Report of the Deputy Chief Executive (Place)
The Cabinet Member considered a report of the Deputy Chief Executive (Place) which concerned the adoption by the Council of a Drone/ Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Policy (“UAV”) in relation to its land and grant the West Midlands Police permission to use Council land, for the launch and landing of drones in order to prevent and detect crime and maintain public safety. Appended to the report were a UAV Policy, UAV Permission West Midlands Police and UAV Permission. The Cabinet Member had received a large number of correspondence, following the publication of the documentation for this meeting, against the proposed policy and had agreed to let Mr Kerry Blakeman speak regarding the concerns.
The report noted that over the last few years a number of concerns had been raised about the flying of drones in both residential areas and in open spaces including parks. The concerns were about the nuisance caused by the noise of drones; privacy due to drones carrying surveillance equipment and the potential danger they could cause to wildlife, animals and people particularly when landing. Advice had been supplied to residents stating that any problems with drone flying should be reported to the Police and the Council’s Community Safety Team who would carry out an investigation. Council officers had asked drone flyers in parks to stop their activities.
However the Council does not have a drone policy and to date had dealt with any matters using vehicle and nuisance prohibitions contained in the Council’s Byelaws for Pleasure Grounds 1962. Due to a growing number of issues with this type of activity, it now appeared appropriate to adopt a drone policy to prohibit their general use on Council land and regulate their specific use such as, for some police and professional or commercial operations. Other Councils had adopted similar policies.
The Council was contacted by the West Midlands Police in 2018 requesting permission for Council land to be used for the launching and landing of police drones in order to prevent and detect crime and maintain public safety. The Force Drone Team for West Midlands Police had stated that the operation of drones supported the reduction in local crime, helped to reduce anti-social behaviour and assisted in evidence gathering to support prosecutions. It helped to tackle issues such as quad biking in public areas, drug dealing, vehicle crime and suspect searches. Other West Midlands councils had already granted conditional permissions to the police to carry out this activity.
An option would be to have drone activity unregulated in parks and allow hobbyists unrestricted access to Council land to fly their drones as they chose. The Council was aware that drone activity caused a nuisance to other park users and concerned residents due to potential surveillance activity. Flying drones could also cause a health and safety hazard to both people and animals. As a land owner and operator the Council was likely to be held liable for any damage caused to people or property as a result of it allowing the flying of drones in its parks and open spaces.
A second option would be to leave the situation as it was with drone operators being advised by Council officers of the vehicle and nuisance prohibitions contained in the Council’s Byelaws for Pleasure Grounds 1962. However, this did not present a clear position for the public about the use of drones and does not deal with any exceptions which the Council may wish to grant for example for the police or commercial activities.
The proposed option was to adopt a Drone Policy for Council owned and controlled land which would give clear guidance on the use of drones. If this was not followed the Council would be able to ask people to leave its property if they were flying unauthorised drones or UAVs. The Drone Permission for the West Midlands Police would allow the police to use drones on Council land without gaining permission from the Council each time they wished to carry out an activity. The general Drone Permission would allow professional and commercial organisations to use Council land for flying drones under strict regulation and with the appropriate public liability insurance. There would be a charge of £50.00 for the permission and an additional charge for any photography undertaken to cover administrative expenses.
Mr Blakeman spoke against the proposed policy and was concerned about the ban on leisure flights from Council land i.e. parks and open spaces and felt adoption of the policy would be detrimental to the City. Reasons that he was against the proposed Policy included:
· There had not been consultation on the policy.
· The possibility of promoting safe legal responsible flying of drones in accordance with legislation in the Drone Code.
· Technology to consider including GPS systems were able to restricted flite in certain areas.
· There was to be new legislation soon regarding registration and a flight test which would reduce nuisance and unregistered flights.
· Drones produced images which promoted the city.
· The erosion of privacy when mobile phones with cameras were frequently used in public places.
· The Councils liability for damage for example would the council be liable if a dog attached someone in the park?
· Concerns also included restricting families using drones for photos in the park and unintended consequences of the ban resulting in there being nowhere to fly drones and being used in gardens rather than parks contravening the code.
Mr Blakeman offered to assist with the creation of a policy which considered leisure flights and upheld the law and promoted the city. Consideration could be given to looking at a designated area and liability insurance.
Officers noted that the policy was intended to protect the public and the Council and to re-emphasis existing bylaws not make any changes, the bylaws prohibit the use of machinery and disturbance to users in the parks. The Council took reasonable steps to ensure safety including dog control orders and cycling designated routes. Issues had been reported since 2016 as not all users were responsible. The Drone Code referred to ensuring they were not flown near people or property and the city’s parks were frequently used. Also other motorised vehicles had been requested to use parks and had not been permitted.
The Councillors present valued the opinions presented and acknowledged that it was a complex issue demonstrated by the public interest in the policy. They felt it was worth further discussion, including benchmarking with other authorities and would like to give further consideration to balancing the responsibilities to protecting the public and the law with responsible use of drones.
RESOLVED that the Cabinet Member for Policing and Equalities:
1) Consider and delegate authority to the Director, Streetscene and Regulatory Services to sign the Drone and Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Permission to West Midlands Police as in Appendix 2 to the report.
2) With regard to the Drone and Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Policy at Appendix 1 to the report and the Drone and Unmanned Ariel Vehicle (“UAV”) Permission at Appendix 3 to the report and the charge associated with this of £50.00, the Cabinet Member asked for officers to review the Drone Policy and bring back a full report having consideration of the representations made to him.
There is no change to the current situation, the Byelaws remain in place and it continues to be the case that the flying of Drones and Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV) is not permitted in the Council’s parks and open spaces.