The Head of Health and Community Wellbeing presented the above report, details of which had been previously circulated to Members. The purpose of the report was to advise Members on and seek Members’ views on the implementation of actions raised previously at the Heath and Community Committee and Council meetings and provide an update on the responsible dog ownership awareness campaign by Council departments in order to combat dog fouling in this Council area.
Councillor Ferguson endorsed the recommendation within the report. She stated that dog fouling has been a major issue and welcomed the Mayor visiting hotspot areas with the dog wardens. She expressed disappointment that the suggested DNA testing would prove difficult particularly if it was not compulsory. However, dog licensing was compulsory but some dog owners still did not apply to have their pet licensed. She welcomed the 3,500 text messages sent to dog owners outlining the importance of responsible dog ownership. She queried if there was a target audience in this regard as her dog was licensed, but she did not receive any communication from Council. She noted that dog bins were mostly located along main roads and pathways and asked if they could be also made available in the quieter areas of villages.
Councillor Logue thanked Officers for the detailed report. She stated that the issue of dog fouling had been raised over a long number of years and welcomed that more employees have been given authorisation to issue fines. She felt that it was important that Officers engaged with all community groups as their input would be invaluable and had proved successful in the past. She advised that in recent years the Bogside Brandywell Initiative had engaged in a successful project with a partnership approach with Council. She referred to the specific, high incident areas highlighted within the report and expressed surprise that a number of streets that she had reported to officers on numerous occasions had not been included in the report. She felt that going forward, given that it was a topical issue, that once the new measures had been incorporated that monthly or bi-monthly reports be brought to Committee.
Councillor Logue Proposed, Seconded by Councillor McHugh
That Council engage with community groups and that a monthly or bi-monthly report be bought to this committee.
Alderman Hussey welcomed that staff within the leisure services section would be brought off the furlough scheme to assist with dog control patrols and associated initiatives. He expressed disappointment with regard to the DNA project and that it was unlikely that irresponsible dog owners would avail of such a scheme on a voluntary basis. He asked if there was any possibility that the registration of DNA could be combined with the microchip process.
Councillor Edwards concurred with Alderman Hussey that it was disappointing to see the challenges with DNA testing and noted that Councils in England faced similar challenges. He referred to CCTV and asked if the cameras would be similar to those used to combat issues such as illegal dumping. He further enquired how many extra staff would be redeployed to dog control and would they be trained in enforcement and be authorised to issue fines. He stated that he welcomed the Mayor’s initiative of visiting hotspot areas with the dog wardens. He stated that he has extended an invitation to the Mayor to also visit the Derg area. He referred to comments made by Councillor Logue, regarding hotspot areas that had not been mentioned in the report. He stated that there were also areas within the Derg area that were not mentioned in the report and asked that they be included
In response, the Head of Health and Community Wellbeing stated that in relation to CCTV provision, there were two cameras available. He advised that prior to installation, signage would be erected for a period of several days as per policy requirements. However, signage has been erected in problem areas though no footage was obtained in relation to dog fouling offences. He felt that this was to be welcomed as it meant that local dog walkers were adhering to the legislation. In terms of furloughed staff, he advised that approximately 20 staff were currently involved in this initiative and liaison was being carried out with HR on an ongoing basis and it was hoped to increase that number over the coming weeks. He stated that he would be happy to include those areas outlined by Councillors Logue and Edwards onto the scheduled patrols.
Alderman Devenney stated that dog fouling was an ongoing issue throughout the entire Council area. He welcomed the report and the extra patrols being introduced throughout the city and district. He also congratulated the Mayor on his promotional activities. He stated that Council had attempted several initiatives including the issuing of 40,000 dog fouling bags at a cost of £2,000 and also the inclusion of bins and signage. However, he felt the issue was due to irresponsible dog owners. He expressed disappointment regarding the DNA testing, adding that for those dogs that were not microchipped or licensed it would be impossible to have DNA tracing available. He noted that all other costs would be covered by existing budgets and penalty receipts. He stated that an increase in the number of penalties issued would assist in covering some of those costs.
In response, the Head of Health and Community Wellbeing advised that a number of staff have been authorised to issue fixed penalties across the Environment and Health and Community Wellbeing sections. He stated that the staff who will be assisting from the Leisure section, would be trained to liaise with members of the public on dog control requirements. However, they would not be authorised to issue fixed penalty notices. He stated that if they did have evidence in relation to offences, they reported it to the dog wardens or any other authorised officers to take it forward.
Councillor McHugh concurred with the sentiments expressed by the previous speakers and noted that Alderman Hussey had requested that Mitchell Park in Castlederg be included and asked that Castlefin Road, Castlederg also be included as it was a particular hotspot.
The Chair queried if park rangers were included and authorised to issue fixed penalties. He suggested that Community Safety Wardens who worked in the evenings could also be authorised in this regard.
In response, the Head of Health and Community Wellbeing advised that Officers would liaise with line managers on the matter. He stated that the park wardens would be critical in enforcing dog control orders, not only for fouling but dog exclusion and dogs on leads. He advised that an update on all of the matters raised by Members would be provided at a future Committee meeting.
Recommended That Members (i) note the measures being taken and future initiatives being planned to help address dog fouling throughout the Council area and (ii) monthly or bi-monthly update reports be presented to the Committee.