Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon Borough Council’s environmental services committee has recommended the level of fine imposed on those within the borough caught littering or failing to clean up their dog’s mess is increased.
At present, Council can issue a fixed penalty notice (FPN) of up to £80 for anyone caught littering or failing to pick up their dog’s mess and, at a meeting of the committee on Tuesday, March 7, councillors were presented with four options in relation to the level of the FPN.
With the introduction of the environmental offences (fixed penalties) (miscellaneous provisions) (amendment) Regulations (NI) 2022, Council is now able to increase the amount of each FPN up to a maximum of £200.
The committee was told it could chose not to increase the fixed penalty amount and retain the £80 charge; increase the FPN by 150 per cent to £200; increase the FPN by 50 per cent to £120 with no discount for early payment or; increase the FPN by another amount between £120 and £200.
A report on the matter advised that the option chosen by the committee will not be implemented until July 1, 2023 to allow time for adequate communication and a review of the signage across the borough.
It also notes that where a penalty is not proportionate to the offence and becomes too excessive the non-payment rate increases and may also be disproportionate to the average fine issued by courts when legal proceedings occur.
Alderman Stephen Moutray told the chamber littering and dog fouling are still “a serious problem within the borough”, despite the best efforts of a private enforcement company and council officers, before proposing the FPN be set at £120.
“I dread to think if we had not employed the private company to act as an enforcement agency where we would be but there are some people who still do not take the message seriously,” he said.
“Given the current level of fixed penalty notices were set in 2015, I think we have to increase them at this time. Especially now we have the ability, through legislation, to do so.
“I would propose we go with increasing the penalty for littering and dog fouling to £120. This is a 50 per cent increase and we have the ability to review this in one year. If people don’t get the message within a year then we need to look at it again with a view to increasing it further.
“I appreciate the work that has been done by officers, dog fouling is a very prevalent issue at King’s Park Primary School in Lurgan and when you have primary school children coming out with it on their feet or it is on the wheels of a mother’s pram, it is simply repulsive.
“It is totally unacceptable so I am glad to propose option three.”
DUP group leader, Alderman Mark Baxter seconded his party colleague’s proposal describing it as a “fairly sensible suggestion”.
“There is nothing that gets people more fired up than dog fouling,” he said.
“It is a country wide problem, it is a UK wide problem and it is something we are never going to eradicate but, if we can get the message out that if you are caught, you will be fined and fined heavily, it can only be a good thing.
“It is hard to catch someone in the act – not clearing up after their dog, its easier to catch people littering as it happens quite regularly, I know the amount of cigarette butts that people have been caught with is probably disproportionate to what goes on in the borough.
“It is not very often I get constituents ringing me about cigarette butts but very often I have people ringing me about dog fouling.
“I don’t know how we tackle dog fouling but we need to increase our focus on it and increasing the fine is a good start.”
Alderman Gordon Kennedy asked how many FPNs end up in court for failure to pay and was advised the figure is around 30 per cent at present with officers “not noticing a substantial change” in the number of non-payments since the start of the cost of living crisis.
Councillor Jessica Johnston said the Alliance Party would be “quite happy” to support the proposal put forward and SDLP councillor Ciaran Toman said he was of the opinion their is public appetite for the current level of fine to be increased.
“Having spoken to the public about the potential increase in fines and to support council’s tolerance zero tolerance approach to environmental crime, I believe there is an appetite to increase this fine,” he said.
“I think option three is a sensible proposal and if needed we can review this again in 12 months time.”
Councillor Jill Macauley said she was “happy enough” to support the proposal and called on the private enforcement company not to forget about the borough’s rural towns and villages.
“I am getting inundated with a lot of complaints, it seems to be the same people committing these offences time and time again so I am happy enough to support option three tonight,” she said.