Councillors have agreed to force people who drop litter or allow their dogs to foul the streets to attend classes or face a fine.
Members of the infrastructure committee voted by 12 votes to five on Wednesday to toughen up a scheme proposed by officials amid concerns it could have been seen as a “soft option” for offenders.
A report by head of environmental health Maggie Dunne recommended that dog owners and those who drop litter should be educated on the impact their activities have on the community rather than be forced to pay a fine.
Even youngsters under 16 – who until now have escaped penalty other than a letter being sent to their parents – would be asked to attend the course. Under the guidelines offenders could also spend a day on patrol with community wardens.
The recommendations came after a review of notices served revealed many fixed penalties were issued in some of Shetland’s poorest parts.
Offenders found it difficult to pay and arrangements were usually made to allow them to pay in instalments as the fine exceeded their weekly income.
The report said many offenders have “complex and chaotic lifestyles” which may explain the number of fixed penalties issued.
However South Mainland councillor Rick Nickerson said the report offered no “sanction” for offenders if the fines were removed, with nothing to force them on to the education programme being suggested.
He moved an amendment that the fine would remain for those who do not attend the course, adding: “I think this could be seen as a soft option.” He was seconded by Shetland West councillor Gary Robinson.
His move also struck a chord with town councillor Gussie Angus, who said Lerwick Community Council – on which Mr Angus also serves – had found the level of dog mess in Lerwick to be “absolutely disgusting”.
“The conclusion of the community council is that unless and until there is some naming and shaming through folk being convicted for this we’ll not see any improvement,” he added.
Not all were in favour however. North Isles member Laura Baisley said she recognised the report as being a “carrot rather than stick” approach.
“As a dog owner I understand what’s going on here and people do need to be better educated,” she said.
She said repeat offenders would not be given a second chance and would automatically face the penalty, although Mr Nickerson said this was not about repeat offenders. She was seconded by North Mainland member Bill Manson.
However she was out-voted in her bid to move the recommendation through as it stood.
Currently offenders are fined £40 for allowing their animals to foul the streets. This rises to £60 if it is left unpaid for 28 days.
If the fine is still not paid the council is free to report the offence to the procurator fiscal, which could result in a court appearance.
However the council was guaranteed an annual income ranging from £500 to £1,000 if offenders owned up to the offence straight away and payed the fixed penalty – a small income boost which will mostly be lost following this week’s decision.