DOG owners were celebrating this week after Newtownabbey councillors rejected proposed new Dog Control Orders branded “Stalinist” by one Alliance representative.
At Monday evening’s (April 8) Environment Committee meeting, proposals were made to restrict areas where dogs are allowed off the lead under new measures as part of the Clean Neighbourhoods Act.
Those restricted areas included every footpath within the borough; all cemeteries; council grounds; Loughshore Caravan Park and the defined cycle paths and footways, namely the Newtownabbey Way and loughshore towpath.
Councillors were not scared to bare their teeth during a near 90-minute heated debate in front of a packed public gallery.
Councillor Billy Webb proposed an amendment to accept elements of the proposal and reject those restrictions on putting a lead on dogs on every footpath and along the Newtownabbey Way.
He said: “Our priority has to be dog fouling, that is the problem and I would suggest that we divert our efforts into engaging another dog warden so that we can ensure that everyone complies with the current legislation.”
Councillor Jim Bingham added: “This is all about dog owners when all the problems on the Newtownabbey Way stem from cyclists, they seem to think they own the paths.”
Councillor Tom Campbell, who described himself as a “responsible dog owner” added: “I am appalled at the degree the council has restricted the freedom of dog owners.
“These proposals are Stalinist, unnecessary, not proportionate and there is too much of a potential to legal challenge in these proposals.
“We all know dog fouling is the problem and that is where we should be diverting our attention.”
Councillor Campbell also questioned the publicity the proposals had received: “There are lots of people that did not realise this was happening and I talked with people who did not realise these measures could come into force.
“There is a large amount of people that want to exercise their dogs off the lead and these proposals have not achieved a fair balance.
“I am pleased with the general principles we have found, but not the actual details.”
Councillor Ken Robinson proposed allowing dogs to run off the lead on certain grassed areas along the Newtownabbey Way, but not along the length of the path.
He added: “I was a champion of the Newtownabbey Way, which is an actual shared space, used and enjoyed by all.
“The part of the Newtownabbey Way between Twinburn up to the Manse Road bridge is one of the most abused areas and there will be dog mess along that part in the same areas all the time. We need dogs to be on their leads for as much as possible along the Newtownabbey Way and I would call for our dog wardens to get out there and issue fixed penalty notices.”
Mayor Victor Robinson said he supported the proposals in full, adding: “I know responsible dog owners are not the problem, but I have seen a lot of dog fouling and recently while walking along Hazelbank a large dog scared a mother and her baby daughter and there was no owner anywhere to be seen.
“Those are the things I have seen and I believe we need to be seen to be doing something in our powers to stop these types of incidents.”
Alderman Paul Girvan added: “No matter what legislation we pass, those wanting to flout the law will continue to do so, these measures will only penalise responsible dog owners.”
The council’s deputy chief executive, Hugh Kelly said the criticism directed at the proposals was “disheartening”.
He added: “There has been a lot of work gone into these proposals, not just in the past couple of months but over the years.
“There has been numerous discussions, two public consultations and meetings with the public.
“We have tried to best reflect the views of all and produce a balanced proposal.”
A Ken Robinson motion to put the decision back for a month was defeated by 10 votes to eight.
Billy Webb’s proposal to dismiss the two options to stop dogs off leads on paths and along the Newtownabbey Way, along with an amendment to allow dogs the freedom of open spaces outside the current regulations, was passed by 10 votes to eight.
The measures now mean dogs will not be allowed off their leads in cemeteries or churchyards, council grounds at Mossley Mill and Loughshore Caravan Park.
Following the announcement of the vote, dog owners who had filled the public seats in the council chamber applauded, with one person calling out that the decision was a “good result”.
The decision has still to be ratified at this month’s full council meeting before it can be legally enforced.
A previous order excluding dogs from children’s play areas and recreational grounds such as playing fields was passed last year.