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  • Grant McLachlan - Stuff - Column

Contrived problems are the problem


You can’t please everyone. When the Rodney Local Board tried to please a vocal minority they annoyed the apathetic majority by making last-minute changes to beach and reserve access bylaws for dog owners.

Following a raft of reported incidents at Snells Beach, it seems that the problem is not dogs being a nuisance but rather complainers trying to enforce or create bylaws.

I had a chat with a local animal control officer and he receives more complaints about dog owners breaching bylaws than actually causing a nuisance. In other words, the bylaws have become the nuisance.

I see three issues here: First, whether there is actually a problem; Second, whether the bylaws actually address a problem; and Third, whether the bylaws have become the problem.

Snells Beach is 2 kilometres long with 9 hectares of beachfront reserve. At low tide, the beach is 130 hectares in area (600+ metres wide) and, at high tide, only 2 hectares in area (~10 metres wide).

The vast majority of beach and reserve users are dog walkers. Elderly tend to walk their small dogs on the reserve 9-5 while large dog owners prefer the beach outside these hours, especially at low tide.

At busy times, dog owners police other dog owners. Owners pick up after their dogs and avoid potential conflict between with other dogs, wildlife, and small children.

Introducing bylaws just for summer upsets this natural and logical pattern and introduces a new set of contrived problems.

From what started as an attempt to relax restrictions ended up as a late flurry of unnecessarily confusing and more restrictive rules.

For a start, swimmers rarely use the beach at low tide. The most popular areas for swimmers are the southern end where the road fronts the beach. Few people walk their dogs there as there is no reserve walkway. Playgrounds are also away from where most walks their dogs.

Also, tides rarely align with 10am-6:30pm. Why bother then banning dogs from the beach during those times?

Birds sporadically feed across the vast area, not just the northern end (where a few complainers live). If birds feed in one corner, why can’t a dog run around in another corner?

Speaking of the northern end where all the new subdivisions are, the larger-than-average reserves fronting their smaller-than-average properties are meant to act as their communal common. That’s why there are covenants banning fences along their reserve boundaries.

The last minute additional bylaw requiring dogs to be controlled on a leash during the day unnecessarily punishes dog walkers who can control their dogs off a leash and/or avoid other reserve users. It also punishes those who can’t fence their front boundaries.

Sea birds don’t nest at Snells Beach. Forest & Bird and Department of Conservation agree. Sea birds scavenge and expect to be chased away. And they can escape. But they return as no birds have been killed by dogs.

The law protects me, my dog, and the birds. There is no actual problem, just the perceived problem contrived by some hand wringers.

What these new bylaws do is squeeze incompatible groups of users into a smaller area during a narrower timeslot at a less desirable time of day. It is segregation that benefits a sensitive and nonsensical minority.

Make no mistake, these mistakes are the result of a handful of problem makers, not problem solvers. The bylaws, the signage, and the enforcement all contradict each other, which provides a further platform for conflict.

The local board do need to fix the mistakes in their signs. In so doing, they should also call for public submissions to fix these bylaws.

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