Are we finally winning the war against dog-fouling in Northumberland?

Dog-fouling complaints have dropped.
Dog-fouling complaints have dropped.

There were more fines for dog fouling issued in Northumberland last year than anywhere else in the North East – at the same time as the number of complaints are dropping.

And the county council claims that its initiative to promote responsible dog ownership has led to this fall of more than a quarter.

Since the Green Dog Walkers scheme was launched on July 1 last year, there has been a 26 per cent reduction in the number of dog-fouling complaints received by the local authority.

And a report to councillors explained that because fewer complaints need a response, this has allowed more enforcement patrolling to take place this year as well as more work in support of the scheme.

This report, which was discussed at yesterday’s communities and place committee, admits that ‘it cannot be categorically asserted’ that the drop in complaints is down to the scheme, but says ‘it would be reasonable to conclude that this cannot be just coincidence’.

At the meeting, the council’s public health protection manager, Peter Simpson, added: “We can’t think of any other reason, because dog-fouling complaints have been pretty stubborn over the last five years.”

Regardless,  it is clear that the year-old scheme, which asks owners to sign a pledge committing always to clear up after their dog and bin the bag, has been a success in terms of its sign-up rates.

Committee members, who welcomed the scheme’s success so far, heard that 1,327 green dog walkers had made the pledge by the morning of the meeting.

In comparison, Durham County Council has been running a similar scheme since 2011 that currently has 1,600 members.

Enforcement still plays a role in Northumberland, with 85 fixed penalty notices (FPNs) – which since last January have been the statutory maximum fine – issued in 2017-18, significantly higher than any of the other six councils in the North East.

This is a decrease of 14 per cent on the previous year, however, the number of enforcement patrols has not gone down.

For most of the region’s councils, there has been a significant decline in the numbers of FPNs issued for dog fouling over the last four years. In Northumberland, however, numbers have stayed broadly level, hovering between 80 and 120 fines.

Coun Glen Sanderson, cabinet member for the environment and local services, said: “Since this scheme was introduced, we’ve seen the first significant drop in dog-fouling complaints in the last five years.

“The scheme complements other council approaches across the county, including issuing fines when irresponsible dog owners are caught allowing their dogs to foul without picking up after them and educational initiatives promoting responsible dog ownership.

“This approach of education, engagement and enforcement is really paying dividends.”

Visit www.northumberland.gov.uk/greendogwalkers for more information.

Ben O'Connell, Local Democracy Reporting Service