THERE is a popular misconception that being a councillor makes you more clever than other people.
I don’t know where this belief stems from, I suppose that it dates back centuries to the days when only local worthies of inherited wealth served as councillors and that we transposed their affluence to mean that they were wise.
Or else this assumed cleverness comes from a councillor’s apparent popularity; they were elected, they won the people’s vote, therefore they must be a cut above, like celebrities. But two words contradict the logic of the better-because-popular argument: The Kardashians.
Or maybe this perceived intelligence comes from the old adage that two heads are better than one and therefore 14 heads, in the case of Lyme Regis Town Council, or 42 heads, in the case of West Dorset District Council, must add up to being very astute.
But from where I’m looking at Lyme’s new catastrophe-in-the-making, the 42 heads of the district council add up to being less astute than my cat’s arse.
In September last year, the district council overthrew the more-learned objections of the town council and decided to allow dogs to run free, off the lead, on Lyme’s Front Beach. One of the principal reasons for this, the district council’s officers told the members, was to encourage tourism because increasing numbers of people want to take their dogs on holiday with them.
In a desperate bid to encourage tourism which is the lifeblood of West Dorset, the councillors agreed to allow dogs to run wild on the Front Beach from October 1st to April 30th, essentially out of the traditional season.
Councillor Alan Thacker, the district council’s Community Safety & Access Portfolio Holder, told his colleagues: “We have taken a common-sense approach which sees dogs largely welcomed in many areas but also prohibited from areas such as children’s playgrounds and some beaches in summertime.”
Why are dogs prohibited in summertime and from playgrounds? Because, as every parent knows, dogs running wild around little children does not work, often they frighten the children.
Utilising it apparently-massive pool of common-sense, the councillors decided, rightly, not to allow dogs on the beach when the beach might be full of kiddies building sandcastles, i.e. in the summer.
However, it appears that the district councillors’ vast wealth of higher intelligence does not stretch to them consulting a calendar, nor conducting a quick web search.
Because had these 42 Einsteins done such, they would have discovered that Easter, traditionally a time for many tourists coming to Lyme, falls on April 1st this year and a web search of last year’s weather would have revealed that on April 9th 2017 the temperature in town reached 68F/20C – therefore in effect qualifying as Cllr Thacker’s “summertime”.
If the weather in Lyme this April matches that of the same period last year, the beach will be packed with families and children making sandcastles, you dog-favouring buffoons.
There are two main issues with mixing dogs off the lead and little children. The first is the fear of disease, which was evidenced last month when a mother complained on Facebook that a dog running free on the Front Beach had scampered up to her daughter and urinated over the toddler’s back.
The second is the law regarding dangerous dogs. This is not as straightforward as the district council intelligentsia may have assumed.
According to the law, for which you can be sent down for six months for breaking, “It is against the law to let a dog be dangerously out of control anywhere, such as in a public place.”
Ah, I hear the Brains of Britain over at Dorchester argue, but we’re not permitting dogs to be dangerously out of control.
But there’s more. The law also states: “Your dog is considered dangerously out of control if it injures someone or [and this is the bit the district council should heed] if it makes someone worried that it might injure them”.
Surely it is not beyond even the gigantic mental capacity of the district council to work out that, given a warm Easter and the Front Beach being packed with families, a little child confronted by a large, freely-running dog may worry that it might injure them? Usually, the child’s screams of terrified hysterics give that away.
So how does putting the children of visitors in fear of packs of dogs bolster tourism in Lyme Regis? Dogs on the beach are more likely to deter families, rather than attract them.
And here’s another thing that the huge intellects of the district council appear to have over-looked, there are many, many more visitors with children who come to Lyme so that their kids can play safely on the Front Beach than there are visitors who come to Lyme solely because their dogs can run on that beach. The council’s idiot decision risks offending the majority for the interests of the minority, what sort of sound tourism sense is that?
With councils everywhere slashing the tourism budget because of Government funding cuts and with Lyme and West Dorset being almost-entirely dependant upon the visitor’s pound, we need much more intelligent thinking if our essential tourism economy is to survive.
We need experts, publicity experts, marketing experts, experienced, highly-trained professionals, not a bunch of inexperienced, un-taught amateurs who think they are experts just because they are on a council.
I fear for the future of Lyme’s crucial tourism economy if there is much more of this dilettante thinking by dabblers who have no idea of how to do it right.
But if they want the job done properly, they’ve got my number.