PORT Macquarie-Hastings Council will seek further consultation with National Parks and Wildlife regarding dogs on Washhouse Beach at Dunbogan after overwhelming feedback to a draft policy.
The draft Dogs in Public Open Spaces Policy will be deferred to council's October meeting.
Part of that draft policy proposes to prohibit dogs on the beach between Kattang Nature Reserve and the breakwall at Dunbogan.
Public consultation on the draft policy concluded in June and received 193 submissions from the community.
Council's development and environment director Melissa Watkins said the majority of feedback was related to Washhouse Beach.
Ms Watkins said to better understand the risks to the Kattang Nature Reserve, and to fully understand and consider the community's concerns prior to any policy changes being implemented, further consultation will now be sought.
National Parks and Wildlife Service has stated that Kattang Nature Reserve provides important refuge for threatened species such as pied oystercatchers, little terns, beach-stone curlews, loggerhead turtles and white-bellied sea eagles.
NPWS supports the continuation of dog walking at nearby Dunbogan Beach.
Two community-led petitions have run in conjunction with the draft policy review period - one campaigning to keep Washhouse Beach an off leash dog-friendly space has 852 signatures; while the Friends of Kattang campaign with 145 signatories supports council's proposal.
Ruth Reynolds stressed the benefits of walking dogs on beaches and said most animal owners actively help to protect the environment.
"People who own dogs love animals and respect the environment. Many of the locals who walk along the beach pick up debris and plastics and are very concerned for the environment and consistently walk close to the water avoiding the scrub lands," she said.
Ms Reynolds said Washhouse Beach is accessible and safe, particularly for elderly walkers and those who have companion dogs.
"People with disabilities and mobility concerns especially elderly people can't access other beaches locally," she said.
"There is a huge amount of evidence-based research supporting pets (dogs) having a huge impact on the physical and psychological well-being of vulnerable people. During COVID the need for people to have the opportunity to walk dogs is integral to health and well-being.
"The only other dog friendly beach is secluded and many women, often working full time, who can only walk very early or very late including myself feel unsafe walking on South Beach compared to Washhouse for obvious reasons."
Friends of Kattang Nature Reserve member Sue Proust hopes the review of feedback will result in an informed decision.
"I guess it could be a good thing to have a bit of time for everyone to take a step back and have a think about the impact of dogs on the beaches," she said.
It's not the first time the dogs on Washhouse Beach issue has been before council.
In 2010, council reversed its dogs prohibition rule at the beach, making it an off-leash zone, after successful lobbying by the Dunbogan community and Camden Haven Surrounding Areas Dog Support Committee.
At the July meeting, council also approved its driving on beaches policy.
That decision comes with the condition the policy will be monitored and is reviewed in 12 months.
Mayor Peta Pinson said it was important the use of local beaches meets the needs of all beachgoers while protecting the environment.
"We live a coastal area and people enjoy our environment," Cr Pinson said.
"People love to 4WD on the bush tracks and go up into the mountains and enjoy that aspect of the region we live in. And people like to get close to the shoreline and driving on the beach.
"While I recognise that in doing that, and while driving close to dunes, it can cause damage to those areas."
The policy has implemented a reduction in speed limit from 50km/h to 40km/h consistent with Mid Coast Council, RMS school zones and recommendations from National Parks and Wildlife Services.
There will be a restriction of parking at least 25 metres away from beach access points implemented and beach driving permits will now be available for purchase via the PayStay App. Annual permits will be valid for 12 months from date of purchase.
"It really is an educational piece council needs to undertake when it comes to responsible beach driving by limiting the speed people can do. But at the end of the day, we have to educate people that when people are walking on the beach and enjoying it by foot, people in vehicles need to be mindful," Cr Pinson said.
"Our environment doesn't belong to one group of people, or one person ... it belongs to us all. We can't control the environment, but what we can control is how we treat the environment."
Cr Lisa Intemann said there needs to be mutual respect for all of the region's shared spaces.
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