|The first main evidence-gathering session for this review involved contributions from representatives of the Local Authority and Cleveland Police. To supplement the information presented at this meeting, Members had also been given a link to the Control of Horses Act 2015 legislation.|
Local Authority Officers reminded the Committee of the background briefing that was provided at the last meeting in December 2019 to aid discussions around the scoping of the review. In addition, the following documents were circulated:
SBC Equine Bailiff Services Specification (Draft)
SBC Illegally Grazed Horses on Council Land - Protocol for Security Centre Staff
SBC Land Warning Letter
SBC Horse Owner Passport / Document Receipt
SBC Horse Reclaim Instructions
The representative from Cleveland Police drew attention to the circulated Protocol for Management of Horses in York document as an example of what exists elsewhere in relation to this issue. The protocol included flowcharts on reporting and responding to horse-related problems, as well as a section around roles and responsibilities.
Further observations regarding fly-grazed horses from a Police-perspective were noted as follows:
The Police fully accept that this is an issue across the whole of Cleveland, not just within Stockton-on-Tees. Officers have met with the Forces legal team, and became aware of the existing policy in York which has similar problems in relation to fly-grazed horses as Cleveland.
The Force are keen to work in partnership to address concerns, but need buy-in from Local Authorities across Cleveland. Most Councils are willing to co-operate, though Hartlepool have yet to commit - the Chair suggested that they be approached on behalf of the Committee to encourage them to join in efforts to tackle this issue.
A key problem is not having anywhere to store horses.
There is no active Police protocol currently in place, and any specific incidents are dealt with on an ad-hoc basis. The York protocol covers all aspects and is a good foundation to build from, though geographical differences are acknowledged.
In terms of available data, there have been 198 recorded issues of fly-grazed horses across Cleveland (62 within Stockton-on-Tees) in the last six months. Redcar and Cleveland had the most reported incidents.
The main issues discussed were as follows:
The draft Equine Bailiff Services specification document could be used should the Council decide to go out to tender for such a service. In 2016, a contractor was in mind, but they did not want to get involved in the reunification of a horse with its owner.
Where a contractor is based brings its own challenges - if within or near the Borough, response times would be quicker, but the risk of traceability is higher (owners trying to get back their horse). If a contractor is outside the Borough, there would be a longer response time and increased travel costs to consider.
The protocol for Security Centre staff requires an update, but would not be required if a contractor could provide a full service.
Clearer vision of a partnership approach since the relevant Local Authority Officers and the Cleveland Police representative began working together.
Members queried if Council-owned land on Thornaby Road was being monitored, though it was noted that the vast majority of land around that particular area was privately-owned.
The situation with traveller-owned horses was discussed, something which was specifically referenced within the York policy. It was noted that without a formal policy or adequate financial resources, dealing with concerns is very difficult - however, if everyone is aware of their responsibilities, issues can be more easily addressed, and the Police do have powers to deal with horses.
The Committee queried what the horses in question are used for, and were informed that this can vary. Traditionally it was for breeding, and may be part of a cultural identity.
Members asked if there was a risk of disease being spread to the wider community. Officers stated that some diseases are statutorily notifiable, but that there is no recognisable database for where horses are kept. Livery yards are not licensed premises, and there is more chance of disease within these yards.
Once a horse is removed from an area, whoever carried this out becomes liable / responsible. Whilst removing a horse is difficult in itself, doing this can send out a strong message which can act as a deterrent.
Sometimes a horse can be left close to the edge of a highway to get it conditioned to traffic and being on or near roads.
Incidents of horses being left in someone elses field were highlighted which puts a landowner in a very difficult position. If a landowner opens a gate to get a horse off their land, they could be liable if an accident subsequently occurs - there may also be ramifications from the horse-owner if they do this.
The Committee asked if a landowner was responsible for the welfare of a horse on its land. Officers stated that, under the Animal Welfare Act, once someone starts to have physical contact with a horse, they can be liable. The Local Authority can seize horses under the Act, but SBC no longer do this - instead, if a horses welfare is compromised, the Council would look to work with the RSPCA. Historically, there were a very small number of cases where a horse had to be seized. Sometimes the Council receives a complaint about a horse being cold (in winter) or dead (when it is not).
The Chair proposed that, to allow the Committee more time to digest the information provided at this meeting, Members should take away the documentation and forward any questions they may have to the Scrutiny Officer. A response to the questions can then be given at the next Committee meeting.