DORSET Council has been challenged over why its proposed dog orders for Lyme Regis "prioritise dogs over people."

The town council and others want to keep the current restrictions for dogs to be kept on a lead during the winter on the main Front Town beach – while Dorset Council officers have suggested the restriction be removed on the tiny beach, in line with other beaches in the council area.

Lyme Regis ward councillor Belinda Bawden says she fails to understand why her grandson, and others, are potentially being placed at a lower priority than dogs, when most local people in Lyme Regis want to keep the winter lead restriction – especially in light of recent nationally reported dog attacks.

“I simply will not be able to take my grandson on the beach in winter if this is approved. It simply will not be safe,” she said.

She, the town mayor and others have questioned the validity of the 54per cent poll result in favour of removing the restriction – claiming there has been an efficient and vociferous campaign by dog owners to get the result they wanted, including lobbying at Kennel Club shows throughout the country.

Dorset Council is unable to say where the votes came from as it did not collect any postcode information.

Cllr Roland Tarr claims that the results should have been statistically weighted to take into account that two-thirds of those who took part in the polls were dog owners and were likely to vote for measures which benefitted them.

Lyme Mayor Cllr David Sarson said he wanted to make the strongest possible objection to the proposal to remove restriction on the Front Town beach on health and safety grounds and because the area was used throughout the year by families, unlike some other beaches. He said the small, sandy beach was also not fully washed by the sea for much of its width.

“This prioritises a relatively small number of dog owners over the needs of families and visitors,” he told a Dorset Council Place Overview committee (on Thursday), saying that children and other vulnerable people should be able to use the beach throughout the year without fear of being knocked over or stepping onto, or handling, something unpleasant.

Ward councillor Belinda Bawden said the 54 per cent vote flew in the face of the opinion of the town council and the evidence of her constituents who almost unanimously were unhappy about the prospect of dogs being allowed to run free on the popular local beach which was very small compared to beaches at Weymouth, Swanage or Studland.

“I genuinely don’t see why dogs are being prioritised over our children and why, in the light of recent tragedies, Dorset Council would choose to put my grandson, my constituents and visitors at risk in this way,” she said…”I feel the silent majority have not been heard above an organised campaign.”

Gillingham councillor Val Pothecary supported the Lyme councillors' view claiming that it was too easy for a group to hijack a consultation, which she suggested had happened. She said she believed the councillors who had spoken in favour of keeping dogs on leads did know their area and local public opinion best.

The meeting heard there had only been one report to the police of a dog bite on the beach in the last three years.

Portfolio holder Cllr Laura Beddow said there were adequate measures in place in all areas to deal with dogs which were out of control or fouling and argued that there was a strong case for having the same rules in place across Dorset and not leaving Lyme Regis as an exception.

She said that if there were a change in local situations changes could later be made to the orders.

A final decision will be made by the council Cabinet in November with the new regulations to come into force in the New Year.

Concerns were also expressed at the committee about dogs on sports pitches – Dorchester councillor Les Fry; Weymouth councillor Ryan Hope and Cllr Toni Coombs from Verwood, all complaining that teams usually had to walk the pitches before play started because of irresponsible dog owners.

Cllr Hope said Weymouth was benefitting from visitors coming to the town with their dogs and would like to see extra hours allowed during the summer at either end of the day when dogs could use the beaches. He said it was not a view generally shared on the town council.