Dog-fouling complaints fall as number of fines handed out rises

Dog-fouling complaints in Northumberland have fallen for the second year running, but reports of litter and fly-tipping have both seen big jumps.

By Ben O'Connell
Wednesday, 13 March, 2019, 14:52
Coun Glen Sanderson, cabinet member for the environment.

This information was included in an update on environmental enforcement by the county council, which was presented to Monday night’s (March 11) Castle Morpeth Local Area Council and will also be discussed at the other local area councils this month.

Introducing the report, Coun Glen Sanderson, the cabinet member for the environment, said: “This is about two issues which don’t seem that interesting but are very important to this council – dog poo and litter.”

The figures show that dog-fouling complaints dropped by 28 per cent in the past three years, with 1,933 received in 2016, 1,509 in 2017 and 1,398 last year.

The council puts this down to the success of its Green Dog Walkers’ Scheme, launched in July 2017, which sees owners pledge to always clean up after their dog and dispose of the bag in a bin, while also encouraging others to do the same.

It has recently seen its 2,000th member sign up, meaning it ‘has far exceeded officer expectations and makes it the most successful scheme of its type in the North East’.

However, it is also worth noting that Northumberland County Council last year issued more fines than in 2017, as well as far more than any of the other local authorities in the North East; there were 94 fixed penalty notices handed out in 2018, up from 80 the year before.

Coun Julie Foster said: “It’s nice to see the fall in dog-fouling complaints, but the reason behind it is what concerns me. I have seen a number of people on social media saying what’s the point in complaining, nothing gets done.

“I think we need a much bigger drive to get people to report it. It’s still a big problem.”

Nonetheless, the direction of travel is downward, which is not the case for reports of fly-tipping or litter.

There were 2,437 fly-tipping complaints in 2017, which leapt up to 3,390 last year, however, this is in large part due to correcting an issue whereby incidents weren’t reported in the same way by staff at the Stakeford depot, meaning there has been historical under-reporting from that site.

Even with this anomaly removed though, fly-tipping reports were still up by three per cent while those of litter rose by 28 per cent.

But looking at the regional comparison again, Northumberland still has the second lowest number of fly-tips in the North East and the fewest incidents per km² by a significant margin.

Coun Sanderson said: “It would be quite wrong to say we don’t have a fly-tipping problem, every council in the country has a fly-tipping problem, but we have tried to be proactive about it.”

He explained that one of the cost-cutting measures considered for the 2019-20 budget was to reduce the opening hours of household waste recovery centres, but he and other members of the administration were ‘keen to see that we didn’t do that’.

“Where we need to be tough, we are,” he added. “We are not prepared to put up with people who litter or who let their dogs foul. Compared to other local councils, we tend to be tougher and I hope you agree that we should be.”

The number of fines issued for littering rose from 104 in 2017 to 165 last year, and from 19 to 40 for fly-tipping.

The council’s environmental enforcement team also had a 100 per cent success rate at court in 2018, with three prosecutions for dog fouling, 14 for animal welfare, 20 for littering and seven for fly-tipping.

Asked if the fines and prosecutions could be stepped up further, Coun Sanderson said: “I would prefer to go down the consensual approach of people understanding the need to protect the environment rather than being a hard-hearted council.”

Ben O'Connell, Local Democracy Reporting Service