Ban on barbecues put on back burner by Dorset Council

A Dorset Council committee has recommended not to impose an outright enforceable ban on disposable barbecues across its land – but is instead proposing a new policy to educate the public about their hazards.

At a meeting of the Place and Resources Overview Committee on Thursday 25th February 2021, councillors discussed a two step approach to the control of disposable barbecues – that can be a major fire risk, as was seen by the fire in Wareham Forest in 2020.

Option to introduce penalty legislation if necessary

This would initially involve a drive to increase public awareness of the problems, like the ‘Barbecues burn more then bangers’ campaign that was launched last summer. There would be an option to introduce penalty legislation if necessary in a second step, next year.

However, several councillors spoke against introducing a legally enforceable Public Spaces Protection Order regarding barbecues, instead opting for a new council policy that would educate people about the hazards of disposable barbecues.

This policy will only apply to Dorset Council land, which includes Durlston Country Park in Swanage.

The committee also recommended looking at creating designated barbecue areas, providing suitable disposal bins for barbecue coals and funding fire wardens.

Disposable barbecue causing grass to burn
Wareham Fire Station

“We really felt this would help our staff”

Environment advice manager for Dorset Council, Bridget Betts explained why the policy option was recommended over some of the other suggested avenues.

She said:

“The first option was designation of a public spaces protection order, but in conclusion we recommended not to pursue this at this moment in time, but maybe evaluate that after this year’s season.

“The second option is creation of a new council by-law. To be honest, we couldn’t find any examples where this has been effective. They’ve got them in Weymouth, and that wasn’t effective because of enforcement. So again, our recommendation was not to pursue that at this moment.

“Option three was the creation of two new council policies. The sky lantern and balloon policy, that was about fire and litter.

“And a new policy on disposable barbecues and campfires. We really felt this would help our staff. Primarily because they often go out and talk to people and they don’t feel like they have any backing from Dorset Council to say what they’re saying. They just say we don’t want you to do it here, so a policy would be really good for that.”

No barbecues sign
Purbeck Police

Importance of signs

Councillor Ray Bryan, Portfolio Holder for Highways, Travel and Environment, highlighted the importance of ensuring ‘no barbecue’ signs are in place as Dorset braces for a wave of tourists as the end of lockdown looms.

He said:

“Last year when we faced this problem, we put out a vast number of signs on all the roads entering into Dorset and I think because we are expecting quite a heavy influx of tourists over the next few months, as lockdown goes, we need to make sure we do absolutely everything we can this year.”

Disposable barbecue left on beach
Swanage coastguard

Caution about barbecue sites

Councillor Sherry Jespersen of the Hill Forts and Upper Tarrants ward near Blandford raised concerns about proposals to designate specific barbecue areas.

She said that these zones could become defined by this status, if this plan was adopted, which could alter the experience of the area for people not taking part.

She said:

“I do have a concern though, about putting sites in places all over the council including places like Sturminster Newton Mill. If you put a barbecue site there, you’re sending out a message that this is a good place to have a barbecue. 

“For many of these sites, if you then make them available and you promote them or they become well known for barbecue sites, you’ve fundamentally changed the nature of that site, because then when people who are not barbecuers and people like me who don’t care for a barbecue, vegetarians and vegans go there, what they’re faced with is a place that smells of barbecue and you’ve made a really profound change to some of these places.”

Wareham Forest fire
Wareham Fire Station

No repeat of “last year’s devastation”

Councillor Ryan Hope of Westham ward in Weymouth warned that ensuring visitors are properly informed is vital to prevent another major fire from occurring – such as that of Wareham Forest

He said:

“To me a policy that has no enforcement is merely just guidance and it does concern me what use this policy would be.”

He added:

“As councillor Bryan said, we are going to have an influx of visitors to Dorset this year. It is really important that education is given to everyone who is coming to these areas because we do not want a repeat of last year’s devastation in the woodlands with the fire.”

Wareham ward’s councillor Beryl Ezzard joined in with urging for measures to avoid a repeat of last year’s forest fire which was started by either disposable barbecues or a campfire, saying:

“I’m Wareham, and obviously we were involved in the horrible fire last year and many, many acres of forestry at Wareham Forest were devastated. It is growing back, but we do need to keep a very close watch on everything all the time.”

Abandoned BBQs at Durdle Door
Lulworth Estate

“Children were treading on them – it’s not good”

Councillor Laura Miller of West Purbeck ward said:

“I’d just ban them…

“Speaking as a volunteer litter picker who was constantly picking up hot leftover barbecues and dousing them in the sea – of course it’s not quite such a problem on the beach, the fire risk – but within a lot of the cliffs, children were treading on them – it’s not good.

“And one of the things that we’re working on for Lulworth is how we can educate people to have the sense of collective environmental responsibility, because I know that actually that’s something that’s really gaining a lot of momentum at the moment.”

The council committee voted unanimously in favour of the recommendations, which will now be presented to the Dorset Council cabinet. If approved, it will then go to the full council for final approval before becoming council policy.

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