Dog poo is inevitable, both for the dog and the councillor. Sooner or later it will be an issue. I was aware of this even as a school boy when having a history teacher who was also a local councillor could lighten even the darkest moments of world history. All it took was a reference to the latest leaflet in his crusade to (we paraphrased, chortle) ‘stamp out dog poo’. How we laughed.

But it is a quality of life issue. People rather like living in relatively clean streets. The fact it is becoming an issue again in the Shaftesbury Estate was highlighted to me as I checked email on my phone yesterday while doing a Poo-shoi Ballet impression around the post-digestive remnants of Pedigree Chum smeared over the Ashbury Road pavement by (I assume) an unlucky child on their way to the school. And what emails popped up? Another resident complaint about the issue and a response from the council to my attempt to get something done.

I’ve mused on dog turds before, sadly it’s not a terribly inspirational topic and it’s hard to come up anything new to say. The council have the same problem. It’s an issue of education and awareness, and they had a session on the Shaftesbury Park Estate last December talking to over 30 dog-owners about the issue.

The problem, it seems, is that it was the dog owners they didn’t meet that are causing the problems. It’s certainly my, and many other people’s, subjective opinion the issue has got worse. (I’m afraid I’ve not quite started keeping detailed statistics on the phenomenon, so objective proof is beyond me.)

Several have pointed the finger at the removal of the litter bins that were, until recently, on the estate and it’s hard not to think there is a correlation, if not causal, link. I did ask the council to consider reinstatement of these, or at possibly even the introduction of some dog fouling bins but the idea got short shrift.

To be fair I think the council’s argument that the bins created more problems (like fly-tipping) than they solved has some merit. Likewise, this has long been a problem on the Shaftesbury Estate, in my old campaigning days people coming to help from other parts of the borough, and even other boroughs, would comment negatively on how bad the problem was. One Westminster campaigner told me in no uncertain terms how bad it was before leaving me to clear up the dog turd he’d unknowingly smeared over the hall carpet.

Wandsworth is not the council it once was, street cleaning is one of those areas that have degraded and there has to be an adjustment of expectations from residents. But there are some standards that we should not see lowered. The daily game of Poo-ssian roulette (I have lots of these puns) is not one residents should be expected to endure.

Despite my sympathy for the ‘irresponsible owner’ argument I can’t help coming to the conclusion that the council should be doing a little more in the area to tackle the problem: they are, after all, the only ones with the authority to enforce the by-laws relating to dogs. So I’m asking them to undertake some more active work on the estate to tackle the problem in the hope it will see an improvement to the cleanliness of the pavement.

A resident's response to dog fouling
A resident’s response to dog fouling

The two big issues that came out of the Shaftesbury Let’s Talk were dog fouling and fly-tipping. Poos and dumps.

These were unsurprising, several had written to us before to raise the issues and they are running problems. I often report fly-tips and have raised the issue of dog fouling repeatedly. But these are problems that just don’t seem to go away.

They are also interesting because they are indicative of a particular type of problem, where the council get a lot of the blame for someone else’s misbehaviour. Somewhere in the act of an owner letting their dog foul the pavement or someone illegally dumping their rubbish the fact it needs cleaning up becomes the council’s responsibility. It is, however, worth remembering that responsibility would never be needed if people were just a little more considerate of their neighbours.

I take a fairly hardline view of both. A lot of the discussion on the night featured ideas like spring cleans, when the council would offer a once a year collection and invite everyone to dump on that day. But while superficially attractive I wonder how many people would change their lives to fit in around it. Would everyone buy a new bed the week before so they didn’t fly-tip their mattress? Would fridges and washing machines only break down and need replacing to the council’s spring clean schedule? And if they didn’t would (or could) everyone store their rubbish for up to a year?

Others highlighted the cost (which can be waived in some instances) but again, I’m fairly hardline. In most of these cases we happily pay the cost of delivery for something new (which may be included in the price), but some balk at the cost of disposal for the old as if the decision that something is trash somehow removes responsibility for the item.

Finally, some believe the council collects rubbish from certain spots or from certain groups for free. One person said it was unfair home owners and housing association tenants had to pay when council tenants and leaseholders could have their rubbish collected for free. This is not the case, but if you see the council regularly collecting rubbish from a fly-tipping hotspot it’s easy to see how the misconception starts. I have spoken to several who have, totally innocently, fly-tipped because they thought the fly-tipping hotspot was a legitimate collection point.

But if there is confusion and different opinions on fly-tipping, I suspect few would be forgiving of dog fouling. Occasionally being responsible for a push-chair and a child on a scooter I know of some patches I avoid simply because the stress of making sure all the wheels and feet avoid the faecal land mines is just too much.

The fact that there are particular roads and pavements with a problem rather implies it is an issue with a few owners (were all dog owners irresponsible the problem would be more uniform). It also suggests that they and their dogs have developed fairly consistent toilet habits. Yet, even with this intelligence it’s hard to do anything.

The council has traditionally had one of the largest dog teams of any council and at times been responsible for most of the prosecutions in the country, let alone London. The difficulty is that most people tend to behave when being watched, so however big our dog team is they will struggle to catch anyone in the act and, therefore, be unable to take any action.

In both cases the council is largely reliant on education in an attempt to change behaviour; while we will attempt legal action it will only ever get a small minority of offenders. Sadly this is a slow process, even when the overwhelming majority of people are responsible, the impact of the irresponsible few is disproportionate.

The council’s website provides more information about the dog control team including contact details should you wish to report anti-social behaviour involving dogs, including fouling. The street cleaning section also provides contact details should you witness any fly-tipping in the borough.

There’s something about being a councillor and dog poo.

You can’t just blame it on irresponsible and inconsiderate dog-owners and move, carefully, on. Instead, it provokes thought and even, dare I say, analysis. Being a councillor isn’t the only frame of reference for me – yesterday I couldn’t help but reflect I’d discovered the least-joyous part of fatherhood as I cleaned the push-chair wheels of the left-overs from a dog that was probably the size of a Shetland pony – but I can’t imagine any other reason I would be prompted to write a blog post from my reflections on dog excrement.

But as soon as spotted this on Forthbridge Road I was taking a photo and knew it would end up on here.

What is interesting is not so much the resident’s frustration (they should try the Shaftesbury Estate) but the effect it will have on the dog-owner. A council in the south of England tried colourfully marking the locations of dog-fouling. The result was a dramatic decrease in the level of dog-fouling; the markings created a feeling of guilt and fear of being watched among irresponsible dog-owners.

It’s Nudge at work. I’ve noticed a reverse effect around a tree near my house, it is a cherry blossom (I believe, but my arboricultural knowledge pretty much ends at differentiating trees from shrubs) attracts lots of birds which do a fantastic job at plastering the pavement underneath with their droppings. The result is a tree that attracts most of the road’s dog fouling too, it seems the bird droppings make other animal fouling more acceptable.

It’s a perennial problem. I often get complaints about it and noticed a report from the Shaftesbury Park Estate on Fix My Street last week. Unfortunately the real solution lies in dog owners acting responsibly and being able to find and prosecute those who do not. While approaches like that taken on Forthbridge Road might work (and I’m not so far beyond redemption that I’m monitoring it) by far the best answer is for all owners to clean up after their dogs.

[It’s taken me nearly 13 years to do my first dog poo photo. I just hope it isn’t a slippery slope because it doesn’t look good at the bottom.]

I’ve celebrated the arrival prematurely on at least a couple of occasions before, but, finally Wandsworth’s dog control orders have come into effect.

The delays ranged from misunderstandings (many people at first thought we were banning dogs from all parks) which caused a re-consultation, to technicalities (the cold weather meant the signs we need to display wouldn’t stick). But after lots of consultation and plenty of sticky signs staying stuck the orders came into force today.

As if to celebrate one my neighbours on the Shaftesbury Park Estate appears to have used the weekend to celebrate their dog’s last days of faecal freedom on the stretch of road on which I live – although that’s not unusual as the area has long had a problem with dog fouling.

Of course, rules alone do not solve problems, otherwise there would be no crime or anti-social behaviour. However, it does give the council’s dog unit (the country’s biggest) a much bigger set of tools to deal with dog related problems.

I didn’t make any New Year’s Resolutions about this blog but perhaps I should have made one to avoid posting about any councillor’s favourite topic: dog fouling.

Up and down the country it’s one of those issues that has become a cliche in for local government. But it’s become a cliche because it is a real problem in some areas. Personally the problem has taken on a whole new dimension now I occasionally push a pram and have to navigate four wheels and two feet through the Shaftesbury Park Estate.

And the problem hasn’t really gone away on the Shaftesbury Park Estate (or elsewhere, I imagine). In the area immediately around my house it seems dog owners have become a little more considerate, but only to the extent of dragging their dog to a tree base or gutter.

But while most people find that a bit distasteful it was perfectly legal. Indeed, I remember the old signs that – rather than telling people to clear up – merely advised people to “kerb” their dog.

But all that should be coming to an end. The council’s Dog Control Orders come into force this month, and will make it an offence not to clean up after your dog.

The Orders have been a long time coming, in part because of some mis-reporting in the Evening Standard that suggested we were going to try and ban dogs from all our parks (instead we are banning them from sections, like children’s play areas or sports facilities) but now they are finally here we can, hopefully, start dealing with irresponsible dog owners who don’t clean up after their dogs.

If you have any information, or are concerned about a particular area, you can contact the council’s dog control team on 020 8871 7606 (or see or contact me and I’ll be happy to pass the information on.

The council’s consultation on dog control orders ends tomorrow, so the news that two other councils, Lambeth and Southwark, are seeking to emulate the Wandsworth approach to dog-chipping is timely.

The dog control order consultation was extended following some rather misleading coverage in the press –  I know of at least one campaign that was started under the misunderstanding dogs were going to be banned from Battersea Park (in fact they are just banned from children’s play areas and the sports facilities, places they wouldn’t be walked anyway).  I have stated before that while I instinctively dislike additional regulation, the actions of a minority of irresponsible dog owners have made it necessary.

A few months ago I wrote about dog fouling on the Shaftesbury Park Estate.  The council’s dog control unit patrolled the area – in and out of uniform – but unfortunately achieved little, certainly if judged by the pavements near my house this morning.  While they did speak with some dog owners, none were caught doing anything we can take action over because, bizarrely, allowing your dog to foul the gutter or around a tree base is absolutely fine.  There is no need to pick up afterwards.

Likewise (and many are surprised to hear this) they have no powers to instruct dog owners to put their dogs on a leash on the public highway.  I know many, especially those with young children, feel uneasy when they see dogs of all breeds, on the streets and not under the direct and immediate control of their owner.

The council’s proposals are, I think, a reasonable and proportionate response to the fears and issues around irresponsible dog-ownership.  If you agree, I’d encourage you to go to respond to the council’s consultation, you can find out more at the council’s dog control consultation page.

I’m going to resist using lines like “taking the next step in the dog mess issue” and instead be fairly dull and straight-forward about this one.

The council are currently consulting on introducing dog control orders to various parts of Wandsworth.  These orders will add further conditions and controls on dog ownership in the borough and give the council a little more power to deal with problem dog owners.

Many people will be surprised that the rules don’t already exist.  For example, one suggested rule is that dogs should always be on the lead on the public highway.  At the moment dogs need to be under control, but this does not necessarily mean on a leash.  Another will make it an offence for a dog to foul the road.  While it’s already an offence to let a dog foul the pavement, it’s legally (though I would say not morally) absolutely fine to drag the dog to the gutter and then just walk away once its finished.

I think it’s a shame these are necessary.  I instinctively dislike anything that introduces more regulation, and  think it’s a shame we have come to the stage that we need to introduce rules that affect all dogs owners when the vast majority have never caused a problem of any sort with their dog.

Of course you might disagree with all or some of the proposed rules and that’s the point of consultation.  The council’s website provides full details of the rules and how you can comment.  And I’d be interested in hearing your views via the comments.

Wandsworth council chamber, Mayor's chair and crestLabour did not cover themselves in glory at last night’s meeting.

You would expect me to say that, wouldn’t you?  But actually I’m rather disappointed in them.  I expected a coherent set of arguments and reasoned alternative budget from them.  Instead, it seemed every time one of them stood up to speak we got a slightly different line, and that is slightly worrying – for one because it’s always good to have a strong opposition.

“Raise tax, no, lower it, no, raise it.”
The council presented a strong budget.  We are keeping the council tax at the same level as last year, because of savings we have made we are still able to increase spending and put some money into contingency.  Perfectly sensible given that a lot of people are expecting a prolonged recession and worse times to come.  But, of course, you can argue if that’s the right thing.  If you think the recession is going to be short and shallow you might think extra spending or a cut in tax preferable.

It was clear the Labour party hadn’t decided what they thought was best.  Their formal amendment suggested putting nothing into contingency, creating about 50 jobs for a year (by my count, Tony Belton, their leader, put it at 30) and reviewing charging levels for various services.  But during the course of the evening some of the members suggested the contingency could be used to cut council tax, some suggested that taxes should be higher so spending could increase, one – during the course of his contribution – suggested we should both lower and raise council tax.  They may have put a formal amendment to council, but it seemed they’d not agreed it amongst themselves.

Big state to the rescue?
But it was also clear they were convinced that a big state could solve all problems.  One of their Tooting councillors complained bitterly that the council were, only now, cleaning up Tooting’s alleyways and attempted to give credit for this to Sadiq Khan.  Yes, we are cleaning up the alleyways as part of Tooting Together, but these are private alleyways, owned by the businesses that are frequently dumping the rubbish on them.  We are stepping in and cleaning up because the owners have not taken responsibility – but somehow the council is the bad guy on this one.

And dog fouling raised its ugly head.  It seems Labour believe the council doesn’t have the country’s largest dog control unit in the country, but actually have the country’s biggest state-owned pack of hounds, specially trained to go and foul our pavements.  Again, a fundamental belief that problems are not shared by the community but there to be solved by the state.  The idea that somehow a dog fouling the pavement is the council’s fault rather than the owner’s or even the dog’s is risible, but somehow this was trotted out as an argument against the council’s budget.

To be honest, the most coherent solution put forward was by Tony Belton: it’s like the 1930s, he reasoned, and that wasn’t solved by Keynes, but by 10 years of depression and a world war. So this is Brown’s plan B! I haven’t been able to divine any other plan from Labour either locally or nationally, and I might rest easier if I knew they had some ideas rather than the current floundering.

It’s up to all of us
Implicit in the council’s budget, and in the council’s recession response, is that we help people to help themselves.  Perhaps we do not push that enough, and Malcolm Grimston made a thoughtful contribution to evening (probably the most thoughtful speech of the night) highlighting that, actually, many the solution to many problems lies not with the council or government, but very simple actions by ordinary people.  Of course it’s right for the council to help, and it was shameful for the Labour party to vote against our recession support, but we need to be aware that we all can play a part.

It might yet prove that one of the benefits of recession and environmental crisis is that we all come out of it a bit more thoughtful of our impact on our communities.

It was only a matter of time before I found myself having to write about dog fouling.  It is a fact of councillor life that, eventually, it’s a complaint you receive.  Indeed, over twenty years ago I joked about one of my teachers who was standing for council in the ward I lived in and had published a leaflet in which he promised to stamp out dog poo.  I’m not sure my humour has become any more sophisticated since then.

But that makes light of what is a real quality of life issue and, quite separately, I’ve had two residents in the space of a week complaining about dog fouling on the Shaftesbury Park Estate.  And living there I know how bad it is.

The council does do a lot and will prosecute irresponsible dog owners when we can.  Wandsworth has the country’s largest dog control team and are nationally recognised as experts.  The problem, however, is that people tend to become much more responsible when being watched, so simply having dog wardens on patrol simply shifts the problem to a road with no patrollers.

Because of this we are largely reliant on education.  We will pay advisory visits to dog owners, and spend a lot of time in schools to educate youngsters about the need to clear up after dogs.

So what can you do?  Well, if you are a dog owner, be a responsible dog owner and pick up after your pet.

If you are concerned about dog fouling and have some information let the council know.  Dog control can be contacted on 020 8871 7606, or give me the information and I’ll pass it on.  If you know who is responsible the information will be dealt with in confidence and the unit will pay an advisory visit to the dog owner.  If you are prepared to make a statement we will consider prosecution.  Even if you can just give locations, times and descriptions that will help.

For the Shaftesbury Park Estate I have asked the dog control unit to do an inspection in the area and, if possible, have a word with local dog owners, but this is one of those issues where the real solution is in the hands of those few dog owners residents who don’t clean up after their dogs.