Rowing boat restrictions overturned by judge
The council argued that a large number of smaller rowing boats was compromising the safety of river users and that several accidents had occurred involving rowers in recent years.
Avon Boating disputed the assessment and vowed to fight the council’s decision in court.
The change in rules sparked a huge campaign organised by Avon Boating called Save Our Stratford Boats which saw thousands sign an online petition calling for the licences to be reinstated.
The matter came to a head at Leamington Magistrates’ Court last Monday where a judge ruled that all the licences should be restored to the company saying the evidence presented to support the reduction was based on ‘conjecture and anecdote’.
Mr Birch said: “We’re absolutely delighted that reason has prevailed and this rash cut of boats by Stratford District Council has been reversed.
“The judge said that although the river can get busy this did not pose a great risk to safety and there was no information to show otherwise.
“We have been deprived of boats for a season, spent a lot of money going to court and SDC have also spent time and money on this.
“We have lost approximately £20,000 through this plus several thousand pounds of legal fees but it’s not about the money it’s about the principle.
“We had all the support from everyone who signed the petition which the judge saw in the court documents and I want to thank everybody who made a contribution and decided to support us, it undoubtedly helped the judge come to his decision.
“We had about 2,500 people sign the online petition plus 1,500 sign the paper one which was fabulous. I was surprised to get that many really, there are a lot of issues that people go out of their way to support and I can appreciate that people might not have been interested in our cause unless they knew Stratford and the river well, so to get that many was amazing.”
Michelle Baird, licensing manager at Stratford District Council, said: “The district council was encouraged at the district judge’s decision overall.
“The authority was fully vindicated that the decision reached was right, that it was correct to be concerned over the serious incidents which have occurred and to conclude that the river is heavily congested.
“However, the council had failed to use ‘a scientific formula’ to determine the scale of reduction in the number of boats to be licensed. Consequently, the council was found to have acted with good intent but without an objective methodology.
“The judge did not make any award of costs and instead has left each party to meet their own costs.
“Clearly the safety hazards which had originally concerned the authority have not gone away and additional conditions have been imposed on the licence with the requirement for an additional patrol boat, and the district council will now revisit this issue and consider what new course of action is appropriate to address these hazards.”