Acacia Bay dog owners Chris Smith (left), Jane Arnott and Bryan Martin are fighting Taupō District Council’s decision to remove Besley Park as an off-lead dog exercise area. Photo / David Beck
A group of Acacia Bay dog owners feel they have been ignored after Taupo District Council removed Besley Park as an off-lead dog exercise area.
The council updated its Control of Dogs Bylaw 2021 in October, after a review, public consultation and consideration of the feedback.
At the time, the council said dog owners would be able to exercise their pets in the stormwater gully within the boundary between Acacia Bay and Reeves Rds.
Resident, dog owner and ethics consultant Jane Arnott claims the decision discriminates against the neighbourhood’s disabled and elderly dog owners.
The consultation invited comments around changes to the bylaw, including the designation of Besley Park as an off-lead area, because it is close to the playground.
However, Jane feels feedback has been ignored and has lodged a complaint against the council with the New Zealand Human Rights Commission.
“Seventy-six per cent of people wanted Besley Park left as it is,” she says.
“The policy manager maintained that the public had to be protected at all times from menace, attack and intimidation. I provided evidence that the park is 95 per cent empty and unused. It’s an amenity and a resource, that the ratepayers pay for, that remains empty.”
Jane says the stormwater gully assigned as an off-lead exercise area is “inaccessible and unsafe for people with disabilities, the elderly and other vulnerable people”.
“I contend that dogs are valued companion animals, particularly to those with disability. They have proven benefits in helping to overcome social isolation and enabling social interaction when their owners go out with them.
“A stormwater gully, which can present as a boggy wet environment and is designated to enable excess water runoff presents as a risky environment that is totally inaccessible to the disabled.
“One resident, who lives opposite the park, has a medical condition. He is retired and elderly and has trained his little spaniel, in that park, to sit, stay and fetch a stick. He cannot drive, he cannot use the stormwater gully. This peaceful recreation was often undertaken when the park was empty.
“His decision to own a dog was influenced by the proximity of the park. He cannot use the stormwater gully as there is no line of sight and his safety as someone living with a disability in this community is fully compromised.”
A council spokesperson said the complaint will be dealt with via the Human Rights Commission’s complaint process.
They said decisions are not made on the basis of the number of submissions received either for or against a proposal.
“Rather, the council carefully considers all submissions received on particular issues and gives weight to the views and preferences of all people potentially affected by a proposal. Note there are a range of activities that take place at Besley Park and it also has a popular children’s playground.”
The council spokesperson says the matters raised by Jane and the other residents were considered during the submission and hearing process, which complied with the Local Government Act.
“We are unable to comment further as the matter is before the Human Rights Commission.”