A COUNCIL behind controversial proposals to cut dog-related offences, including a ban on more than four dogs being walked by an individual, has been urged to consider alternative options.

Darlington Borough Council’s cabinet member for community safety was challenged by members of its communities and local services scrutiny committee over whether replacing all existing Dog Control Orders in the borough with a Public Space Protection Order (PSPO) was excessive.

Although a consultation on the proposals has more than two months still to run, there have already been more than 600 responses.

Critics of the geographically defined orders, which can ultimately lead to people who infringe bans receiving criminal convictions for behaviour that is not normally considered criminal, say they severely restrict people’s freedoms in urban spaces.

After being pressed to provide statistics to support why the PSPO is needed, the meeting was told the last three years the borough had seen just 14 people fined over dog fouling and eight people tackled over dog control offences. Over the same period the council received about 730 requests to clear dog faeces.

Officers said dog fouling was a difficult offence to pursue as offenders had to be caught in the act, and the PSPO would provide “another tool” to crackdown on irresponsible dog owners.

The committee’s chairman, Councillor Brian Jones, said the PSPO appeared “a little bit heavy”. He said: “What concerns me is for prosecution if I was to see someone allowing their dog to foul, I would have to be prepare to stand up and be counted and I’ve got a feeling not many people would be prepared to stand up and be counted.”

Councillor Libby McCollom asked whether the council had considered alternatives to PSPOs as some of the offences outlined in the PSPO were already within bylaws.

The meeting heard the council was now examining other measures, such as Community Protection Notices, introducing a licence scheme to enable people such as professional dog walkers to walk more than four dogs at a time and providing fenced off areas for dogs in parks.

She said: “PSPOs by their nature criminalise behaviour and threaten to alienate a large section of the dog-walking community, most of whom are responsible dog owners. There is a real threat to Darlington being viewed as unfriendly towards dogs and their owners if these measures are introduced.”

Councillor Jonathan Dulston, the authority’s cabinet member for community safety dismissed suggestions the council wanted to criminalise dog walkers and highlighted how the PSPO for antisocial behaviour in Darlington town centre had not seen anyone criminalised in its first nine months due to the skills and problem-solving ability of the enforcement team. He told members he had held view-finding meetings with residents and businesses to help shape the proposed order, but also wanted to consider the views of non-dog owners.