Town planners will begin an unlikely challenge in the High Court today to the notion that a dog is a man's best friend.
Stratford-upon-Avon District Council wants a Warwickshire couple to remove or destroy three of their nine greyhounds because it believes people should own no more than six dogs.
The case, which threatens the legal right to own a pet, will have serious implications for all pet owners. If the council wins, local authorities will be able to use planning laws to stop people owning pets, legal experts said last night.
Stephen and Cherie Hitchman, who live on a 10-acre smallholding, argue that they have an inalienable human right to own dogs, which can not be restricted by town planning law. They are being represented in court by the leading commercial barrister Bitu Bhalla and Tony Baldry, the barrister MP for Banbury and a former Conservative planning minister.
They will argue that to set an arbitrary figure for the number of dogs per household is an infringement of an "Englishman's right to own a pet". They will also use the Human Rights Act to support the Hitchmans' case by saying that the "parting of a dog from its owner" is a breach of the right to a private and family life.
Mr Hitchman used to race the greyhounds and they are now family pets.
The council contends that because the Hitchmans own more than six dogs in a "residential area" they must apply for planning permission for use of the premises as a boarding kennel under the Town and Country Planning Act. Its lawyers will ask Judge Peter Clark to accept that the ownership of more than six dogs is not "ancillary to the residential use of the property".
Environmental health officers first brought proceedings after the Hitchmans' neighbours, who live in the other half of the semi-detached property, complained of being disturbed by barking. The council admitted it had been unable to find evidence of noise nuisance and so decided to pursue the case by issuing an enforcement notice under planning law.Reuse content