Council denies harming carriage industry

By James Manton

The City of Melbourne has effectively shut down the city's horse-drawn carriage industry but refuses to admit doing so.

The council announced in May that it would no longer renew street trading permits from horse-drawn carriage businesses after they expired on June 30.

Horse-drawn carriage operator Alex MacDonald says the council has intentionally hindered the industry in the city and been subversive in its decision-making process.

Mr MacDonald’s revenue has dropped about 60 per cent since his last permit expired which has forced him to lay off a number of staff.

“I never heard anything and then I heard it on the radio that they’d cancelled the permits,” Mr MacDonald said.

Mr MacDonald said he was denied an opportunity to speak to councillors last year because council meetings at which, the matter was to be discussed never eventuated.

“I never had the chance to give any submission (to the Future Melbourne Committee). The meeting never happened,” he said.

At a Future Melbourne Committee meeting last month, Lord Mayor Robert Doyle said the idea that the council did not see the horse-drawn carriage industry as a tourism attraction was a “misrepresentation”.

“What we decided to do was to stop issuing permits,” he said. “Carriages have a perfect right to operate. They are vehicles as classified by VicRoads.”

“We are happy if they continue to operate, but it will not be with a City of Melbourne permit.”

The permit issue was supposed to be discussed at a Future Melbourne Committee meeting in September last year, however it was pulled from the agenda with the intention that it be relisted for discussion again early 2017.

A City of Melbourne spokesperson said businesses were first made aware of the council’s decision on July 20 last year, however Mr MacDonald denies this.

The spokesperson said the decision was made because of the effect the new Metro Rail works would have on parking in Swanston St, moving the horse-drawn carriage pick-up spot from the corner of Swanston and Flinders streets to St Kilda Rd opposite the Queen Victoria Gardens.

“We weren’t even informed of the decision before it was announced on the radio, which, considering we’re a key stakeholder and we employ people and have horses to look after and things like that, I think it’s pretty poor form from a supposed Liberal leader that he does this to small businesses,” Mr MacDonald said.

Mr MacDonald criticised the council’s inability to regulate the industry, saying that the council issued only one fine in the past five-and-a-half years despite three known illegal operators working in the CBD.

“I expect a lot of cowboys on horses and carriages if they’re not regulated, but I don’t expect the council to behave like cowboys,” he said.

Mr MacDonald said he may be forced to trade illegally in the CBD if the industry was not regulated properly.

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