Harrow council apologises for 'upsetting people' over new dog rules after backlash forced a revision

A dog looking at a no dogs sign
-Credit: (Image: Cyrille Gibot/Getty Images)

A North London council has apologised for ‘effectively disenfranchising’ residents over plans to ban dogs being walked off leads in a popular nature reserve. A local dog walking group is delighted that the council ‘saw sense’ by rowing back the restrictions.

Harrow Council will implement new rules for dog walkers in Bentley Priory Nature Reserve under a Public Space Protection Order (PSPO) after a watered down plan was approved at a recent Cabinet meeting (May 21). An initial plan to ban dogs off leads entirely was rowed back after receiving a backlash from some residents. The new restrictions only apply in specific areas and at certain times of the year.

Deputy leader of the council, Cllr Marilyn Ashton, said councillors had found the process ‘quite challenging’ and admitted being ‘slightly puzzled’ when she became aware of how much opposition there was to the plans.

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Bentley Priory Nature Reserve
The roughly 250-acre nature reserve is a site of special scientific interest (SSSI) -Credit:Harrow Council

Cllr Ashton said: "When we first did the consultation, we hadn’t realised that there were a lot of people who didn’t know anything about this. Although we did it exactly the right way, [...] in actual fact there were a lot of people who were against keeping dogs on lead throughout."

She added: "If we have [upset anyone] inadvertently, because no politician gets out of bed in the morning wondering how they can upset people, then I'd like to apologise for that. [...] I can see what a hardship it may have been to quite a lot of people [...] if they hadn’t been able to allow their dogs to run around and have a bit of exercise."

After what had become a rather polarised argument between those for and against, Cllr Ashton suggested that the council had come up with a ‘really good compromise’, having acknowledged it had left some people ‘effectively disenfranchised’ by the first consultation.

The changes to the PSPO will mean dogs must be kept on leads at all times in the area known as Deer Path Corridor - which forms part of the 2.9km circular walk - and in Spring Meadow from April 1 to July 31. Dogs will also be banned from going in any of the nature reserve's ponds and specifically marked watercourses.

The Bentley Priory Dog Walkers Group told the Local Democracy Reporting Service (LDRS): “[We] are delighted that the council saw sense in not implementing a total ban on dogs off leads throughout the whole of Bentley Priory - something that does not exist anywhere else in London. The compromise that the council voted through is a satisfactory result for us.”

Dog In Bentley Priory
A dog off the lead enjoying Bentley Priory -Credit:Grant Williams

Harrow Nature Conservation Forum has been in support of measures to ‘reduce the damage caused by free running dogs’ in Bentley Priory. The group's Chairman, Stephen Bolsover, was frustrated by the council’s decision to consult again on the plan but feels the new rules will protect ‘the most sensitive aspects’ of the reserve.

Stephen told the LDRS: “While a requirement that dogs be on lead in the whole area of Bentley Priory at all times would have been easier for dog walkers to understand and for officers to enforce, the new rules do protect the most sensitive aspects of the nature reserve.”

He added: “Now that the council has decided on this particular form of PSPO, we hope that responsible dog owners will work together with volunteers, the council and enforcement officers to ensure that all dog owners obey the rules. It's critical that enforcement officers get out on Bentley Priory immediately to educate dog owners about the new rules.”

Harrow Council has announced there will be a 'soft introduction' of the rules from July 1, where enforcement officers will 'issue warnings' about breaches and try to educate. Full enforcement will be in place by August 1, which could see rule breakers hit with Fixed Penalty Notices (FPNs) of £100.

Portfolio Holder for Cleaner Streets and Public Safety, Cllr Pritesh Patel, said: "We are not going to charge in there and start issuing FPNs willy nilly. It's going to be a considered approach on a case by case basis."

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