Published: 00:01, 03 July 2014
A punting firm has launched a desperate bid to reverse a city council decision to shut down its river tours.
The authority suspended the Canterbury Punting Company’s operations as a “public safety precaution” after receiving complaints.
But the owner of the business, Ashley Dalton, says the action was taken after a boatman made an “error of judgement” and briefly stepped into shallow water to give a boat a push.
Mr Dalton thinks the punishment is too severe for a “one-off” mistake, and has launched a petition to plead with the council to reinstate his business and save 10 jobs.
He insists health and safety procedures are “seriously tight” at his firm, which has been taking visitors on punting trips along the city’s waterways for the past five years.
He said: “We haven’t had any incidents where anyone has been injured in the five years we’ve been trading.
“We’ve always shown willingness to cooperate with health and safety in the past and our precautions are seriously tight.”
Mr Dalton fears the council is determined to remove his boats, which he has been building using traditional methods for 14 years, from the river.
He said: “They’re a work of art. Each one takes months to complete, and they’re regularly assessed by marine surveyors to make sure they come up to standard.
“They’re a cut above anything else on the market, but the council’s main objective seems to be to get rid of them. It will be crippling for us.”
City council spokesman Rob Davies said: “Following inquiries on information received and acting on the advice of qualified advisers, the city council has suspended the operations of the Canterbury Punting Company as a public safety precaution.
“This is to allow for further specific checks on the company’s policies, practices and equipment to be carried out as to their suitability for use on the River Stour.
“Once these have been completed, the council will decide on any further necessary action.”
But Mr Dalton said the suspension spells “disaster” for his business.
“It’s a nightmare, especially as it’s peak season. I could have to lay off 10 members of staff, and the coffee shop we sublet is also suffering" - Ashley Dalton
He said: “It’s a nightmare, especially as it’s peak season. I could have to lay off 10 members of staff, and the coffee shop we sublet is also suffering.
“We’re left not knowing how and when it’s going to be resolved.”
Back in 2011, the council put licensing conditions on Canterbury’s pleasure boat operators following clashes between firms who use the city-centre stretch of the River Stour.
The measures included introducing licence plates for boats, training for boatmen in water safety and rescue, identity badges for boatmen, and a ban on causing a nuisance to residents and businesses on the Stour’s banks.
For more information, visit https://www.change.org/en-GB/petitions/canterbury-city-council-lift-the-suspension-on-canterbury-punting-co
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