Dog owners unleash fury over council plan to make leads compulsory in Abney Park

Dog owners have slammed a “bad faith” proposal by Hackney Council to make leads mandatory in Abney Park Cemetery.

The Town Hall is consulting residents about a fresh public space protection order (PSPO) that would expand the list of areas where dogs must be kept on a lead at all times – including Abney Park.

The council said the plan is a response to a “large” number of letters it has received about dog behaviour.

A petition demanding the proposal is stopped has so far been signed by more than 1,600 people, including actor Maggie Steed, star of BBC comedy Pie in the Sky.

Alexandra Hamit, who launched the petition, said: “The proposal feels really like overkill for something that does not seem to be a problem.”

Actor Maggie Steed with her dogs in Abney Park. Photograph: Abney Dog of the Day

Local resident Louise Smith⁩ has been walking her four-legged friend in Abney Park for 10 years.

She wrote to councillors Susan Fajana-Thomas and Gilbert Smyth to say she has “never witnessed any untoward incidents with dogs”.

Smith believes dog owners have in fact “transformed Abney Park from a place that often felt unsafe into the peaceful haven that it now is”.

The retired lawyer has created the Abney Park Dogs User Group to campaign against the possible PSPO.

The User Group, which already boasts 231 members, is particularly irked by the wording of the council’s consultation.

Smith describes it as “manipulative and directed to result in a certain outcome”.

She wrote: “The way the questions are put clearly restricts the responses that are possible.”

The tenth question in the Town Hall’s survey asks: ‘To what extent do you agree or disagree that it is important to control the way in which people look after their dogs in shared public spaces?’

Smith said: “Question 10 is quite frankly rather insulting – as if any right-thinking person would think that no controls are required in shared public spaces, such as dogs on leads in streets and certain designated places, owners picking up their dog’s waste and so forth.”

The User Group has also accused the council of “scaremongering” by using an image of a dog in a children’s playground to promote its consultation.

Dogs are already banned from playgrounds and sports areas.

The council’s consultation advert

The council defended the advert, saying it “asked if residents agree with our existing powers to restrict dogs from certain areas, like play areas, which is one element of the consultation”.

The Town Hall also came in for flak for referring to a 700 per cent increase in dog attacks in responses to residents’ emails.

The figure refers to an increase in dogs attacking other dogs, recorded by 14 police forces, between 2016 and 2021.

Members of the User Group have challenged the council to provide data for the area.

It is understood that officials are collating figures and have promised to share them soon.

Campaigners also questioned whether the PSPO plan is consistent with giving Abney Park Chapel a licence to hold functions on up to three days a week.

The council said events would be self-contained in the chapel and would have “limited impact” on the cemetery.

Abney Park Trust, which is run by volunteers, backs the proposal for dogs to be on leads.

Trustees said: “It’s our view that the joy dogs bring to people and our community can be balanced with the needs of the ecosystem through a sensible and enforced on-leads rule.”

Abney Park is one of London’s ‘Magnificent Seven’ cemeteries, and opened in the 19th century.

Two other ‘Magnificent Seven’ cemeteries only allow guide dogs, and dogs must be on leads in Brompton Cemetery in west London.

Pooches are also banned from Hackney’s Woodberry Wetlands, which is run by the London Wildlife Trust.

The Abney Park trustees added: “Having dogs on the lead is the most effective means of reducing the negative impact on wildlife.”

They suggested that seasonal lead enforcements, or restricting certain areas, could be confusing and more difficult to manage.

They said they have spoken to many dog owners and considered the impact on wildlife.

Rickardo Hyatt, Hackney Council’s director for climate, homes and the economy, said: “Many residents are nervous about the large numbers of dogs in Hackney’s parks and green spaces.

“Some are requesting more dog-free areas, some request more dogs-on-leads orders, and many dog owners are calling for fenced-off areas to exercise their dogs in.”

Hyatt added: “There are already a number of areas in Hackney where dogs must be on a lead. This includes play areas and some parks, such as Hoxton Square and Shepherdess Walk Park.

“We are proposing to update this list of areas in response to people’s concerns.”

The council’s plan also includes limiting the number of dogs people can walk in public to four, and making it an offence for dog walkers not to clear up faeces.

The consultation ends on Sunday 19 November.