AN ANIMAL welfare group was allowed to hire city council rooms to lobby councillors in the hours before plans for horse and carriage rides in the city were quashed.

Animal Aid hired The Judge’s Room at the Town Hall to persuade members to halt the horse and carriage idea ahead of a full council meeting on December 19.

They paid the council £186 to hire the room between noon and and 5pm.

Councillors rejected the horse-drawn carriage scheme on animal welfare and safety concerns.

Council chiefs said members were aware the room was being used by Animal Aid and were free to be lobbied if they wished.

But Kevin Merry, who proposed the horse-drawn carriage scheme, said: “I do not think it is right that they profited from a lobbying group.

“I also do not think it is fair. If Animal Aid were allowed a room then perhaps we should have had a room to do exactly the same. Out of decency, they should donate the money to charity.”

Stephen Brown, leader of the opposition Liberal Democrats at the city council, said: “I do not think there is anything fundamentally wrong with it.

“Anyone should be allowed to lobby and express their view in whatever way they choose to.

“If they are using public facilities to do it then it is only reasonable that they, like any other organisation, should pay for that facility. They could have lobbied anywhere else and invited members to come along to the meeting.”

City council leader Bob Price said lobby groups had hired the room before but not in recent memory.

He said: “There is no reason why lobbying groups cannot hire rooms in the Town Hall.

“They are there for the public hire and if people want to use them for lobbying purposes it is not the council’s job to say they cannot.

“Councillors know if they go in the room they will be lobbied and they are free to do so.”

Animal Aid director Andrew Tyler said only a “handful” of councillors had visited the group before the meeting.

He said: “We had been in contact with all of them before the meeting and I suspect most felt they were sufficiently briefed.”

He said the group had a slide show on display, which featured pictures of horse injuries from pulling carriages and bullet points of their arguments.

A Department of Communities and Local Government spokesman said: “There are no central rules that would have prohibited this. It is a matter for local authorities.”

The room hire charge covered the council’s costs, which included staffing, maintenance, cleaning, lighting and heating.

Animal Aid was given a 20 per cent discount because it is a not-for-profit organisation.

Oxfordshire County Council leader Keith Mitchell said: “The city council is entitled to rent rooms out to who they like, provided they are even-handed in the way they treat different groups.”

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