Charges for fitness instructors and dog walkers in parks

April 24 2018
Charges for fitness instructors and dog walkers in parks

A FITNESS instructor and personal trainer is starting a campaign against what he sees as unfair charges about to be imposed on people like him who hold their classes in parks.

Dog walkers set to be targeted too

A FITNESS instructor and personal trainer is starting a campaign against what he sees as unfair charges about to be imposed on people like him who hold their classes in parks.

Bristol city council wants to save £632,000 from its parks budget by April 2019 as part of plans to prune £2.9 million from parks costs by 2020.

A small part of the savings – about £55,000 – are expected to be made by charging businesses who make use of the parks to make money – namely fitness instructors and dog walkers.

Richard Finch, who lives in Southville and runs bootcamp exercise sessions in city centre parks at lunchtimes, say many questions have yet to be answered about how the scheme will work.

He has been told by a council official that fitness instructors will be charged between 5-10 per cent of their fees to the public.

He says the council have told him they have identified most or all of the fitness operators charging for services in parks – partly by looking for adverts, and partly by photographing the instructors in parks.

“As far as I’m aware they are going to be introducing these charges in May,” he said.

This would be an ambitious timescale as the council hasn’t released the results of consultation on the proposals, and any changes would have to be discussed by the cabinet.

Mr Finch feels that getting people to exercise outdoors should be encouraged, and the council should instead be trying to make money from people who spoil the parks.

“They should be focused on people who take their dogs for a walk and leave their mess there, or people who leave litter, or those who cause vandalism or graffiti,” he said. 

The council has the authority to make charges under current bye-laws. But it has never done so before and the scheme appears fraught with challenges.

Richard asks how the council can be sure it has identified all the instructors making use of parks – and he says the same will apply to dog walkers.

He has been told fitness firms will be invited to meet council officials to discuss the scheme before it starts. 

The council does not appear to be offering anything in return for the payments even though parks are littered with doog mess, broken glass and worse.

“I have to do a risk assessment every time I hold a class outdoors,” Mr Finch said.

“If we are going to pay, we would expect the area to be clean, and the grass to be cut.”

He also thinks firms paying to use parks should get the benefit of being allowed to advertise on park notice boards.

Mr Finch says he has support from other fitness instructors and running groups for his campaign against the charges.



ONE DOG walker contacted by the Voice said she could see the logic of charging anyone who makes a profit out of using a public park.

“I would be willing in theory to pay a reasonable fee,” she said.

“But I wonder how the council will be able to distinguish the professional dog walkers from people who happen to be walking a couple of dogs.”

She also fears the responsible dog walkers – those who advertise, who have insurance, and who may also be licensed by the council for home dog-boarding – will be easy for the council to target. “There are some people doing it under the radar who won’t be visible to the authorities,” she said.

“In any case, you don’t legally need any license or registration to walk other people’s dogs.”

The Voice has seen a copy of a draft code of conduct for Bristol dog walkers, drawn up by the council in March. It would apparently be voluntary and would ask dog walkers to commit to have insurance, to clean up after dogs, for walkers to wear identification and to minimise the effect of walking multiple dogs to other park users. It makes no mention of any charges.




THE VOICE asked the council for a detailed response to the concerns over charging dog walkers and fitness instructors – including whether officers had been photographing classes. We also asked about the other proposals for savings. A council spokesperson said: “The option to charge businesses operating in parks, such as dog walkers and fitness trainers, was looked at and we have been carrying out research to determine what businesses may already be operating in our parks. Advertising in parks is another option being considered.

“The council has considered the response to the public consultation on the future of parks funding and recommendations are going to be put to the cabinet on May 1.

“If the cabinet does decide to go ahead with charging businesses operating in parks, we would seek to establish a system for this as soon as possible. As part of our plans to increase income for parks,  we will also be going  through a fair and transparent procurement process to award concessions for some of our parks and green spaces.  An open day is due to be held in May as part of this process and we will be providing further detail on this shortly.”