SEVEN hundred people have signed a petition opposing the introduction of horse-drawn carriages in Oxford city centre.

It has emerged the petition was organised by the animal rights group PETA (The People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals), which alerted its supporters to a proposal to bring horses back to the city’s streets.

Oxford City Council undertook a public consultation on a proposal for horse-drawn carriages earlier in the summer.

A licence application was submitted by Kevin Merry Carriages, which operates a horse carriage business in Forest Hill, providing carriages for weddings, funerals and balls.

The company wants to operate a carriage service in Oxford initially on Sundays from May through to September. But it hopes to extend the service to Saturdays and then throughout the week, if it proved popular with visitors.

While some local people expressed fears horses could lead to traffic queues stretching back to east Oxford, animal rights campaigners claimed the public and horses would be put at risk.

Mimi Bekhechi, of PETA, said: “Horse-drawn carriages are dangerous to riders, pedestrians and motorists. Horses are very easily spooked and can shy, buck or flee, causing the driver to lose control and resulting in injury and even death to riders and passers-by.”

But Kevin Merry, of Kevin Merry Carriages, said he had been “thrilled by the largely enthusiastic response” to the proposal.

A report considering the consultation will now be drafted ready for discussion at full council in October.