By Meg Hill
More than 250 locals have signed a petition asking for an off-leash area in Flagstaff Gardens.
The petition was started by a group of dog-owners who met through their efforts to secure an off-leash space.
They’ve complained they have nowhere to walk their dogs off-leash in the CBD and have asked the council to introduce one.
One local dog-owner, Gavin, said he started a change.org petition in March after asking the council for assistance.
“I approached the council back in March this year and got a bit of a run around. We’ve all heard that Flagstaff Gardens can’t have fenced off areas because it’s a heritage-listed park, but that argument doesn’t stand anymore,” he said.
“You’ve got things like the lawn bowls that’s got a fence around it, you’ve got the house that’s got a fence around it, and the basketball courts and tennis courts, so that argument doesn’t really hold water.”
Joanna, another dog-owner who lives near Flagstaff Gardens, said the nearest off-leash areas were not within walking distance.
“I’ve lived in the city for 14 years. I moved to this area six years ago and I think four years ago there were a couple of petitions put together,” she said.
“The council just gave a very short, standard response that said it was a heritage-listed park and there were off-leash areas within the city or close-to.”
But City of Melbourne Chief Executive Officer Justin Hanney told CBD News the council was undertaking a review of off-leash areas and “considering how we might introduce more of these areas while balancing the needs of other park users”.
“We will be conducting community consultation on the review next year,” Mr Hanney said.
“Flagstaff Gardens is one of the busiest parks in the municipality for a range of different uses. It is a very popular place for dog walking as well as children’s play, tennis and bowls, picnicking, exercise, events and passing through.”
“We respectfully ask that dog walkers comply with the leashing requirements, ensuring safe and fair access to the park for all who wish to use it.”
Mr Hanney also said the council was in negotiations with the state government to establish a land use agreement prior to construction of a new dog park at the corner of City Rd and Kings Way in Southbank.
The future Southbank dog park, as well as the other off-leash areas currently closest to the CBD in Ron Barrassi Park in Docklands and Clayton Reserve in North Melbourne are more than 30 minutes walking distance from where Joanna and Gavin live, near Flagstaff.
“It’s impossible for people in full-time work,” Joanna said.
“I work in a hospital; we do long shifts and our dogs are kept at home while we’re at work. The only time for the to meet other dogs is during walks.”
Joanna said as CBD residents they were encouraged to not own cars, and dogs are not allowed on public transport unless muzzled.
“I’ve tried calling taxis and Ubers but then we have the issue of them refusing us because we have pets,” she said.
Gavin said that given Flagstaff was one of the oldest parks in Melbourne, it was rightly heritage protected, but that shouldn’t preclude an off-leash area for dogs.
“As we can see especially during the pandemic more and more people are using the park, more dog-owners are using the park, so I think there’s a real opportunity here to unite the community,” he said.