Making a difference on dog fouling

Chas Booth explains why Green councillors are looking for constructive solutions to dog fouling in Edinburgh and why he’s disappointed in the Capital Coalition rejection of his suggestions.

Before I had kids, dog fouling was an annoyance. If you look where you’re going, it’s easy to avoid it, right? But when my kids started toddling, and when I was pushing them in their buggy, dog fouling quickly became a real nuisance. Trying to ensure the eldest didn’t step in it with one hand while steering the buggy away from the mess with the other is challenging at best. Doing it multiple times, every day on the nursery run and my blood soon began to boil.

I know from contact with my constituents that I’m not alone in being angry at the irresponsible and selfish attitude of some dog owners. But just imagine how a wheelchair user feels when confronted by a pavement covered in dog mess. Or someone with a visual impairment. Or one of my constituents, who contacted me recently. Her son is immune-compromised so dog mess is a serious health issue for him. So for all these people, and many more, this is an issue we cannot ignore.

Thumb3 ChasBooth_hires3-611x1024And yet we seem to be heading in the wrong direction. The most recent Edinburgh People’s Survey results show that fewer than a third of our citizens are satisfied with the council’s management of dog fouling. This is a substantial decline from 62% satisfied in 2009-11.

So perhaps in recognition of the problem facing us, the council’s Transport and Environment Committee received a report at the 2 June 2015 meeting looking at the issue, and proposing a refocused approach to tackling the problem. And there’s much in that refocused approach that Greens welcome. Exploring the use of plain clothes wardens, for example, and changing their shift patterns will help us to catch the culprits and dish out more on-the-spot fines. Increased use of social media will help make dog fouling less socially acceptable, and reinforce the message that you will be caught if you don’t pick up after your dog. And improving the speed and responsiveness of street cleaning is essential to avoid the ‘broken window syndrome’ where dirty streets attract more dirt.

But Green councillors believe we can and should go further than the proposals put before committee. Specifically, we believe the council should be looking to other councils around the country and further afield to find examples of approaches that have worked, with a view to implementing them here. We asked for the feasibility, costs and benefits of 10 specific proposals to be looked into, from setting up a council smartphone app for reporting the mess, to exploring the use of a dog DNA database, as North Down and Dagenham councils are doing. The full list of our proposals is below.

We also asked the council to write to the Scottish Government, urging them to increase the fines and fixed penalties payable for dog fouling, and to make it easier and cheaper for councils to pursue non-payment of fines. We also want the Scottish Government to explore the opportunities for a national dog DNA database, to be introduced alongside compulsory microchipping of dogs in April 2016. And of course we also supported the refocused approach to tackling the problem, as proposed by council officers.

So you would have thought, given the seriousness of the issue, and given that less than a third of citizens are satisfied with the council’s management of the issue, that our proposals would be accepted? They were not. They were voted down by 13 votes to 2. Our amendment was long, but we provided it to the administration several days in advance to allow them to consider it. But they used the administration’s in-built majority on committee to vote it down anyway.

Is this a return to the bad old days of the ‘we know best’ council, where the views of citizens and opposition councillors are ignored? I sincerely hope not. Many of my constituents have contacted me on social media in the last few days to say they’re not satisfied with the council’s approach. Are their views to be ignored?

In the mean time I’ll continue to represent my constituents’ views, and continue to battle for cleaner streets, not just in my ward of Leith, but around the city.

Chas Booth is the Green councillor for Leith and Green environment spokesperson

MOTION AS FOLLOWS

Edinburgh Council Transport and Environment Committee, 2 June 2015

Green amendment – item 7.11 Dog Fouling Prevention

Delete recommendations and insert:

“Committee:

1.1         notes the content of this report;

1.2         notes in particular the 2014 results of the Edinburgh People’s Survey, which found that only 30% of respondents were satisfied with the council’s management of dog fouling issues.

1.3         notes that there may be a variety of reasons for a reduction in complaints about dog fouling, and that a reduction in complaints does not necessarily indicate the problem is being resolved;

1.4         notes that while there has been a small improvement in CIMS scores, a CIMS assessment is a snapshot of the cleanliness of the streets, with a 50 metre transect surveyed from a random sample of 10% of the city’s streets, and therefore depending on the sample surveyed may not give a complete picture of the situation;

1.5         welcomes the refocused campaign to tackle dog fouling as set out in appendix 1 to this report, in particular exploring the use of plain clothes wardens working varied shift patterns, increased use of social media to highlight fines and fixed penalties, and increased partnership working with community groups;

1.6         believes however that more can be done to tackle the problem;

1.7         agrees therefore to:

1.7.1      adopt the refocused campaign as set out in appendix 1;

1.7.2      write to the Scottish Government urging them to increase the fixed penalties and maximum fine payable for dog fouling as soon as possible; to make it easier and cheaper for the council to pursue non-payment of FPNs; to review the “discount” for paying an FPN within 28 days; to give local authorities explicit powers to introduce a dog DNA testing and database regime; and to consider the introduction of a national compulsory dog DNA database alongside the introduction of compulsory microchipping of dogs which will be introduced in April 2016,

1.7.3      bring forward a report within one cycle setting out national and international best practice in tackling dog fouling, including, but not limited to, examining the feasibility, costs and benefits of the following options:

1.7.3.1  introducing a council app to report dog fouling, as used by Flintshire, Thurrock, North Ayrshire and many other councils;

1.7.3.2  pursuing a publicity campaign focussed on the negative impact of dog fouling including the impact of toxicariasis on children, the negative impact on wheelchair users and those with health complications;

1.7.3.3  enabling a greater number of council employees to issue FPNs;

1.7.3.4  introducing an incentive scheme to encourage owners to pick up after their pets, such as the lottery scheme run by New Taipei City;

1.7.3.5  introducing an incentive scheme to encourage members of the public to report irresponsible dog owners, as undertaken by Hyndburn Borough Council;

1.7.3.6  highlighting instances of dog fouling using brightly-coloured paint, as used by Gloucestershire and West Dunbartonshire councils amongst others;

1.7.3.7  greater use of technology such as mobile CCTV or wardens with night vision apparatus in hotspot areas to catch irresponsible owners, as used by Hyndburn Borough Council and others;

1.7.3.8  establishing a dog DNA database, as piloted by North Down Council, Northern Ireland, the London Borough of Barking and Dagenham Council and in Plano, Texas;

1.7.3.9  supporting and encouraging volunteer groups to undertake clean-ups; and empowering volunteers to report irresponsible dog owners and encourage responsible owners;

1.7.3.10               introducing or expanding dedicated pet exercise areas in parks and greenspace and/or designating/expanding certain greenspace areas where children are more likely to play as ‘no dogs’ areas.

1.8         discharges the remit from the 28 October 2014 Transport and Environment Committee to report back on the outcome of consultation with Scottish Government.”