If ever there was a bylaw type that could benefit from informal consultation, its the review of the Dog Control Policy and Bylaw.
Both Ashburton District Council and Western Bay of Plenty District Council are carrying out thorough processes prior to formally notifying their policies and bylaws.
Ashburton District Council has posted a survey to all the district's registered dog owners, encouraging them to share their views. The Council will also be holding focus groups specifically for dog owners in the next few months.
Western Bay of Plenty District Council has identified the following key issues to consult on:
There's a great website page where people can join discussions and leave feedback. Staff and elected members will also be engaging with people at three relevant events - two A&P shows and a Doggy Day Out.
One of the complications of bylaws is the different enforcement provisions that apply, depending on the activity being regulated.
Bylaws are taken far more seriously when infringement fines apply. However, this enforcement measure can only be taken where there is either legislation or a regulation providing for the issuing of infringement notices.
For many other bylaws, infringement notices are not an option. If warnings and seizing of equipment doesn't work, there are limited options: applying to the District Court for an injunction to restrain a person from committing a breach of the bylaw, or taking a person to court. If convicted, a fine of up to $20,000 applies. However, the cost, time and uncertainty associated with this option is a major disincentive for councils to take this action, potentially rendering a bylaw quite toothless.
The Government could enable councils to more effectively and efficiently administer bylaws by enabling infringement fines to apply for all bylaws.
There has been a huge resurgence in the numbers of people choosing to keep hens in urban areas, say Fionna and Gordon Appleton, of Appletons Animal Housing and Poultry Supplies.
The two groups most interested in keeping chooks are young families and retirees. Young families want to show children where food comes from, and how to care for animals. Retirees remember raising chooks when they were young, and want to take this up again. Keeping of rare heritage breeds is also an interest for many people.
The keeping of poultry in urban areas is usually managed by councils through bylaws. Most councils set a limit of 12 hens and prohibit roosters in the urban area.
The approaches taken by councils around the country range from restrictive to silent:
One of the things I love about work for local government is finding out weird stuff. Did you know that bees can be an issue in the urban area because bees defecate 25 to 75 metres from their hive, following take off? They follow the same flight path each time so that can have impacts on neighbours’ washing and their houses, because the faeces is sticky, yellow and hard to clean off.
It is particularly bad after a sustained period of rainy weather, because bees stay inside the hive during that time and won't defecate in their own nests. They cross their legs and hold on until the weather improves!
There are now businesses providing hives to urban households, so the number of people with beehives in town is increasing. This is a good thing, because bees are so important for pollination, but the side effects need managing. The main way to do this is to move the hive, so that the bees' flight path changes.
Bylaws are often considered the ugly ducklings of the planning world, but I like them because they cover issues that people really care about. Ask anyone whether golf should be able to be practised in council reserves, where dogs should and shouldn't be allowed to go off lead, and whether roosters should be able to live next door to them and you'll get an emphatic response. Bylaws are the stuff of everyday life.
My toughest bylaw work so far has been developing and consulting on a policy and bylaw about the control of dogs. Under the Dog Control Act 1996, councils are required to notify all dog owners about any changes to their dog policy, which is closely linked to the content of their bylaw. That's a lot of people being personally invited to comment on a bylaw that impacts on where they can exercise their dog, on and off lead. Combine that with cyclists and pedestrians who have experienced near misses with dogs on the loose, or whose children suffer nightmares from dogs jumping up on them, and it's a recipe for conflict.
Dog stories are great fodder for local newspapers too - owners and their dogs walking down the main street in a protest march made the front page of my local paper.
Even though it was difficult, it was also wonderful to be part of the democratic process. I witnessed councillors grappling with 700 submissions, genuinely listening to people representing both sides of the argument, and seeking win-win solutions.