City of Bradford Metropolitan District Council (19 012 438)

Category : Other Categories > Leisure and culture

Decision : Upheld

Decision date : 18 Jun 2020

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: Mr S complains that the Council delayed in installing the agreed signage at the nearby recreation ground and that the new signage wrongly restricts dog-walkers access to the whole cricket pitch area. The Council was at fault in that it delayed installing signage and miscommunicated its intentions in respect of the wording. The Ombudsman considers that the replacement of the signage, once the Council has introduced a new Public Space Protection Order later this year, is a suitable response to Mr S’s complaint.

The complaint

  1. Mr S complains that:
    • the Council delayed in installing the agreed signage at the nearby recreation ground; and
    • has not installed the signage that makes it clear that the public has the right to use the whole recreation ground, aside from the wicket area, as agreed with the Ombudsman.

Back to top

The Ombudsman’s role and powers

  1. We investigate complaints about “maladministration” and “service failure”. In this statement, I have used the word “fault” to refer to these. We must also consider whether any fault has had an adverse impact on the person making the complaint. I refer to this as “injustice”. If there has been fault which has caused an injustice, we may suggest a remedy. (Local Government Act 1974, sections 26(1) and 26A(1), as amended)
  2. If we are satisfied with a council’s actions or proposed actions, we can complete our investigation and issue a decision statement. (Local Government Act 1974, section 30(1B) and 34H(i), as amended)

Back to top

How I considered this complaint

  1. I have considered Mr S’s written complaint and supporting papers and the background papers on his previous complaint to the Ombudsman. I have made enquiries of the Council and considered its response to my enquiries. I have also sent Mr S and the Council a draft decision and invited their comments.

Back to top

What I found

What happened

  1. Mr and Mrs S have lived next to a community recreation ground for more than 30 years. The recreation ground has long been used for leisure activities including dog-walking and by both the previous and current cricket club.
  2. In August 2016, the cricket club signed a 21-year lease to use the recreation ground without the Council undertaking the necessary consultation for disposal of public open space. Mr S says that, after the Council granted the lease, two of the cricket club’s officers harassed, intimated and verbally abused members of the public who wanted to walk their dogs on the recreation ground. He complained to the Council about these and associated problems.
  3. Mr S felt that the Council had failed to investigate and resolve his concerns about restricted access to the recreation ground or to respond to his stage two complaint, so he complained to the Ombudsman. He said he wanted people to be able to freely use the ground when matches were not being played, as before.
  4. The Ombudsman reached a decision on Mr S’s complaint in February 2019. The Council accepted fault in how it had drafted the lease and that this had contributed to subsequent problems on the recreation ground. However, the Ombudsman could not determine the lawfulness of the lease, as that would be for the courts to decide.
  5. The Ombudsman found very significant delay by the Council in responding to Mr S’s complaints. There had also been multiple and lengthy delays, largely on the part of the Council’s Estates Team, in arranging meetings to try to resolve these problems and a failure to communicate the steps it had agreed.
  6. The Council apologised to Mr S for the lack of consultation and delay in dealing with his complaints. It also agreed within three months to:
    • review its policy and procedures where disposing of public open space, so as to undertake the necessary consultation;
    • ensure that its Estates Team reviews how it responds to complaints in future; and
    • ensure that appropriate signage is put in place so that members of the public are made aware of their right to use the recreation ground.
  7. The Council apologised to Mr S, reviewed its procedures for disposal of public open spaces, and reviewed its complaints handling within the Estates Team.
  8. Three months after the Ombudsman’s decision, we checked whether signage was in place. The Council said that the cricket club had installed signage, but it had been removed by persons unknown, though Mr S disputes that any signage was installed. That said, the recreation ground gate was unlocked, and the ground was accessible. The Ombudsman therefore asked the Council to install signage which would be sufficiently robust so that it could not be easily removed and in accordance with what was agreed within the previous decision statement.
  9. The Council provided suggested wording, which said that “Dogs must only be walked around the perimeter of the cricket pitch and must not be allowed on the cricket [pitch] at any time". However, we pointed out that this would restrict access more than the Council had previously stated - “it has been made clear to the cricket club that the public including dog walkers is able to access the cricket ground".
  10. The Council’s Estates Team therefore proposed the following wording: “Please keep dogs away from the wicket area” and agreed to add the Council’s contact number to the signage.
  11. The wording was agreed with the Ombudsman at the end of June 2019, and the Council agreed to install the signage. The Ombudsman contacted the Council several times before opening a new investigation in late October 2019, because the Council had still not installed the signage.
  12. The Council erected the new signage the next day, but this restricted dog-walkers from accessing the whole cricket pitch. The Ombudsman therefore asked why the Council was now restricting access to a greater area than previously agreed. We also asked if the Dog Orders allowed it to require dogs to be kept on a leash.
  13. The Council says there had been some confusion over the wording because an officer was unaware of the difference between the cricket pitch and wicket area. The installation of the signage was, in part, delayed by leave over the summer holidays. However, it says that no one was restricted from using the field.
  14. The Council has also explained that cricket club members, aged six and upwards, use the recreation ground for games at the weekend and training during the week. The cricket club says that dog fouling is not always removed and presents a health and safety hazard for younger players, in particular, who may not realise the risks of picking up a ball which has run through dog mess. It also says that dogs may rough up the pitch which presents a safety risk if the ball is traveling very fast. Given the potential risks to users, the Council considers that it is in the public interest to request dog owners to keep their dogs on a lead.
  15. Mr S however disputes that there is any regular use of the ground by younger players and says that dogs are no more likely to damage the pitch than cricketers.
  16. There are several Dog Orders in force:
    • The Fouling of Land by Dogs Bradford Order 2011 applies to the land and requires owners to remove dog mess. However, the Council says it is not possible to police the area at all times. Moreover, the cricket club does not have sufficient funds to install CCTV to prevent dog fouling.
    • The Dogs on Leads (City of Bradford MDC) Order 2013 requires dogs to be kept on a lead at all times if walked on any of the sites listed in the schedule attached to the Order. This does not apply to the recreation ground.
    • The Dogs on Leads by Direction (City of Bradford MDC) Order 2013, applies to all the land in the Council’s administrative area to which the public are entitled to have access. This states that “A person in charge of a dog shall be guilty of an offence if, at any time, on any land to which this Order applies, he does not comply with a direction given him by an authorised officer of the Authority to put and keep the dog on a lead…”. The Council considers the signage constitutes a clear direction (in compliance with the Order) by an authorised officer requiring dog-walkers to keep their dogs on a lead.
  17. The current Dog Orders converted into Public Space Protection Orders (PSPOs) in October 2017 (three years after PSPOs were introduced). PSPOs are only valid for three years, so the Council will need to introduce new orders by October 2020. The Council says that, when introduces the new PSPOs, it will require all dogs to be kept on a leash on Council land. The introduction of the PSPOs will subject to public consultation, though it will be for the Council to decide what restrictions to put in place.
  18. The Council has also explained that the cricket pitch covers a major part of the recreation area, but there is also a significant area where other users may walk dogs without going on the pitch. Moreover, to the best of the Council’s knowledge:
    • no member of the public has been refused access to the ground (with or without a dog);
    • the entrance gate has no lock (and the latch has been removed to make access easier for users with restricted mobility); and
    • the Estates Office has received no complaints from members of the public about access restrictions placed (with the exception of Mr S’s initial complaint about parking outside his garage).
  19. The Council has offered to replace the signage with wording to be agreed with the Ombudsman, though it considers that the signage should require dogs to be kept on a lead and walked around the perimeter of the pitch.

My assessment

  1. The Council delayed unreasonably in putting in place appropriate signage, after agreeing to install new signage in February. In all, it took eight months to put further signage in place. This is particularly disappointing given the extensive delays that Mr S had already encountered in response to his earlier complaints.
  2. It is also disappointing that the Council agreed to install signage allowing access to the whole pitch, except the wicket area, but then installed signage restricting access to the whole pitch. Although there may have been a misunderstanding by a Council officer, the Council had specifically agreed this wording with the Ombudsman. I would expect the Council to have established and communicated its position clearly at the time.
  3. Given that the signage has not been installed as agreed, I have considered whether to ask the Council to install new signage and, if so, what wording to use.

Restricting access to the pitch

  1. The restriction originally agreed was to “Please keep dogs away from the wicket area”. The Council has replaced this with “Dogs must only be walked around the perimeter of the cricket pitch and must not be allowed on the cricket pitch at any time”.
  2. The Council says it must balance up the needs and wishes of different users of the recreation ground. It says the cricket club provides a benefit to the community by providing an activity (for local people) and maintaining the land at its own cost but it must also safeguard its users, by restricting access to dogs from the pitch for health and safety reasons.
  3. Mr S says the signage will restrict the public to a small area outside the perimeter of the pitch. He says the recreation ground is not just for dog-walkers, but for groups of people who wish to play football, their own games of cricket, ball games and other sports and social activities, including family picnics and parties.
  4. However, according to the signage, the public is not prevented from using the cricket pitch, except for the restriction on walking dogs. I appreciate that this significantly limits the available space for dog-walkers, but aerial photographs suggest that there is sufficient space around the perimeter for people to walk their dogs. On balance therefore, I do not consider it unreasonable for the Council to ask dog-walkers to keep their dogs off the cricket pitch.

Keeping dogs on a lead

  1. The wording originally agreed with the Council was that dogs should be kept on a leash at all times.
  2. The Dogs on Leads by Direction (City of Bradford MDC) Order 2013 states that “an authorised officer of the Authority may only give a direction under this Order to put and keep a dog on a lead if such restraint is reasonably necessary to prevent a nuisance or behaviour by the dog likely to cause annoyance or disturbance to any other person on any land to which this order applies or the worrying or disturbance of any animal or bird”.
  3. The Council considers that installing a sign constitutes an officer providing a “direction” to prevent the walking of dogs without a lead.
  4. Mr S does not consider that this Order provides a blanket authority to require dogs to be kept on a lead but it is intended to allow officers to require owners to put dogs on a leash where they are out of control etc. Mr S considers this to be an unreasonable restriction, unless dogs are out of control and aggressive.
  5. It seems questionable whether the Order can be used to place a blanket requirement to keep dogs on a lead, and whether this would be enforceable. However, it would ultimately be for the courts to decide if such a blanket restriction was enforceable, not the Ombudsman.
  6. As stated above, I do not consider it unreasonable for the Council to restrict dogs from accessing the cricket pitch. I also consider it a relevant factor (though Mr S disagrees) that the Council intends later this year to require all dogs to be kept on a lead on Council land. Given that the current signage welcomes the public to the cricket ground, I do not see sufficient grounds to ask the Council to replace the signage now. Rather, I think it would be appropriate to replace the signage once PSPOs have been introduced, to reflect the restrictions then in place.

Other wording

  1. The wording is not as discussed with the Council in one further respect. The Council had previously agreed to the following wording: “Access to this ground is provided at the will and pleasure of the City of Bradford Council MDC and [the] Cricket Club for the Community and Club members/Users”. I will therefore ask the Council to include this wording when it comes to install the new signage.

Back to top

Agreed action

  1. The Council has agreed:
    • in addition to placing notices in local newspapers to inform members of the public of the forthcoming PSPO consultation, it will send Mr S details of the consultation and ask for his comments; and
    • within three months of the introduction of the new PSPOs, it will replace the signage with signage updated to reflect the restrictions set out in the new PSPOs and the wording in the “Other wording” section above.

Back to top

Final decision

  1. I have closed my investigation because I consider that the agreed changes to the signage are an appropriate response to Mr S’s complaint.

Back to top

Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

Print this page

Privacy settings

LGO logogram

Review your privacy settings

Required cookies

These cookies enable the website to function properly. You can only disable these by changing your browser preferences, but this will affect how the website performs.

View required cookies

Analytical cookies

Google Analytics cookies help us improve the performance of the website by understanding how visitors use the site.
We recommend you set these 'ON'.

View analytical cookies

In using Google Analytics, we do not collect or store personal information that could identify you (for example your name or address). We do not allow Google to use or share our analytics data. Google has developed a tool to help you opt out of Google Analytics cookies.