ROWING boats have returned to the River Wharfe in Otley for the first time in 16 years.

This week saw the official launch of the company Otley Boats - with Team GB Olympic rower Ian Lawson among those taking to the water.

The event saw the return of rowing boats for the first time since 2001 when the last boat hire operation closed following the Foot and Mouth crisis.

The company, owned and operated by businessman Chris Thornton, will be based in Wharfemeadows Park and will offer rowing boats and pedaloes for hourly use on a stretch of the river between Otley Weir and Wharfebank Mills.

Ian Lawson and local dignitaries tried out the boats on Wednesday before the company officially opened to the public at noon.

The return of boat hire to Otley comes with the support of a number of local organisations.

Owner Chris Thornton said: "We are looking forward to bringing back boating to Otley for both the local public and visitors alike. The support of organisations such as Otley Town Council, Otley BID and Leeds City councillors, Sandy Lay, Colin Campbell and Ryk Downes, has been essential in making this happen."

Otley Town Council chairman Ray Georgeson described the venture as "massive boost for residents and the local economy" as well as an added attraction for visitors to the town.

"We already offer many things for people to do while here, and Otley Boats will give people yet another reason to visit Otley." he added.

Chairman of Otley BID Steph Lee said: "We have supported the return of rowing boats to the River Wharfe in Otley since the earliest consultations on the formation of Otley BID in 2013 and are delighted to see it finally come to fruition. We wish Chris and his team every success for the future."

The town's MP Alex Sobel was one of those at the launch.

He said: "It's brilliant to see boats back on the river after 16 years without them. This is another great development to attract more visitors to the town and support the local economy.

"I want to send my congratulations to Chris Thornton for passionately working to bring the boats back on to the river. I would also like to thank The former Otley town council, The current town council and Leeds City Council for supporting Chris to facilitate this successful venture.

"I encourage everyone to go out and enjoy the boats and a have great day in Otley."