TOURISTS could be trotting around the streets of Oxford by horse and carriage, if a fresh bid to reintroduce the nostalgic form of transport is successful.
If the application is approved, visitors would be able to travel by carriage along the High Street, Broad Street and other parts of the city centre.
Oxford City Council is now gauging opinion on what could prove to be a popular new tourist attraction, with a public consultation until July 31.
Jo Butler, tourism manager for Visit Oxfordshire, said: “We would encourage any business that enhances the visitor experience in the city, makes Oxford stand out from other places, and helps make Oxford unique.
“The fact a local business is behind this means it is something we would particularly like to encourage.”
But some businesses have already expressed fears that horses could lead to traffic jams, with congestion stretching back to East Oxford, while animal rights campaigners claim the public and horses would be put at risk.
Jeremy Mogford, chairman of the High Street Association, said he had not heard about the consultation, which began 10 days ago.
He said: “It is difficult to argue with the ecological side of it. But I think the carriages could create more congestion.”
The application has been submitted by Kevin Merry Carriages, which has operated a horse carriage business in Forest Hill for more than 10 years, providing transport to weddings, funerals and balls.
The company said it hoped to operate a service in Oxford initially on Sundays from May through to September.
But, if it proves a hit with visitors, the company says the service could be extended to Saturdays, or even throughout the week.
The half-hour journey would start from Broad Street and include Parks Road, Longwall Street, Magdalen Bridge and High Street.
In its submission to the council, the company said: “We believe there is the opportunity in Oxford to provide tourists and members of the public with a similar, stylish, environmentally-friendly Oxford experience.
“We recognise that having large animals in a city centre with many pedestrians, will inevitably lead to health and safety concerns.
“Friesian horses are, by nature, compliant creatures and have been bred for over 300 years specifically to pull carriages. Kevin’s horses have been under his guidance and instruction for many years.”
The company said it had not yet decided how many carriages would operate, but said horses were capable of managing four consecutive routes.
It pledged to ensure that manure would be collected between rides.
Among the scheme’s opponents are Elizabeth Mills, of East Oxford’s Divinity Road Area Residents’ Association, who described the proposal as ludicrous. She added: “Having horses standing on The Broad will attract flies and cause unpleasant smells.
“The average speed of a horse drawn vehicle is 7mph, and they would use the same route as the tour buses.
“This is going to cause tailbacks of traffic right down Cowley and Iffley Roads.”
A similar proposal was rejected by the city council 10 years ago, with the animal rights group Animal Aid opposing an application from Hook Norton-based Oxford Shires. There were 1,200 objections.
Animal Aid director, Andrew Tyler, said: “We presented the council with a substantial dossier demonstrating that such a scheme comes with very severe animal welfare problems and a significant risk to public safety.
“That is why London, Paris, Toronto and Beijing have banned carriages.”
The council’s general purposes licensing committee has given support in principle to the licensing of horse drawn carriages, with officers satisfied with welfare measures. “to ensure the welfare of the horses.”