Veteran carriage operator calls on authorities to quit horsing around on proposed CBD ban

Veteran carriage operator calls on authorities to quit horsing around on proposed CBD ban
Brendan Rees

A horse-drawn carriage operator, who formerly used stables in Kensington, says he has been “blindsided” by a state government proposal to ban his services from operating in the CBD.

Dean Crichton, owner of Unique Carriage Hire, which has been operating for 35 years, said his livelihood was at stake if the plan went ahead – with his operations having already been “completely trashed” by the pandemic.

Under the proposal, carriages would not be permitted on public roads in the CBD area bounded by Flinders, Spring, La Trobe and Spencer streets.

Operators would still be able to drive their horse-drawn carriages outside this zone within the City of Melbourne with pre-booked passengers.

According to the state government, the current “conditions and circumstances pose risks to safety of horses, horse-drawn vehicle operators and other road users”.

But Mr Crichton strongly refuted this suggestion, saying, “we’ve never hurt any member of the public ever”.

He also accused all levels of government of not wanting “anything to do with us”, and that there had been a lack of transparency.

“I can understand if the Melbourne City Council had done a study because a carriage had killed someone or hurt someone … [but] name one occasion where we’ve hurt somebody or it’s been unsafe, just one occasion, they can’t answer it,” he said.

“Yes, we’ve had a couple of horses slip over the years, but I’ve slipped over myself a few times and you can hardly say the industry is unsafe.”

“They say you had a horse die last March, and we say yep, 100 per cent, but it wasn’t safe. We had a horse die from natural causes.”

“I do this because I love my job. I’m a horse lover, not a horse hater,” he said, adding he had “a good relationship” with the RSPCA.

Mr Crichton, 56, said he owned more than 100 horses that were “cared for beautifully” at his farm in Gippsland, where he also kept five carriages worth $35,000 each, which were “specially built and designed to run around Melbourne”.

He said his service was a major tourism drawcard with his horses “constantly being patted” and photographed – something he hoped to continue to enjoy when he handed the reins of his business to his daughter and future generations.

“Why would you want to stop that? Whichever way you look at it, it’s really wrong. Melbourne needs all the help it can get,” he said.

He said despite the city opening up, he had not returned to operations due to a lack of tourists, which had led him to cease using land in Stubbs St, Kensington, where he had allowed his horses to stay in stables a couple of nights a week.    

North West City News understands there is also a yard at Barwise St, North Melbourne that once housed carriage horses, but is no longer in use.

The government will consult with operators and stakeholder groups until January 2022, before further information on the proposal to ban horse-drawn carriages in the CBD is released in early 2022.

The proposal follows a City of Melbourne initiative to stop issuing street trading permits for horse-drawn carriages in 2017, however, they were still allowed to operate as they are classified as vehicles under VicRoads’ rules.    

In April this year, the City of Melbourne passed a motion calling for a forum to consider the future of horse-drawn carriages, which was held in September.

In March, a horse pulling a carriage in Arden St, North Melbourne, collapsed and died – which sparked an outcry from the community and a demonstration outside Town Hall with concerns of animal welfare.

Roads Minister Ben Carroll said the state government had heard the community’s concerns and believed the proposal would improve safety and animal welfare.

“We will continue to work with our road safety partners, RSPCA and the community to ensure animal welfare and safety across the industry,” he said.

Lord Mayor Sally Capp agreed, saying, “we know that road and footpath space in the Hoddle Grid is at a premium, which is why we need to keep people moving as best we can”.

“We look forward to ongoing consultation with operators and key stakeholders to ensure horse-drawn carriages operate in lower risk areas,” Cr Capp said.

RSCPA welcomed the proposed ban, saying it had “long held concerns for the welfare” of horses in the CBD “where horse welfare and safety are severely compromised”.

Animal rights group Melbourne Against Horse-drawn Carriages, which garnered a 40,000-strong petition earlier this year calling for horses to be banned from all Victorian roads, also supported the proposal with campaign manager Kristin Leigh saying the city was “an inappropriate environment” for horses.

“Even if they were to adhere to [road] rules, horses are flight animals, and have often spooked and injured humans and horses over the years and that’s not something that can be managed by any authority – it’s innate to their nature,” she said •

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