Saturday, 13 February 2010

Campaigning for a cleaner, greener Whitley

    This afternoon local campaigner Roy Haines and I went to meet to Tom Lendrum, Whitley resident and Chair of the South Whitley Neighbourhood Action Group. I know Tom through my role as Chair of the South Reading Safer Community Forum which deals with crime and anti-social behaviour issues.

    Tom wrote to me recently as he is totally fed up with the amount of dog mess in Whitley - on pavements and in green spaces. and he's also fed up with the apparent lack of action by Labour-run Reading Borough Council on this issue.

And he's not the only person in Whitley who is annoyed about this: last year the Council carried out a survey of South Reading residents and dog fouling came out as the number one issue! So why hasn't the Council done anything about this problem? Let's be clear about this: allowing a dog to foul in a public place is illegal. Most people know it's illegal but the lack of enforcement gives people the impression they will get away this - and the reality is they probably will.

And Council do have powers to take action on this issue - under the Clean Neighbourhoods Act 2005 which came into force few years ago. These include the power to issue fixed penalty notices. Sadly figures released by the Keep Britain Tidy campaign last week found that across the UK dog fouling that was previously in decline has risen back to 2005/6 levels - which begs the question is this legislation (brought in by Labour) working?

Tom is involved in the Neighbourhood Watch scheme on Heroes Walk. You get a good view of the local park from his house. "42 dog walkers use this park every day" he told me. He sees them arriving - some use the dog waste bins provided by the Council, but many do not. We joined him for a walk around the park.The additional bins have helped (as they have helped in Cintra Park where I have been campaigning for action), but the lack of enforcement action overall means that the park is still dirty as many owners fail to clean up after their pets.

Last year, Tom got so frustrated at the amount of mess in his neighbourhood he wrote to all 47 Reading Borough councillors individually. He told me he got less than ten replies (and none at all from the Conservative councillors). My colleague Cllr Kirsten Bayes responded to Tom at the time on behalf of the Lib Dem Group. I dug out her response and read it again today:

"Dog fouling is clearly a significant issue in the Borough. Over the last couple of months, I have raised this concern twice with the Council on behalf of residents, once regarding a pathway to Cintra Park, and also regarding pathways on the Hexham Estate (these being in the Redlands Ward which I represent).

My colleagues Cllr Benson and Goodall have also raised similar concerns, in particular regarding Cintra Park - Cllr Benson has been campaigning for some time on this issue. As well as being unsanitary and unhealthy, dog fouling also serves to make pathways and open areas unusable, which especially affects children, the elderly and people with movement difficulties. We have been campaigning to keep all footways clean and clear of obstructions, and regularly survey residents to find out where problem areas exist."

Kirsten followed up her response with a question to Council. At the March meeting of the Council last year she asked the Lead Member for the Environment:

"What is the Council doing to tackle the problem of dog fouling in the Borough, and how many fixed penalty notices have been issued for this offence?"

The reply Kirsten received revealed that only ONE fixed pentalty notice had been issued by the Council since it first had the power to fine offenders.

I am not calling on the Council to suddenly start fining people but it's time the Council made it clear to the public that they took this problem seriousl. For example they could increase dog warden patrols in South Reading, monitor dog fouling levels and install additional bins etc. Fines should be a last resort but they do need to be used sometimes to get the message across that this is a crime. I have tabled the same question to Council that Kirsten asked last year to be answered at our next meeting to find out what Labour are doing about this problem. If this is the number one issue for people living in South Reading why is Labour ignoring it? I think local people deserve a proper answer.From Tom's point of view and it seems from the point of view of the vast majority of people who responded to the recent South Reading survey last year the problem of dog fouling in Reading is a real one and it is getting worse. And they don't think Labour think it is a priority.

Dog fouling might seem like a minor issue but it has a big impact on how people feel about their neighbourhood and by extension their quality of life. It's one of those things like litter, graffiti and fly-tipping that make neighbourhoods feel rundown and depressing: so it should matter to politicians!It's about time the Labour councillors running Reading Borough Council listened to local people like Tom Lendrum and did something about this problem: enough is enough!

I built my reputation as a local councillor by campaigning for a cleaner and greener Redlands. Visit my blog for more details of my campaigns in this area. As Reading West PPC for the Lib Dems I will make it my business to campaign for cleaner and greener neighbourhoods across Reading West constituency for the benefit of residents. As part of this, I have signed up as a supporter of the Keep Britain Tidy Campaign - you can here. And If you live in Whitley or any other part of Reading West and you have concerns about the cleanliness of your neighbourhood Roy and I would like to hear from you. Please get in touch!

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