'The status quo is quite enough' - antiques expert speaks out against Southwold dog ban extension
Jewellery expert Geoffrey Munn has been a familiar face for many years on television screens as an Antiques Roadshow valuer.
But he can also often be seen walking his dogs along the beach at Southwold – for the time being, at least.
In November, Waveney District Council will decide whether or not to extend existing regulations and ban dogs from the Promenade beach for eight months of the year.
It’s a proposal that has caused the most controversy in Southwold since the arrival of coffee chain Costa, according to one resident asked for their opinion.
Mr Munn is firmly on the side of maintaining current restrictions – a summer ban across a smaller area of beach – and rejecting the proposal he called an “injustice”.
“The status quo is quite enough,” he said. “There is plenty of room for people who want nothing to do with dogs.
“We don’t want to paint an image of being like ‘Hampstead-on-sea’. What’s here now, suits everybody. People accept the current ban.”
From next October, existing dog control orders will be replaced by public space protection orders (PSPOs), designed to deal with a “particular nuisance in a particular area”.
In Southwold, dogs are already banned from the south promenade to the East Street steps between May 1 and September 30. The new orders would cover the entire promenade for almost double the period of time – from March to the end of October.
Mr Munn and his wife, Caroline, who live in nearby Reydon, were two of three people to stand down from the 440-member Southwold and Reydon Society when it agreed to support the proposal.
“We didn’t feel we had time to make our point, and that’s why we resigned,” he said.
“In a way, the damage is already done – and the societies have only themselves to blame for not seeking proper representation before now.”
The society said that, along with beach hut owners, the chamber of commerce and the RNLI, it had been consulted by Waveney District Council. It said the council had put forward the idea of a ban for all dogs from all beaches, but following reaction from dog owners, Waveney returned with a proposal for the eight-month ban, which the society accepted as a compromise.
Mr Munn calls himself proof that the debate is not simply between beach hut owners and dog walkers.
“I am a beach hut owner who wants things to stay as they are,” he said.
“We are animal lovers, but that’s not the centre of debate for us. It’s the fact that this is an infringement of a hugely domestic situation – a part of the family.
“There are wider implications – not least for commerce. Post-Brexit, the pound is weaker, and people will naturally want to holiday closer to home. This ban can only have an impact on local amenities and impact on the dog-friendly pubs and businesses in town, which are already up against it.” Mr Munn has written an illustrated history of the town, entitled Southwold: An Earthly Paradise. It contains several paintings and drawings of people walking dogs at the beach during the past.
“Southwold has been a holiday destination since the 18th century – it’s commerce relying hugely on pubs and eating,” said the author.
“Illustrations in the book point to the role dogs had in domestic life since time immemorial.
“I called the book An Earthly Paradise due to it being a welcoming, domestic, family retreat.”
The introduction of dog control orders has caused similar controversy across the country, leading the Kennel Club to campaign against examples of what it called “unfair restrictions”.
The Southwold proposals have already sparked a petition signed by almost 2,000 people calling for the ban to be reconsidered and for existing enforcement to instead be improved. The petition was rejected by Waveney District Council as part of the consultation process, arguing that the objections related to a previous wider reaching proposal.
Protestors have regrouped to form Southwold and Reydon Dog Owners Group, which had its first meeting last Thursday and has drawn up a draft constitution.
The proposals also affect Carlton Marshes, where dogs will be banned from a specified area of the reserve at all times. Failure to comply could result in a fine or fixed penalty notice. A further order will require dogs to be kept on leads within other areas. Restrictions in either location will not apply to assistance dogs.
Stephen Ardley, Waveney’s head of operational partnerships, has said it is necessary, as part of new legislation, for the council to review and replace existing dog control orders.
He said PSPOs would allow the council to restrict anti-social activities in a specific place, and it therefore made perfect sense to use PSPOs to tackle irresponsible dog owners.
The revised restrictions, he said, would try to balance the needs of all users and ensure beaches remain family friendly and open for all to enjoy.
Comments can still be submitted to Waveney District Council by Friday, September 30. A decision will be made at Waveney’s cabinet meeting on November 2.
Visit eastsuffolk.gov.uk to view the full proposals.