A North London council has rowed back on plans to ban dogs being walked off their leads in a popular nature reserve following a backlash from owners and residents. It would have meant residents could be fined £100 if they let their dogs roam free but Harrow Council has agreed to review the decision after complaints the ban was an ‘overreaction’.
Councils are given the power to enforce laws under a Public Spaces Protection Order (PSPO), which helps deal with antisocial behaviour in specific areas that are ‘damaging to the local community’s quality of life’. Failing to comply with a PSPO is a criminal offence.
The new law would have meant dogs would have had to be kept on leads at all times in the roughly 250-acre Bentley Priory, but the council has now said it will not enforce the rule whilst the review takes place.
The measures were initially designed ‘to ensure that visitors and wildlife are protected’ as nuisance behaviour has been on the rise in recent years at the nature reserve – which is a designated site of special scientific interest (SSSI). The order has faced fierce criticism from some owners who feel it is ‘completely unjustified’ and a disproportionate response to the issue.
Niral, who has a three-year-old staffy called Halo, has welcomed the latest news and praised the council for listening to the ‘groundswell of opposition’. Niral told the Local Democracy Reporting Service (LDRS): “The current rules are already adequate and simply need to be policed and enforced better. Dog walkers have a responsibility to only let obedient and socialised dogs off lead, which is what I have always seen during the decade I have lived in Stanmore and enjoyed the Bentley Priory.”
He added: “We have also always kept our dog on lead in the restricted areas during the bird nesting season and have seen the other dog walkers also respect that rule. We are therefore at a loss to understand what exactly is driving the decision to ban off-lead walking of our dogs.”
Perry, who has lived in Stanmore his whole life, hates the idea of the ban and claims there is ‘no evidence’ to suggest dogs being off leads negatively impacts the site. However, he also applauded the council for ‘acting so swiftly’ to address residents’ concerns.
Perry told the LDRS that his two-year-old cavapoo, Mabel, loves the freedom to exercise without the restriction of a lead. This is something leading charity Dogs Trust suggests is essential for canines. They reference the Animal Welfare Act which cites duty of care requirements for owners, including the need for ‘sufficient exercise including the need to run off lead in appropriate areas’.
Perry said: “To think that we might now have to drive across Harrow just to exercise our dog off lead is environmentally perverse. […] I think it’s been driven by people who simply don’t like dogs and it has very little, if anything, to do with the environmental impact on Bentley Priory.”
He added: “Whenever there has been discussion about this, people immediately talk about dog attacks despite the fact Bentley Priory has a very low reported incident rate by comparison to other Harrow parks.”
However, Stephen Bolsover of the Harrow Nature Conservation Forum is furious over the council’s decision to not enforce this part of the PSPO whilst the review is carried out. He told the LDRS: “The Bentley Priory Management Committee has been concerned for many years with the problem of dogs running off leash in Bentley Priory.”
He added: “Whenever possible solutions, such as fencing the most sensitive areas, have been discussed, the response from the council has always been that we should wait and see how well the PSPO works before thinking of alternatives.
“I personally am therefore extremely upset that the PSPO has been paused before it has been allowed to run for a while to gauge compliance and the effect on the wildlife. I am angry that the council made this decision without any consultation with the Bentley Priory Management Committee.”
Niral feels ‘disappointed’ at the way the issue has been handled, particularly the initial consultation process, and is sad that it has created ‘unnecessary division’ in the community. He said: “[…] both sides of the debate probably share many of the same fundamental concerns about antisocial behaviour more generally.”
He added: “The exact reasons for the ban also are not understood, even by those advocating for the off-lead ban – is it due to a prevalence of out-of-control dogs in Bentley Priory or is it down to [the sites] SSSI status?”
Leader of the London Borough of Harrow, Cllr Paul Osborn, told the LDRS: “I understand there is a strong feeling on this, so I have ordered a review of this part of the PSPO with the intention to reconsult on dogs on leads at Bentley Priory so that the concerns of residents can be reflected on and addressed. There will be no enforcement on this part of the PSPO until after this review.”