Walking in the local park, along a country path, or on a particular stretch of beach is something most dogs and their owners enjoy on a daily basis. Whilst the majority of dog walkers do this responsibly, there exists an irresponsible minority who allow their dogs to run out of control or fail to pick up after their dog, for example. This has resulted in an increasing number of local authorities introducing control measures on dog walkers in public spaces.
What are Public Spaces Protection Orders (PSPOs)?
Public Spaces Protection Orders (PSPOs) are legislative tools used in England and Wales only that are designed to deal with a particular nuisance or problem in a specific area which is ‘detrimental to the local community’s quality of life’.
Local councils – Borough, District, County or unitary authorities – are responsible for making and enforcing PSPOs. However, it is essential that they aim to keep public spaces welcoming to law abiding people – such as responsible dog owners – and communities, and not simply to restrict access.
To gain a deeper understanding of PSPOs and how they are used, read the Home Office’s most recent statutory guidance (pages 47-57) for local authorities enforcing such measures.
What were Dog Control Orders (DCOs)?
Dog Control Orders (DCOs) are legislative tools used by local authorities in Northern Ireland. DCOs provide for five offences which could be prescribed within an order, including not keeping a dog on a lead and failing to remove dog faeces.
Prior to the introduction of PSPOs, DCOs were also implemented in England and Wales under the Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Act 2005. In October 2017, all DCOs were automatically converted into PSPOs in these two nations.
There is no direct equivalent to DCOs or PSPOs in Scotland. Instead, dog walkers are expected to follow the requirements of the Scottish Outdoor Access Code.
What can you do before restrictions are introduced?
Any council seeking to impose a PSPO is legally required to consult with community representatives, including the Police and Crime Commissioner. This will enable both the community and the council to share information about the area and problems, as well as discussing the practicalities of enforcement.
The Home Office strongly recommends that the council engages in ‘an open and public consultation to give the users of the public space the opportunity to comment on whether the proposed restrictions are appropriate, proportionate, or needed at all’.
Public consultation is typically carried out via online surveys or by inviting local residents to comment by email. Check your local council’s website for details regarding any current PSPO consultations. Responding to consultations is extremely important and we encourage all potentially affected dog owners to do so. Making your local authority aware of your views and experiences could be the difference between being able to continue enjoying your favourite dog walking spots or not.
Unlike DCOs, which did not require a review, PSPOs must be renewed and reviewed every three years. This means local residents have more opportunities to challenge the restrictions at formal consultations than previously.
The Kennel Club is always willing to discuss proposed PSPOs with local dog walkers and to help find potential solutions to any dog-related issues they are facing. We can be contacted via email for any advice or assistance.
Dog access restrictions explained
The following restrictions are the most common proposals included in PSPOs. Click on the tabs below to find an explanation of what these measures could mean for you.
Dog access restrictions may seek to exclude dogs and their owners from a number of local areas, including children’s play areas, enclosed recreational facilities such as skate parks and tennis courts, playing fields, cemeteries or beaches. Blanket exclusions mean you cannot enter these areas with your dogs at any time or on any day.
The Kennel Club can usually support measures for enclosed spaces like children’s play areas or recreational facilities. However, we believe it is important that alternative provisions are made for dog walkers in the vicinity in the face of any exclusionary measures, such as a time restriction for playing fields rather than a total exclusion.
Dogs on lead (and ‘by direction’)
Orders which require owners to put their dogs on leads in certain areas often do so for the safety of dogs, their owners, and other nearby members of the public. These measures may apply to car parks, pavements near the road, and picnic areas. We can support reasonable ‘dogs on lead’ orders when used in a proportionate and evidence-based way.
Blanket ‘dogs on lead’ restrictions can prevent dog owners and their dogs from getting their appropriate daily exercise, including ‘regular opportunities to walk and run’ – which in most cases, will be off the lead while still under control.
‘Dogs on lead by direction’ orders require owners to put their dogs on a lead when instructed to by an authorised officer. Enforcement officers could include parks police or a dog control officer. These measures allow responsible dog owners to exercise their dogs off lead without restriction – providing that their dogs are under control – whilst giving local authorities the power to restrict dogs not under control.
Dog fouling (and ‘means to pick up’)
Dog fouling measures promote responsible dog ownership by requiring that dog owners pick up after their dogs wherever they are, which could include fields and woods in the wider countryside. Following these orders are vital. In areas where farm animal graze, for example, dog fouling measures should be strictly followed in order to reduce the risk of passing Neospora and Sarcocystosis to cattle and sheep respectively.
Having the ‘means to pick up’ means that dog owners, when directed by an authorised officer of the council, must be able to produce a waste bag or other suitable means for removing dog faeces and transporting it to a bin. Responsible dog owners will usually have dog waste bags or other devices to clear up after their pets, so following this order shouldn’t be a problem.
Seasonal restrictions prevent dog walkers from accessing certain areas at certain times of day or year.
Councils commonly introduce blanket bans to prevent dogs from accessing local beaches, for example, during the busy season. These typically come into effect from 1 May to 30 September – although some councils commence restrictions on Good Friday, meaning that the enforcement dates of such measures vary each year.
Time restrictions may prevent dog walkers from accessing beaches or other local spaces – including playing fields – during the day, but could still enable access in the early morning and evening. These measures permit owners to utilise important local resources – such as the local beach – and ensure that their dogs are getting their required daily off-lead exercise.
Dog parks are designated, and typically fenced, areas where dogs can run free without a lead. Whilst this may appear to be a positive solution for dog walkers, they create a number of unintended consequences. For example, the size of the dog park may be particularly small in comparison to the size of the rest of the park and result in issues arising from a high concentration of dogs in a small area, including dog-on-dog attacks and other behavioural problems.
When introducing PSPOs, it is essential that local councils provide exemptions for disabled people and assistance dogs. We typically direct all local authorities to view the Equality and Human Rights Commission’s guidance for businesses and service providers when drafting their orders to ensure they consider the potential negative impacts on vulnerable groups.
Displacement occurs when restrictive measures result in dog walkers moving to other pieces of land, resulting in the creation of new conflicts. For example, a local authority may introduce measures excluding dogs from a particular area – like a local park or playing fields – which could subsequently result in dog walkers finding an alternative yet unsuitable location, such as a field with grazing livestock. It is important that councils consider the suitability of alternative sites when imposing restrictions in order to prevent displacement from occurring.
What will The Kennel Club do?
The Government lists the Kennel Club as one of the leading organisations that councils should consider consulting prior to the implementation of a PSPO. When a live consultation is brought to our attention – either by the council itself or by local dog walkers – we draft a response to highlight our concerns or to bring the council’s attention to particular issues, such as ensuring signage is compliant with legislation or raising the issue of displacement.
We will always oppose PSPOs which introduce blanket restrictions on dog walkers accessing public open spaces without specific and reasonable justification. As previously mentioned, it is important that dog owners are able to provide their dogs with ‘regular opportunities to walk and run’ and thus it is in our interest to use our expertise to ensure they continue to be able to do so.
The underlying principle we seek to see applied is that dog controls should be the least restrictive to achieve a defined and measurable outcome – this approach is also used by Natural England. For example, we may advocate for a time restriction on a local beach rather than a blanket exclusion or for a ‘dogs on lead by direction’ Order instead of a mandatory ‘dogs on lead’ restriction.
If you have any concerns regarding dog control measures proposed by your local authority, or simply want some advice about how best to approach the council, please get in touch.