Crawley Observer Column, Wednesday 22nd May 2019

In 1991, following several high profile incidents of children being mauled by dogs, Parliament passed the Dangerous Dogs Act. The law sought to regulate the availability of breeds of dogs which were deemed to be dangerous, in addition to creating a number of requirements for owners of such breeds to limit the risk their pets posed to members of the public.

While most people would agree that there is a need to have some legislative restrictions and requirements for keeping the public safe from more aggressive breeds of dog, the problem is that the Act was very poorly drafted. In the rush to respond to the wave of media and public pressure in the wake of dog attacks, Parliament lacked the time to ensure the wording of the Act accurately reflected what they were trying to achieve. The end result was a law filled with absurdities, my favourite being that it left it unclear whether it was the owner or the dog which needed to be fitted with a muzzle when they went for a walk.

Of course, even without the rush, things can be missed. Policies often have unintended side-effects and can be left open to misinterpretation, resulting in outcomes which need to be resolved. Government isn’t a perfect science, at the end of the day the people taking decisions are just members of the public and open to the same human mistakes as everyone else.

Over recent years, as the council’s grant has been cut to zero by the Conservative Government and considerable efforts have been made to make services self-funding, such as Tilgate Park. This has been very successful, avoiding the need to cut, privatise or raise council tax above inflation, but it has meant more things have had to be charged for, such as when people run events in the park.

Such policies were never designed to stop charity walks, they were designed to ensure the costs of cleaning up after events didn’t fall on taxpayers. Clearly the policy needs revising to make that clearer, which is what I kicked-off as soon as the problem became clear.

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