Dorset Council challenged for 'prioritising dogs over people'

The town council and others want to keep the current restrictions for dogs. Credit: PA

Dorset Council has been challenged over why its proposed dog orders for Lyme Regis “prioritise dogs over people.”

The town council and others want to keep the current restrictions for dogs to be kept on a lead during the winter on the main Front Town beach.

However, Dorset Council officers have suggested the restriction be removed on the tiny beach, in line with other beaches in the council area.

Lyme Regis ward councillor Belinda Bawden says she fails to understand why her grandson, and others, are potentially being placed at a lower priority than dogs when most local people in Lyme Regis want to keep the winter lead restriction

She said: “I simply will not be able to take my grandson on the beach in winter if this is approved. It simply will not be safe.”

Cllr Bawden, the town mayor and others have questioned the validity of the 54% poll result in favour of removing the restriction.

They claim there has been an efficient and vociferous campaign by dog owners to "get the result they wanted".

Dorset Council is unable to say where the votes came from as it did not collect any postcode information.

Cllr Roland Tarr claims that the results should have been statistically weighted to take into account that two-thirds of those who took part in the polls were dog owners and were likely to vote for measures which benefitted them.

Lyme Mayor Cllr David Sarson said he wanted to make the strongest possible objection to the proposal to remove restrictions on the Front Town beach on health and safety grounds and because the area was used throughout the year by families, unlike some other beaches. He said the small, sandy beach was also not fully washed by the sea for much of its width.

He told a Dorset Council Place Overview committee: “This prioritises a relatively small number of dog owners over the needs of families and visitors.”

He also said that children and other vulnerable people should be able to use the beach throughout the year without fear of being knocked over or stepping onto, or handling, "something unpleasant".

Ward councillor Belinda Bawden said the 54% vote flew in the face of the opinion of the town council and the evidence of her constituents who almost unanimously were unhappy about the prospect of dogs being allowed to run free on the popular local beach, which was very small compared to beaches at Weymouth, Swanage or Studland.

She said:“I genuinely don’t see why dogs are being prioritised over our children and why, in the light of recent tragedies, Dorset Council would choose to put my grandson, my constituents and visitors at risk in this way.

”I feel the silent majority has not been heard above an organised campaign.”

A dog getting his paws sandy on the beach. Credit: PA Images

The meeting heard there had only been one report to the police of a dog bite on the beach in the last three years.

Portfolio holder Cllr Laura Beddow said there were adequate measures in place in all areas to deal with dogs which were out of control or fouling and argued that there was a strong case for having the same rules in place across Dorset and not leaving Lyme Regis as an exception.

She said that if there were a change in local situations changes could later be made to the orders.

A final decision will be made by the council Cabinet in November with the new regulations to come into force in the New Year.

Cllr Hope said Weymouth was benefitting from visitors coming to the town with their dogs and would like to see extra hours allowed during the summer at either end of the day when dogs could use the beaches.

He said it was not a view generally shared by the town council.

Credit: Trevor Bevin, Local Democracy Reporting Service