighbourhood and Area Care Manager, was also in attendance at the meeting and highlighted that Erimus Housing now had its own dedicated telephone number dealing with complaints, therefore, it was possible that there was a reduction in the number of dog fouling complaints received through the Council’s Call Centre but an increase in dog fouling.
  • The Neighbourhood and Area Care Manager suggested that, given the limited resources available, it might be worth exploring the possibility of other operational staff being trained to do some level of enforcement work in order to assist.
  • It was highlighted that there were associated health issues with dog fouling. The Council had recently assumed responsibility for public health and it was considered that the possibility of identifying any funding from this area should be explored.

The Chair thanked the officers for attending and for the information provided.

 

AGREED as follows:-

 

1. That the information provided be considered in the context of the scrutiny investigation and taken into account when compiling the Panel’s Final Report on Dog Fouling.

 

2. That the Draft Final Report be presented to the next meeting of the Environment Scrutiny Panel.
 

12/52 DATE AND TIME OF NEXT MEETING - 13 MAY 2013 AT 2.00PM.

The next meeting of the Environment Scrutiny Panel was scheduled for Monday, 13 May 2013 at 2.00pm.

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