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Extraordinary Council Meeting

24 May 2016

 

Item No:         Item 3

Subject:         Evaluation and Proposed Outcomes of Trial Off Leash Areas at Laxton Reserve, Petersham Park and Sydenham Green  

File Ref:         16/4718/57025.16         

Prepared By: Peter Montague – A/Manager Culture and Recreation, Marrickville  

Authorised By: Josephine Bennett  -  A/Director Community Services, Marrickville

 

SUMMARY

 

This report details the outcomes from the recent evaluation process undertaken to assess the current trial of three dog off leash areas at Laxton Reserve, Petersham Park and Sydenham Green.

 

 

RECOMMENDATION

 

THAT:

 

1.       the report be received and noted;

2.       the trial dog off leash areas at Petersham Park, Petersham and Sydenham Green, Sydenham are made permanent under the same conditions used during the trial period;

3.       Council ceases the off leash trial at Laxton Reserve, Dulwich Hill;

4.       Council implements a trial off leash area at Johnson Park, Dulwich Hill subject to the following time restrictions:

-    6am to 9am, 6pm to 8pm during daylight saving, and 5pm to 7pm during non-daylight saving time;

5.       Council implements a trial off leash area at Morton Park, Lewisham; and

6.       all residents who have provided feedback during the trial and evaluation process are notified of Council’s decision.

 

 

 

BACKGROUND

 

Council’s Recreation Policy and Strategy (2013) states that:

“Council actively promotes responsible pet ownership, recognises the value of pet ownership in contributing to community well-being, and acknowledges that providing public spaces to exercise pets is essential. Council’s approach to equitable access to parks for people with pets is based on:

·    safe and shared use of Marrickville’s parks and open space;

·    the development of facilities to meet the needs of residents and their pets; and

·    ongoing management of pet access in parks and open space.”

 

The aim of Council’s Biodiversity Strategy 2011-21 is to:

‘Protect and enhance Marrickville’s biodiversity values and the ecosystem services they provide’

 

 

The Biodiversity Strategy sets out six strategic focus areas that have specific, associated strategies to achieve the aim. The following focus areas are relevant to parks in the GreenWay Priority Biodiversity Area:

1.  Priority Biodiversity Areas – preserve and enhance the biodiversity value of Priority Biodiversity Areas.

3.  Threats – eliminate or mitigate key present and future threats to Marrickville’s biodiversity.

 

Further Council’s Biodiversity Action Plan (2011-15) and Draft Biodiversity Action Plan (2016-21) lists the following action for the GreenWay Priority Biodiversity Area:

Investigate and implement options to exclude or manage dog access in parks within the Bandicoot protection Area and incorporate into Council policy relating to dog access in parks.

 

In 2014 Council conducted off leash trials at a number of parks resulting in the development of five new permanent off leash areas and amendments to permitted off leash hours at two existing areas.

Consistent with Council’s strategic position, a 6 month trial of additional DOLAs was implemented at Laxton Reserve Dulwich Hill, Petersham Park and Sydenham Green.

The objectives of the trials were to:

§ inform Council’s decision making on the future of DOLAs by investigating and measuring community attitudes;

§ identify issues arising from the trial for Council to investigate / address;

§ record compliance issues for future policy making purposes;

§ educate park users on ways to share the spaces; and

§ encourage the community to create their own solutions to park sharing issues.

 

Community Engagement

The community was encouraged to provide feedback throughout the trial and an evaluation process was conducted at the trial’s conclusion. Specifically, the community engagement undertaken comprised:

§ letterbox drop to residents adjacent to the three trials informing them of the trial;

§ Council Column notice;

§ media releases;

§ information on the Council website;

§ development and installation of DOLA signage in relevant parks; and

§ the installation of additional bins and bags (December 2015).

 

Evaluation of the trial included the following:

§ an evaluation survey on Your Say Marrickville;

§ letterbox drop to residents adjacent to the three trials informing them of the evaluation process;

§ a designated email address dogs@marrickville.nsw.gov.au was set up for feedback during the duration of the trial; and

§ promoting awareness of the evaluation through Council Column and media release.

 

 

 

FINANCIAL IMPLICATIONS

 

There is an allocation of $30,000 in the 2016/17 Operational Plan for the establishment of new and improvements to existing dog off leash areas. This should be sufficient to fund the implementation of the three trial areas as proposed in conjunction with a possible further trial area at HJ Mahoney Reserve in Marrickville as proposed in the draft Cooks River Parklands Plan of Management and Master Plans recently endorsed by Council for public exhibition. Resources will be required for signage, local resident notification and the evaluation process.

 

 

OTHER STAFF COMMENTS

 

Overall level of response

 

A total of 472 communications were received during the trial and evaluation period.

 

§ 233 people participated in the evaluation process through March into early April 2016;

§ 239 emails were received through the dogs@marrickville email address; and

§ 154 communications were received through Council’s Customer Response Management system (Merit).

 

At the request of residents, a meeting was held in November 2015 with local residents and the Principal of St Paul of the Cross School regarding the trial off leash area at Laxton Reserve.

 

Monitoring

Council Rangers conducted a total of 364 patrols across the three off leash areas during the trial period. Further information on the monitoring of the trials is included in ATTACHMENT 1.

 

Laxton Reserve

 

Open space in Dulwich Hill is limited and consequently the available open space has to work hard to deliver multiple outcomes for the community. The largest areas of open space with potential for off leash use comprise the closely linked parks at Laxton Reserve, Arlington Reserve and Johnson Park. These areas are located in the bandicoot protection area under Council’s DCP which aims to protect the endangered long-nosed bandicoot population of inner western Sydney as listed under NSW Threatened Species Conservation Act 1995. Dogs, cats and foxes are a recognised threat to bandicoots.

 

The Recreation Policy and Strategy 2013 (based on the findings from the Recreation Needs Research 2012) identifies Johnson Park in the Dulwich Hill area as a potential off leash area. Following liaison with Monitoring Services and Environmental Services, the area at Laxton Reserve was selected due to the reduced likelihood of impacting on the bandicoot population.

 

The trial commenced in September 2015. Council was notified of an incident at the park in late November 2015 involving a dog knocking over a child in the playground area. Due to this incident, the conditions of use of the dog off leash area were reviewed in December 2015 and investigations conducted to develop options for the management of the space in the short term. Fencing options to prevent dogs entering the playground were considered, however it was found that this would result in a disjointed and poorly functioning park which is at odds with the objective of shared open space and park best practice. The preferred option was to implement time restrictions for the off leash area before 8am and after daylight hours in the evening to reduce the likelihood of conflict between children’s play and off leash dogs. The amended conditions were put in place from 8 January 2016 onwards.

 

 

Laxton Reserve - Evaluation

The evaluation process provided opportunity for feedback on the initial three months of the trial and the ensuing three months under the amended time restrictions. Respondents were initially asked if they visited the park to exercise their dog (dog users) or for other reasons (non-dog users). Depending on the response, respondents were then referred to relevant questions. Reponses have been collated into categories of dog users and non-dog users.

 

Laxton Reserve - Dog users

71 respondents indicated they visited Laxton to exercise their dog and were asked:

§ to rate the success of the trial;

§ what changes they noticed with the implementation of the time restrictions halfway through the trial;

§ suggestions for an alternative off leash facility in the area;

§ how they travelled to the park; and

§ where else they exercised their dogs.

 

Feedback

§ the majority dog users (79%) rated the initial period of the trial as a success;

§ the implementation of the time restrictions had a considerable impact and 75% of this group rated the trial under time restrictions as unsuccessful;

§ suggestions for alternative off leash areas were as follows:

-     Johnson Park - 37

-     Hoskins Park - 3

-     Morton Park - 3

-     Yeo Reserve - 1

 

Almost all respondents indicated they walked to the park. Other locations respondents used to exercise their dogs were:

§ Hawthorne Canal Reserve in Haberfield; and

§ on leash around local streets.

 

Other comments included:

§ has been positive for exercising dogs;

§ good to meet other dog owners and neighbours;

§ too small for conflicting uses – playground, picnic facilities – 10m rule;

§ has increased the use of the park;

§ requires fencing;

§ issues with local residents;

§ implementation of time restrictions made many users feel unsafe after dark;

§ unable to see dog waste to clear up after dark; and

§ majority of users are responsible.

 

The full list of dog user responses from Laxton Reserve is included at ATTACHMENT 2.

 

Laxton Reserve - Non-dog users

69 respondents identified themselves as visiting the park for reasons other than exercising a dog (non-dog users) and were asked;

§ to rate the success of the trial;

§ what changes they noticed with the implementation of the time restrictions halfway through; and

§ suggestions for an alternative off leash facility in the area.

 

Feedback

§ the majority of non-dog users (86%) rated the trial as unsuccessful;

§ with the implementation of time restrictions, 77% of this group rated the trial as unsuccessful; and

§ suggestions for alternative off leash areas were as follows:

§ Johnson Park - 31 responses;

§ Yeo Reserve - 5 responses;

§ Cooks River - 3 responses;

§ Hoskins Park - 2 responses;

§ Marrickville Park - 2 responses; and

§ Tempe – 1 response.

 

Other comments included:

§ issues with children’s safety;

§ too small for conflicting uses – playground, picnic facilities – 10m rule;

§ prevents St Paul of the Cross School using the park during school hours;

§ issues with close proximity to residences;

§ residents not feeling comfortable to walk through the park;

§ dog waste;

§ noise from barking;

§ has been divisive for the local community;

§ reduction in birthday parties in the park;

§ dog owners not adhering to time restrictions;

§ no being effectively monitored;

§ needs fencing; and

§ divided the community.

 

The full list of non-dog user responses from Laxton Reserve is included at ATTACHMENT 3.

 

Feedback through ‘dogs@marrickville.nsw.gov.au’

A total of 228 communications were received during the trial period from a total of 68 different people. There were multiple communications from some residents (140 communications were received from three individuals - 88, 31 and 21 respectively).

 

The feedback included comments on Laxton Reserve’s unsuitability and the predominant themes included:

§ too small and safety issues with conflicting uses – playground, picnic facilities;

§ needs fencing;

§ proximity to residences;

§ dog waste; and

§ noise with barking.

 

Feedback through Merit

A total of 145 communications were received through Council’s Customer Response Management system from a total of 32 individuals. The most populous items included:

§ safety issues with dogs entering the children’s playground;

§ issues with dog waste;

§ excessive dog barking;

§ dogs entering private properties; and

§ dog owners not complying with time restrictions.

 

Two online petitions were started in relation to Laxton Reserve, one opposed to the off leash trial (currently 245 supporters) and another in support (currently 340 supporters).

 

Laxton Reserve - Outcomes

Council identified the need for off leash dog facilities across Marrickville in the 2012 Recreation Needs Research and the trial at Laxton Reserve has validated the popularity of this recreation activity in the Dulwich Hill area. Dulwich Hill has a limited supply of open space and there are similarly limited options to provide an off leash facility.

 

Notwithstanding the level of support or opposition, the trial at Laxton Reserve has divided the local community and this is reflected in the polarised feedback.  In this regard the trial has not educated park users on ways to share the spaces and encourage the community to create their own solutions to park sharing issues.

 

The safety issues associated with preventing dogs from entering the children’s playground have been unable to be resolved in addition to difficulties with managing access such that dogs do not go within 10 metres of the playground.

 

There has been feedback on fencing parts of Laxton Reserve and as a result investigations have been undertaken on options to effectively prevent dogs entering the playground. Fencing the playground or the dog off leash area within Laxton Reserve reduces park connectivity and divides the park into compartmentalised use areas that results in unusable space, concentrated use and wear areas. This is inconsistent with the objective of shared open space associated with the trial and will result in a disjointed and poorly functioning park. The implementation of time restrictions at Laxton Reserve was unpopular with both dog users and non-dog users alike. While there is a good level of support for off leash at Laxton, in light of the evident safety, management and community issues, it is not considered a viable long term option and it is not proposed to make this a permanent off leash area.

 

Laxton Reserve - Implications

The Laxton trial has demonstrated the evident need for an off leash dog area in the locality. Without a designated off leash area, it is foreseeable that unauthorised off leash use will proliferate in all available open space in Dulwich Hill resulting in impacts on residents and the endangered bandicoot population.

 

Other options investigated to provide an off leash facility to effectively service the Dulwich Hill area include:

 

§ Johnson Park – this option was most frequently mentioned as an alternate off leash area by the community. The park is well used and has a playground, fitness facilities, basketball court, cricket nets, open grassed area and is located in the bandicoot protection area. A trial of time restricted use has potential to minimise conflicts with children’s play (including the Magic Yellow Bus) and the endangered bandicoot population;

§ Hoskins Park – this park contains children’s play facilities and the site is relatively small for this use. The pathway connections from the play facilities to the public toilets would conflict with an off leash area and the park is also located in the bandicoot protection area adjacent to the rail corridor;

§ Yeo Reserve (Ashfield Council) – although not located in the Marrickville Local Government Area, the location of Yeo Reserve would effectively service the Dulwich Hill area. The park is currently on leash only. Yeo Park Infants School is located within the park providing public education for K – 2 years in an unfenced facility. Discussions with representatives of the school have revealed that the school is unfenced as well as existing issues with unleashed dogs and children. Any proposal to introduce off leash use to the park would not be supported by the school; and

§ Morton Park – this park has been the subject of an online petition by residents as suitable for an off leash facility (currently with 180 supporters). The park is of a reasonable size and contains children’s play facilities and is not in the bandicoot protection area. The location is a considerable walking distance from Dulwich Hill and requires the traversing of two major roads. Nonetheless Morton Park may effectively service the needs of residents on the eastern side of Dulwich Hill and remove some pressure from the more conflicted open space around Laxton Reserve / Arlington Reserve / Johnson Park.

 

 

 

To provide effective management of conflicting uses and potential impact on the endangered bandicoot population from unauthorised off leash dogs in the Dulwich Hill area, it is proposed to implement trial off leash areas as follows:

 

§ Johnson Park - the proposed trial area at will comprise the raised rectangular grassed area which is easily defined and not immediately adjacent to the rail corridor which based on the available evidence is the most likely location for bandicoots. To manage potential impacts to the endangered bandicoot population, minimise conflict with the children’s playground and cricket nets and not coincide with the Magic Yellow Bus program, the trial is proposed to be subject to the following time restrictions:

§ 6am to 9am, 6pm to 8pm during day-light saving, and 5pm to 7pm during non-daylight saving time.

§ Morton Park - the proposed trial area is in the north-western area of the park to minimise any conflict with children’s play.

 

 

Petersham Park

 

Petersham Park - Evaluation

Respondents were initially asked if they visited the park to exercise their dog to identify dog owners from other park users. They were then they were asked if they were:

§ supportive;

§ somewhat supportive;

§ neutral;

§ somewhat opposed; or

§ opposed.

 

The opportunity was also given to add further comment / feedback on the trial. A total of 84 people provided feedback in response to the evaluation survey for Petersham Park.

§ 63 (78%) were dog users and were supportive (97%) or somewhat supportive (3%) of the trial.

§ 21 non dog users rated their support of the trial as follows:

opposed                        11

somewhat Opposed      1

neutral                           1

somewhat supportive    3

supportive                     5

§ The most common issues raised in comments by all respondents in order of frequency were:

need for more enforcement / monitoring  9

safety – inadequate control of dogs          6

lack of fencing                                 6

dogs adjacent to playground            5

dog waste                                         5

 

All responses from dog and non-dog users at Petersham Park are included at ATTACHMENTS 4 and 5.

 

Feedback through ‘dogs@marrickville.nsw.gov.au’

A total of 3 communications were received concerning Petersham Park and expressed concerns about the need to monitor owners who did not effectively control their dogs.

 

 

Feedback through Merit

A total of 9 communications were received through Council’s Customer Response Management system. The majority of these communications raise potential safety issues with off leash use and dogs off leash outside the designated trial area.

 

Petersham Park - Outcomes

While those opposed to the trial expressed strong views, there was overall support for the trial from the community. Notwithstanding Council’s decision for trialing an additional off leash area, in light of the level of support from the community it is proposed that the area covered by the current trial is made permanent.

 

Following a petition from local residents a meeting was held with local residents on site. A Notice of Motion was presented on 19 April 2016 and Council resolved to implement an additional trial off leash area at Petersham Park allowing dogs around the oval off leash between the hours of 6am and 9am, and 5pm and 8pm during day-light saving, and 4pm and 6pm during non-daylight saving time. The existing artwork on the signs will need to be replaced and an assessment of the need for additional signs / bin supply undertaken prior to commencement which is anticipated in the next few months pending adoption of the 2016/17 budget.

 

 

Sydenham Green

 

Sydenham Green - Evaluation

The evaluation process for Sydenham Green was identical to that used for Petersham Park.

A total of 36 people provided feedback in response to the evaluation survey for Sydenham Green.

§ 21 (%) were dog users and were supportive (95%) or somewhat supportive (5%) of the trial.

§ 15 non dog users rated the support of the trial as follows:

- Opposed                          7

- Somewhat opposed        2

- Supportive                       6

§ The most common theme raised by 4 respondents was the need for fencing due to proximity to roads.

 

All responses from dog and non-dog users at Sydenham Green are included at ATTACHMENTS 6 and 7.

 

Feedback through ‘dogs@marrickville.nsw.gov.au’

A total of 3 communications were received concerning Sydenham Green all from the same resident. They expressed concerns with the size and popularity of the existing fenced area and that the trial area was unfenced and adjacent to busy roads.

 

Feedback through Merit

No communications were received through Council’s Customer Response Management system concerning the off leash trial area at Sydenham Green.

 

Sydenham Green – Outcomes

While there was a much lower level of feedback throughout the trial and response to the evaluation at Sydenham Green, the trial was highly supported by dog users with a level of support from non dog users. Based on evidence gathered during patrols by Rangers, the trial DOLA at Sydenham Green did not appear to be highly used. Nonetheless Rangers have referred to the relevance of the area for the purpose of re-educating off leash users of the nearby Tillman Park of the trial area at Sydenham Green in order to transfer off leash use at Tillman to Sydenham Green. Given the overall support from the community it is proposed that the current trial area is made permanent.

 

Internal Engagement

There has been regular internal engagement throughout the off leash trials project involving Corporate Communications and Strategy, Environmental Services, Investigation and Design and Monitoring Services.

 

Comments from Environmental Services

As custodians of the Threatened Species Conservation Act (1995), Environmental Services recommend that Office of Environment and Heritage (National Parks and Wildlife) are consulted as part of the current trial evaluation and any potential expanded trial proposal/changes in relation to impacts to the Endangered Bandicoot population at parks within Council’s Bandicoot Protection Area.

 

Council Officers collaborate and implement a strategic approach to DOLA in relation to Council’s Priority Biodiversity Areas and Bandicoot Protection Area that will protect and enhance biodiversity as per Council’s Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plans. See map attached for parks within the Bandicoot Protection area.

 

Johnson Park

The proposed trial DOLA at Johnson Park is not supported by Environmental Services given these changes could further potentially negatively impact the endangered bandicoot population through:

§ an increased predation risk by dogs; and

§ a decrease in foraging habitat.

 

Any negative impacts to the bandicoot population as a result of this proposal potentially contravene Council’s responsibilities under the Threatened Species Conservation Act (1995).

 

Council’s Biodiversity Officer has previously considered off leash areas in parks within the Bandicoot Protection Area and because of the relatively small space at Johnson Park within the context of biodiversity and Threatened Species protection / legislative responsibilities and the potential for conflict with many other uses in the park, concluded that it is not suitable as a potential DOLA.

 

Morton Park

Environmental Services supports a trial DOLA at nearby Morton Park. This park is not within the Bandicoot Protection Area and the space large enough to accommodate multiple users and a DOLA potentially with minimal conflict.

 

Yeo Park (Ashfield)

Environmental Services supports a trial DOLA at nearby Yeo Park. This park is not within the Bandicoot Protection Area and the space large enough to accommodate multiple users and a DOLA potentially with minimal conflict and worthy of further investigation.

 

 

PUBLIC CONSULTATION

 

Extensive community engagement has been undertaken as follows:

 

§ Letterbox drop to residents adjacent to the three trials informing them of the trial;

§ Council Column;

§ Media releases;

§ Council website;

§ Development and installation of DOLA signage in relevant parks; and

§ Installation of additional bins and bags (Dec ’15).

 

Evaluation of the trial was through the following:

§ An evaluation survey was undertaken throughout March into early April 2016;

§ Letterbox drop to residents adjacent to the three trials informing them of the evaluation process;

§ A designated email address dogs@marrickville.nsw.gov.au was set up for direct submissions from the community throughout the trial;

§ Your Say Marrickville;

§ Council Column; and

§ Media release.

 

 

CONCLUSION

 

The trial off leash areas at Petersham Park and Sydenham Green have received overall support from the community and it is proposed that the current trial areas are made permanent. The trial at Laxton Reserve has highlighted a number of issues and it is not proposed that the use of this area for off leash dogs is continued. The Laxton trial has demonstrated the evident need for an off leash dog area in the locality. Without a designated off leash area, it is foreseeable that unauthorised off leash use will proliferate in all available open space in Dulwich Hill. To provide effective management of conflicting uses and potential impact on the endangered bandicoot population from unauthorised off leash dogs, it is proposed to implement trial off leash areas at Johnson Park (time restricted) and Morton Park.

 

 

ATTACHMENTS

1.View

Monitoring Report on Trial Off Leash Areas - September 2015 to March 2016

2.View

Laxton Reserve Dog Users Evaluation Responses

3.View

Laxton Reserve Non-dog Users Evaluation Responses

4.View

Petersham Park Dog Users Evaluation Responses

5.View

Petersham Park Non-dog Users Evaluation Responses

6.View

Sydenham Green Dog Users Evaluation Responses

7.View

Sydenham Green Non-dog Users Evaluation Responses