A LOCAL council has accused Cornwall Council of “undemocratic decisions” over dogs on beaches.
In Portwrinkle, there had been a long-standing rule whereby one beach (Finnygook, below the cafe) was dog friendly round the clock throughout the year, including in the summer months. The other beach in the village (Harbour and Hoodny, further west) had a total dog ban in place from Easter to October.
This arrangement, agreed after Sheviock Parish Council talked to residents, had worked well for more than 10 years, says council chairman Steve Medway.
When Cornwall Council looked to standardise dog restrictions across the county in 2020, Sheviock, like all other parishes, had the chance to respond to consultation and it requested that its own specific rules stay in place. But an admin error led to this request not making it into the published restrictions. Things only came to light some time later when someone pointed out that what it said on the signs in Portwrinkle was different to what was on Cornwall Council’s website.
Meanwhile an enforcement officer, employed directly by Sheviock Parish Council to police the beach and village, had been finding it more and more difficult to do their job. And there’d been a definite increase in dog mess in what was once the dog-free zone.
In 2022, Cornwall Council went out to consultation once more, asking local councils and the general public to have their say on dog rules for the new Public Spaces Protection Order that would come in in April 2023.
The restriction that would be typical for Cornwall would be seasonal, with no dogs on beaches between 10am to 6pm in July and August.
Once again, Sheviock Parish Council sent in their response, asking that things revert back to “one dog friendly, and one dog-free beach” from Easter to October at Portwrinkle.
A committee looked at all the places that had asked to divert from the norm, and recommended that Sheviock’s request be granted.
But when the new rules were published this month, locals were dismayed to find that the request for Harbour and Hoodny had been denied.
“There have been many complaints since the dog-free beach has been removed without consultation,” said Cllr Medway.
“Not all dog owners are responsible and not all dogs are obedient. There’s been more recorded incidents of dog fouling, dogs taking people’s food, dogs fighting, dogs intimidating children, dogs crashing onto people sunbathing when chasing balls, dogs biting boogie boards and so on.
“Five out of seven of our parish councillors are dog owners. But we feel it very disproportionate to be forced to permit dogs on all the beaches throughout busy times of April, May, June and September and every morning and evening of July and August, especially when Portwrinkle can please all beach-goers via the option of a 24/7 dog-friendly beach, or, 24/7 dog-free beach.
“This has been clearly signed and enforced at the parish’s own cost and by our own enforcement officer and has worked well, at the request of parishioners, for the past 10 years.
“Not one size fits all, and our request has been overridden by the portfolio holder, which I would see as a completely undemocratic decision. Unpaid parish councillors have taken on more and more work as Cornwall Council have devolved responsibilities to us in the name of localism. And then, following our efforts to provide the best for our parishioners, we are treated in this way - leading to disappointment and disillusionment among them.”
Cornwall Councillor for the Sheviock area Kate Ewert said she supported the parish council and parishioners.
“They’ve made it clear what was working for them, but Cornwall Council aren’t budging on it. They want to harmonise the restrictions,” she said. The parishes were consulted, they submitted their responses, and I represented that response in the scrutiny committee as is my role. Why Cornwall Council go to consultation, and then disregard what parish councils have asked for, is a question for the portfolio holder.”
The Cornish Times asked portfolio holder for the Environment Martyn Alvey for a comment. While he hasn’t reponded directly, the local authority gave this statement: “Cornwall Council received almost 11,000 responses to its latest consultation regarding dogs on beaches and has carefully considered feedback from local councils, residents and visitors.
“Following our previous consultation in 2019, we standardised the regulations across Cornwall to make them easier to understand. The feedback we received from the latest consultation suggests that the current level of restrictions works well for most beach users.
“During the summer months, people are able to take their dogs for a beach walk in the early morning and the evening, while people who prefer a beach to be dog free are clear about the months and times of day they can expect this.
“Public Spaces Protection Orders, which replaced Dog Control Orders in 2017, must provide a proportionate response to the level of harm and nuisance being caused.
“Following the previous consultation, and in line with Government guidance, Cornwall Council moved away from 24-hour restrictions in 2020.
“The request made by Sheviock Parish Council is not in keeping with the national guidance and was therefore not included in the current order.”
Portwrinkle’s beaches are owned by the Antony Estate – who have been happy to let local people decide what they feel works best, says Sheviock PC.
Cllr Kate Ewert has explained that private owners can have their own rules on dogs and state these to the public, but that any breach of restrictions outside the Cornwall-Council published hours is then a civil, rather than a criminal offence.
To add salt to the wound in Portwrinkle, says local council chairman Steve Medway, a litter bin on the path to Finnygook has been removed by Cornwall Council “because it is a private beach”.