Select Committee on Committee on the London Local Authorities Bill Minutes of Evidence


Evidence before the Committee (Questions 420-439)

WEDNESDAY 10 SEPTEMBER 2003

420.  There are two Petitioners, Mr Mundy's clients: first, the Pet Care Trust who appear to be promoting responsible ownership and we hope that the proposal is wholly consistent with responsible ownership; and, second, the Kennel Club, and again we hope that the proposal is wholly consistent with their remit which is the improvement of the welfare of dogs. We have some difficulty at this stage in ascertaining how this falls foul of the ambitions of those two Petitioners, but in due course we will understand, I have no doubt. That is all I say in opening and, with the Committee's leave, I will call my witness, Mr Stratton.

MR MARTIN STRATTON CBE, Sworn

Examined by MR CLARKSON

421.  MR CLARKSON: Are you Martin Stratton?

(Mr Stratton) I am.

422.  What is your position and with which council?

(Mr Stratton) I work in Wandsworth Council and I am the Assistant Director in Leisure and Amenity Services.

423.  You have after your name "CBE". Was that as a result of working for Wandsworth Council or something else?

(Mr Stratton) No, I spent 33 years in the Army and I received it there.

424.  The position with dogs and let's begin with a broad approach as to what it is, you represent the London authorities in broad terms, which is your primary concern.

(Mr Stratton) In Wandsworth we have 23 per cent or 23 per cent of the area is open space, parks and commons, and that is not dissimilar from many other of the both inner London and outer London boroughs. About five years ago we noticed that there was an increase in the number of very large numbers of dogs being exercised by single people, particularly in a small park. It was in this park where my attention was first drawn perhaps about four or five years ago when two professional dog-walkers brought in some ten or twelve dogs each. The park was fairly small, perhaps the size of two football fields, and the park was taken over by these two large groups. The dog-walkers invariably got together and their dogs exercised or ran all over the park while they really took little notice of what the animals were doing. There were complaints from residents who had hitherto used the area and I tried to persuade these two dog-walkers to exercise their dogs at separate times. They did not wish to do this. This business of professional dog-walking started to spread and spread into Battersea Park, Tooting Common and Wandsworth Park in part due to the by-law that was introduced in Wimbledon Park and the Putney Conservatives where there were a large number of professional dog-walkers. They limited the number of dogs allowed to be exercised by any person to four. The professional dog-walkers who had hitherto exercised their animals in this very, very large area of common land then moved into Wandsworth, which was the next-door borough, and it was clear in my view that we would have to do something about this. I invited 16 then known professional dog-walkers to a meeting where we could discuss this, and suggested that we could come to a very amicable compromise by having a code of conduct, which I drew up and invited them to sign, which they all did.

425.  Can we have a look at that? I think it is in the bundle, tab 2, the first document, which is headed 2A. It is the first half of that page, the Voluntary Code of Conduct for Professional Dog Walkers in Wandsworth. Were they recalcitrant in signing up to that, Mr Stratton?

(Mr Stratton) No. We had a good discussion, a lengthy discussion, but they all signed it and the two people who use Falcon Park (the park which I referred to earlier) signed the lower code. There was no problem. However, after about a fortnight they seemed to forget about this voluntary code and although they were reminded both by the Parks' Police and by our dog control officers, of whom we have six, they went back to their ways. Their ways, really, were ignoring things like going into channels. Particularly in parks, people are canalised together and they tended to loiter there. They came together in groups, so instead of just having ten dogs you could have 30 or 40 dogs. Indeed, just the other day there were 45 dogs right in the centre of Battersea Park. This is not unique to Battersea Park, it takes place in other parks and commons - Tooting and, particularly, Wandsworth Park - to the detriment of the enjoyment of many other people who like to take and exercise their own dogs there and also their children and themselves. The worry I think, in my view, is that there are people already being frightened by these animals. Further, I believe that when somebody, either their animal or their child or, indeed, themselves, shows fright and tries to get away there could be a case of the pack instinct breaking out. I worry and believe that we would as a local authority be irresponsible to ignore the issue because I do feel - and I do not know whether it will be tomorrow or in a year's time - that somebody is going to get very severely mauled. Not necessarily by one dog but by a group of dogs. That, as a local authority, is our concern.

426.  Let us just see whether that is a hollow concern. The next document in the bundle is from Battersea Dogs Home, written to you last year at the other place. The second paragraph: "Battersea Dogs Home has a team of volunteer dog-walkers and once trained by the Home they take dogs to Battersea Park. They are only permitted to take one dog at a time. Staff from the Home often walk their dogs as well, particularly during their lunch break. Several staff own two dogs and only a handful own more than two dogs. Based on this practical experience over many years the Home firmly recommends: it is not reasonable to expect one individual to control more than four dogs with any degree of safety; the risk factor increases with each extra dog even if the exerciser is the owner; reversion to pack instincts is more likely with large groups of dogs. In extreme cases this reversion could become a danger; larger groups of dogs are intimidating to other dogs and owners. Large groups also intimidate those without dogs." Then they go into responsible dog ownership, which I need not read out unless the Committee wants me to. Let us go over the page. I am not going to read that out in full now but that was from a school using Battersea Park. In the second paragraph it says: " ... several dogs were allowed into the area where school games are played. The dogs were not properly supervised by their owner and one dog, a terrier, attacked several girls and caused minor injuries. The girls were extremely frightened and I have since had several complaints from angry and worried parents." Was that multiple dogs, do we know, or was it just an example of concern about dogs generally?

(Mr Stratton) I believe that this was multiple dogs. Those people who have single dogs are able to control them.

427.  We come forward, up to date, and you explained what we have here, to date, in the sense that we have letters, do we not, from Battersea Society, Friends of Battersea Park and then some individuals. First Battersea Society and Friends of Battersea Park. What insight do they have to the Battersea Park issue?

(Mr Stratton) The Friends of Battersea Park number about 800 - I think it is about 760 at the moment. They have an annual general meeting and they are exactly what they say, friends of Battersea Park. They were formed in I think about 1980; they have been in existence for some 20 years. They work, if you like, with the council as advisers on the management of Battersea Park. We have similar organisations in our other open spaces. The Friends of Battersea Park have a Chairman and they have a committee of about 15 members. They have an AGM once a year and I addressed the AGM about two years ago on our proposal. There was no hesitation from any of them in their support. I include in that one of their committee members who is a professional dog-walker, Mr Christopher Davies. He himself owns four dogs and walks about another four, five or six, so he can have up to ten dogs. He too supports this.

428.  In the second paragraph of the Friends of Battersea Park letter to you, after identifying Mr Davies, who is the dog-walker, they say: "We unequivocally support the concept of licensing and can quote many instances where irresponsible behaviour by some professional dog-walkers has caused inconvenience to the users of the Park and damage to its ecology. The number of dogs permitted may be difficult to resolve satisfactorily because a few dogs that are out of control can cause far more trouble than a large number of dogs that are being properly handled."

(Mr Stratton) The other letter, 2D, the Battersea Society, is certainly a smaller organisation and I would think has about 120 members overall on a good day, but they have a very small hard-core of very enthusiastic people who support, really, Battersea as was. They are interested in not only the open spaces - they have an open spaces sub-committee chaired by Ms Hilary Barton - but they also have an interest in development in Battersea, in employment in Battersea, in architecture in Battersea, in planning issues in Battersea - similar I am sure to societies which exist across London. The Battersea Society is interested not just in Battersea Park but in all the open spaces in and around Battersea which are used by residents, of which there are many including Falcon Park and another park which is called Heathbrook Park which is, too, now the subject of professional dog-walkers. They have stated their position in this letter, but they feel they are representative of a large group of people who live in Battersea.

429.  Over the page, Sarah Gladstone writes from SW11. Elsley Road is Battersea, is it?

(Mr Stratton) It is Battersea, yes.

430.  She makes complaints about Battersea Park, which is fair enough, but on the second page, four paragraphs down, she says: "The second issue is the dog-walkers. The majority of dog-walkers walk a maximum of six dogs, which they have under control. However, there are a group of women who daily meet up and collectively they have between 15 and 20 dogs. This morning they had 15, which in my opinion is far too many. There are a number of issues: What happens if a fight breaks out? It would be impossible to stop it and could result in the death of an animal and serious injury to a number of dogs and people. I find the pack intimidating - I hate to think what a parent with a small child must feel. A child could easily wander up to the pack and get savaged etc." Is that representative of the sort of concerns that are coming to your attention?

(Mr Stratton) I believe it is. Certainly I used to have an office in Battersea Park until about just over a year ago and it was a regular visit from people who walk in the Park about Battersea Park, but it is not, as I said earlier, just restricted to Battersea Park. We do get mostly, I should think, telephone complaints or people actually calling in person about their concerns rather than people who write letters. That tends to be the style now in local government; we get more e-mail letters than letters.

431.  Just broadening it from Battersea to show there is use of that park - because this is a London-wide issue - from the other side of the river, Mrs Wood writes from Ebury Street. She says, in the first paragraph: "The few regular dog-walkers we have in the park have been there as long as I have had my dogs (8 years). All their dogs are under control and well-behaved. These walkers are just as concerned about what is happening in the park now as I am. They are worried that these new dog-walkers will give them a bad name. In the past 18 months or so a number of people have ... become dog-walkers. These new walkers have enormous packs of out-of-control, barking dogs rushing in all directions. One regularly sees as many as 20 dogs loose, dashing all over the place. It is not possible to clean up after them." Again, is it narrowed to Battersea, the use of Battersea Park and other parks? Do people come from further afield?

(Mr Stratton) About ten years ago we reckoned there were about three million visitors a year to Battersea Park. I would think that has gone up by at least 25 per cent, and I would think it may be even closer to five million. The other parks and open spaces are equally well-used. Tooting Common is a very large open space, slightly larger than Battersea Park at 220 acres. That is packed at weekends and also very busy particularly in the summer. Wandsworth Common has a large number of professional dog-walkers on it, mostly in the morning but some return in the afternoon. It also has sports fields on it for the local schools and nanny groups will take children there. King George's Park, strangely, does not suffer the problem to the same extent, but it is slightly larger - about 80 acres. But we come down to the small parks of two and even less than two acres. I mentioned Falcon Park, where you might have 20 dogs. It just is too many dogs for that sort of size of real estate. If I can just emphasise, in Wandsworth we take responsible dog-ownership very seriously. We have six professional dog control officers supported by another four part-time dog control officers. They spend much of their time doing education in schools, having open days in the parks, open spaces, to try and foster responsible dog-ownership. Despite that there are a few irresponsible dog owners and there are a few irresponsible professional dog owners. We support the responsible dog owner who wants a professional to take his dog out while he or she is at work. What we cannot see is the large groups of dogs that roam the parks and open spaces - I say "out of control" but not in sufficient control, as I said earlier, for it is our concern that in the near future we are going to have a very bad accident which will involve one of our residents.

432.  You mention your dog control officers, and I would like to pick up subsection 2(f), which is one of the conditions under Clause 14. Conditions relating to training of the person carrying out the multiple dog-walking. How would that training be undertaken?

(Mr Stratton) The dog control officers probably know most of the professional dog-walkers but, that apart, the first thing they would do is go through the terms and conditions. They would want to just have a walk with that person applying for the licence to see that they can control their dogs. They would want to question them on "What if a new dog joins your pack? Are you going to keep it on a lead? Are you going to muzzle it? What will you do? When do you think it would be free to let it off the lead?" to find out from them whether they are actually knowledgeable about the dogs and dog habits, and ensure that they know the code of conduct that we would wish to impose on individuals wishing to have a licence or consent.

433.  The last area I want you to help the Committee with is if you would go to 2H, the photographs, and explain what it is that has been photographed, please. Are they professional dog- walkers? Are these people known to you?

(Mr Stratton) These are all professional walkers, yes.

434.  Were they signatories to the informal arrangement?

(Mr Stratton) I cannot answer that with honesty because I cannot make out the faces of the individuals, but I would be surprised if they were not.

435.  What does the Committee draw from the photographs?

(Mr Stratton) If one looks at ----

436.  CHAIRMAN: You asked what the Committee draws from the photographs?

437.  MR CLARKSON: No, I was not inviting you, that is shorthand.

438.  CHAIRMAN: I can give you some comments.

439.  MR CLARKSON: It was shorthand, sir.

(Mr Stratton) The thing that strikes me is you look at the centre page, bottom right-hand side, you will see a member of the Friends of Battersea Park. He is a regular, certainly twice a day, professional dog-walker in Battersea Park.


 
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