Unleashing debate

Simon van Dugteren, Constantia

Both the sub-council and ward councillor Liz Brunette in her response to correspondence rely heavily on the environmental impact of off-leash dogs, even though this was at no point raised as an issue for public comment.

The call for comment indicated only that Ms Brunette had tabled a motion “in response to complaints from residents about dogs that are off leashes and have attacked them, their children, or their dogs.”

The sole motivation given was thus the issue of safety. That, accordingly, was the basis upon which the public commented. Perhaps if the public had known that other issues were at play, those issues may have been addressed.

This pivoting away from the original issue is disingenuous and smacks of a decision that had already been made, whatever the public’s views.

As a result, the decision would almost certainly be susceptible to review by the courts.

In her response Ms Brunette does not engage with the overwhelming support voiced in the comments for the trail to be designated an off-leash area, nor in particular with the arguments raised in relation to lead aggression. While this issue cannot simply decided by majority vote of those who chose to comment, it appears the view of the substantial majority commenting was given short thrift.

The decision is also reviewable because it is apparent that not all comments received were considered by the sub-council: I too sent my comments to the appointed address before the deadline (and to Ms Brunette’s direct address), but they were not included in the summary which served before the sub-council. The list that apparently contains all 407 comments reveals several jumps in numbering indicating that some 130 were omitted from the decision-making process. Finally, the decision has so far been thoroughly ignored by dog-walkers. This kind of decision-making – where public participation is treated as a box to be ticked, where pre-determined decisions are rammed through no matter what, and where goalposts are moved when
public sentiment doesn’t justify making that decision – leads to the erosion of respect for the law.