TINY dogs caused a huge problem for councillors who struggled to decide what to do about a gang of breeding Chihuahuas living in Fawley.
The diminutive animals were at the centre of an application in which claims of noise, licensing laws and “witch hunts” perplexed members of New Forest District Council’s planning committee for nearly 45 minutes.
Owner Robert Gladstone had appeared at the meeting at Appletree Court in Lyndhurst with NFDC officers backing his request for a two-year authorisation to breed Chihuahuas at his home at 31 Hampton Lane.
New laws required a licence for commercial breeding, Mr Gladstone explained, which in turn necessitated planning permission for the small-scale operation he has run to Kennel Club rules for two years with his wife, who has shown dogs at Crufts.
Fawley Parish Council and four residents had objected about the noise of yapping – which Mr Gladstone likened to the level of children playing or a family barbecue.
He rejected opposition as a “witch hunt” by people who wrongly thought he was running a puppy farm when, in fact, his eight dogs produced only 4-7 litters of up to four pups a year.
Nobody had formally complained to NFDC’s environmental health department about the noise, Mr Gladstone pointed out, and claimed neighbours had praised measures he had put in to shield them from barking.
Environmental health officer Verity Potter said that despite repeated visits her team had been unable to prove any noise nuisance, which the two-year permission would give time to monitor.
“Officers have got it dead right,” said Cllr Arthur Davis. Cllr David Harrison added: “I see no evidence to depart from the officers’ recommendation.”
However, Cllr Alan Glass, a self-confessed Chihuahua-owner who is also a member of Fawley Parish Council, led the argument against Mr Gladstone’s plan.
He said: “The reason we reject this is because Chihuahuas were bred originally in Mexico as guard dogs. They were bred to be extremely noisy and boisterous. I hate to hear the representations being dismissed as rubbish.
“I am concerned that the noise here, from what appears to be breeding for sale, is unneighbourly and in the wrong place.”
Cllr Glass’s motion to refuse was unexpectedly passed 8-7 – but he then struggled to come up with formal planning reasons that could stand up if the case went to appeal.
Chief planning officer David Groom warned him: “You can’t just refuse in view of the comments received. You must make an informed judgement. Environmental health are the experts in this field – their opinion carries some weight.”
Faced with an impasse, Cllr Glass was urged to withdraw his motion by councillors, including Cllr Beverley Thorne who had enthusiastically seconded his original motion.
As the debate went on, an exasperated Cllr Richard Frampton called out: “God, we need some training.”
Cllr Glass refused to back down, proclaiming: “It would make things a lot easier but because of the vehement opinion of Fawley Parish Council, by doing so I would be saying to them that they are being ignored.”
That prompted an urgent intervention by committee administrator Jan Debnam who warned Cllr Glass – who is vice-chair of NFDC – that his stance risked breaching the councillors’ code of conduct.
“He must maintain his role as a district councillor and maintain an overall view of the planning issues. It would create a code of conduct issue if he takes that view without any balance at all,” Mrs Debnam cautioned.
Eventually a compromise was reached in which Cllr Glass withdrew his motion for refusal which allowed councillors – himself included – to reverse their decision, this time by unanimously allowing the application but only for one year instead of two.
It was a relief for the committee which had become increasingly nonplussed over the procedure. At one point Cllr John Olliff-Cooper confused Chihuahuas with chinchillas, a rodent native to the South American Andes.
As the arguments swung to and fro before finally being settled, he sighed: “This sounds like Brexit all over again.”