Solution found in bitter dispute over increase in taxi numbers

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TAXI drivers have struck a deal with a council after taking High Court action over the number of vehicles which would be allowed to operate across vast swathes of the Yorkshire Dales.

The drivers obtained an injunction in March to prevent Richmondshire District Council deregulating the licences it issued to cabs and sought a judicial review of the plans.

They claimed the move would see the area flooded with taxis, putting many existing drivers out of business.

But a new deal has now been struck which will see the number of vehicles increased from 65 to 77, and all 12 of the new cabs will have to be fully accessible.

The chairman of Richmondshire Taxi Association, Keith Walker, said: “The deal that we struck with them was because they thought there was a need for more wheelchair-accessible vehicles, so we have agreed to the 12 extra.

“This means 12 people have a chance for a new job.”

Richmondshire District Council had argued that deregulation would help provide more taxis to serve a wider area and was particularly important for the local economy, which relies heavily upon tourism.

But when it went ahead with the plans at the end of March – in time for the new plates to be issued in April – the drivers protested that a full consultation had not been carried out.

Since then, Mr Walker said more research had been done and a survey carried out had not shown that there was any demand for more cabs.

The council, meanwhile, carried out consultations with residents, visitors and taxi drivers to find out the level of demand for a change in services.

“This is a very important issue, both for the taxi trade and the travelling public,” said Coun Jill McMullon, the chairwoman of the licensing committee, which will set the final details of the policy at a future meeting.

“It was essential that councillors took a clear view on the way forward, considering all the options open.

“We have come forward with a ‘win-win’ solution, where the service for disabled users will be much improved, and the new licences will allow us to try to increase taxi provision in the remoter parts of our district – two key issues which our consultation with residents picked up on.

“They will also provide an opportunity for new businesses to be established within the taxi trade at a time when the local economy could do with a boost.”

Council leader John Blackie, who had been in favour of deregulation, said: “Clearly we need to listen to the results of the consultation. Whilst we didn’t go the whole hog, at least at this point we have got 12 additional plates.”

In June, when the new consultation was announced, he said: “Deregulation will allow opportunities for small businesses to be created at this difficult time for employment, as well as improving taxi services for travelling members of the public.”

Mr Walker said he did not know if all 12 of the licences would be taken up, but said there was some demand for accessible vehicles in the area, particularly at the army base.

“With Catterick being close by and quite a lot of soldiers coming back from Iraq, they have a rehabilitation centre there and there’s some need for accessible vehicles for them,” he added.

Although seven per cent of people in the recent survey did say they wanted changes such as more accessible vehicles, Mr Walker said he was pleased that 82 per cent said they were happy with the taxi services provided in Richmondshire.

And he said he was relieved the dispute had been resolved, after months of disagreement which even saw more than 40 hackney cabs and private hire cars blockade the centre of Richmond last October.

“We know where we are now,” Mr Walker added.

“All in all, it has come out the best for everybody.”