Greenwich Council has told residents in Kidbrooke that they can’t walk their dogs on a playing field in Kidbrooke which has been leased to Blackheath rugby club – despite a Conservative councillor offering to clear up any mess left behind.
Neighbours of the Hervey Road playing field are able to use the land when nobody else is using it – but they are not allowed to walk their dogs there. They have been campaigning for the ban to be lifted during the lockdown, when neither the rugby club nor local schools are on site.
The residents say their stance is backed by the RSPCA, whose Welsh branch recently issued a call for councils to consider relaxing restrictions during the lockdown.
They are also backed by Conservative councillor Charlie Davis, the opposition spokesperson for sport and leisure, who said that he had offered to personally clean up any mess left by pets at Hervey Road.
“I think whilst it is encouraging Blackheath have left the premise open to residents without dogs, I really do hope they will engage with the concerned residents and groups and find some sort of compromise regarding dog walking,” Davis said.
A spokesperson for Greenwich Council said it was unlikely to relax the rules, saying it could lead to the fields becoming “contaminated” with dog mess.
“We have not formally been asked by Blackheath rugby club to relax the condition on dog walking on the playing fields. However, given that we don’t know when the lockdown will end and the fields are regularly used by schools for PE lessons, they need to be maintained to a standard fit for this purpose,” the council said.
“Owners do not always clean up dog faeces, therefore it would be unsafe to allow dog walking in case the fields become contaminated, and in turn, a health hazard for small children having lessons on the land.”
The stance was backed by Blackheath, including its president Alan Thompson. He said Club had health concerns about relaxing conditions, but also voiced fears the move could lead to additional issues with field maintenance.
“We are in agreement with the ‘no dogs’ policy. As far as we are concerned, the main issue is that owners do not always clear up dog faeces, which then creates problems for those maintaining the grounds and is also a health hazard to children,” he said.
“There is a risk of children contracting toxoplasmosis or toxocariasis from dog excrement, apart from the unpleasantness of children treading in, or falling over into, dog faeces.
“Also, for members of Blackheath rugby club using strimmers around the playing fields, there is the extremely unpleasant experience of accidentally creating a cloud of dog excrement by strimming into an unseen heap of dog faeces.”
He estimated that between 70 to 100 residents were already using the fields daily for exercise.
The sports ground had been regularly used until 2002, and after that was used by local residents and the former Blackheath Bluecoat School. At one point the land had been earmarked for a new school, but instead £1.4 million was spent on refurbishing the site so it could be leased to Blackheath, which signed the 30-year deal at a peppercorn rent in August 2018. The issue was discussed at a council scrutiny panel in February.
Greenwich has formed a close relationship with Club in recent years. In 2016 the side moved its first team matches from its historic home of the Rectory Field on Charlton Road, where it had to share bar takings with other sports clubs that used the ground, to Well Hall in Eltham so it could maximise its revenue. The council loaned Club £35,000 for work at Well Hall, while it also received another loan of £50,000 for Hervey Road.
Lachlan Leeming is the Local Democracy Reporter for Greenwich. The Local Democracy Reporter Service is a BBC-funded initiative to ensure councils are covered properly in local media.
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