Published: 12:00, 27 July 2014
A punting firm banned from holding river tours in Canterbury after a safety breach has been given its licence back.
The Canterbury Punting Company was shut down by the city council last month after a boatman stepped out of a punt and into 1ft of water.
The council received a complaint about it from a member of the public, and suspended the firm's licence on the advice of an expert recommended by the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents.
The decision sparked an outcry from the company's staff and customers, and owner Ashley Dalton launched an online petition attracting more than 500 signatures.
On the advice of another expert, the authority this week decided to allow the company to continue its tours on the River Stour - but with a raft of safety conditions.
Mr Dalton says that while he is pleased with the decision, the month-long suspension has hit his Water Lane-based business hard.
He says: "It's back to business as usual as much as we can be, but a lot of staff - understandably - have found employment elsewhere.
"We'll just need to work around it. We have to be operational again as we've already lost so much trade."
Mr Dalton says the hiatus has cost him about 15% of his yearly turnover, and fears for the future if his customers continue to go elsewhere.
He continues: "During the suspension, I had to pay things like business rates and the lease on our shop out of my own pocket. It was looking really bad for a while.
"The most damaging aspect of this is potentially losing the portfolio of clients we've built up over the years, because they've had to use our competitors.
"It's a competitive market with three boat tours companies operating in Canterbury. I just hope they'll return to us now we're back up and running."
Mr Dalton says he is planning to take out insurance which would cover legal expenses in future.
He thinks if he had employed a solicitor when the complaint was lodged, his company's licence would not have been suspended.
The council has temporarily lifted the ban while a report outlining new safety conditions is written up - but will suspend the licence again if river flow conditions worsen.
Head of safer neighbourhoods Doug Rattray says: "We have decided that Canterbury Punting Company operations on the Stour can now resume.
"This follows an interim report from a ROSPA-recommended expert that looked at a variety of safety issues after concerns were raised by a member of the public, including one incident when a punt carrying passengers was seen to be out of control of the boatmen and putting passengers at risk.
"The council has a duty to ensure public safety and has acted entirely properly at all times while investigations were carried out."
Mr Rattray says the interim report recommends conditions relating to river flow and the number of people allowed on each boat.
He continues: "Once we have a full report available, we will then work with the company on these conditions. Once implemented, the council will have no objection to the company operating."
The suspension has been lifted while river flow conditions are calm, because the council "understands this is someone's livelihood at stake".
But Mr Rattray warns: "We must be clear that if there was a marked deterioration in river flow conditions, operations would be suspended again until the new conditions are in place."
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