Licensing and Appeals Committee Minutes

Date:
Tuesday, 23rd November, 2010
Time:
7.30pm
Place:
Committee Room 1, Council Offices, Gernon Road, Letchworth Garden City
 
 

Attendance Details

Present:
Councillor D.J. Barnard (Chairman), Councillor Tom Brindley (from 9.10pm), Councillor Paul Marment, Councillor Alan Millard, Councillor M.R.M. Muir and Councillor Mike Rice.
In attendance:
Head of Housing & Public Protection, Licensing & Enforcement Manager, Senior Licensing & Enforcement Officer, Licensing & Enforcement Officer, Senior Lawyer and Committee & Member Services Manager.
Also Present:
Cllr Bernard Lovewell (Cabinet Portfolio Holder for Housing & Environmental Health)
3 members of the public.
Item Description/Decision
PART I
9 APOLOGIES FOR ABSENCE
Apologies for absence were received from Councillors A. Bardett and Joan Kirby.
10 MINUTES
RESOLVED: That the Minutes of the meeting of the Committee held on 18 October 2010 be approved as a true record of the proceedings and signed by the Chairman.
11 NOTIFICATION OF OTHER BUSINESS
There was no notification of other business.
12 CHAIRMAN'S ANNOUNCEMENTS
The Chairman reminded Members that any declarations of interest in respect of any business set out in the agenda should be declared as either a prejudicial or personal interest, and that they required to notify the Chairman of the nature of any interest declared at the commencement of the relevant item on the agenda. Members declaring a prejudicial interest should leave the room and not seek to influence the decision during that particular item.
13 PUBLIC PARTICIPATION
The Chairman announced that he would be inviting those who had registered to speak to address the Committee after the Senior Licensing and Enforcement Officer had introduced the next item - Proposed Hackney Carriage and Private Hire Licensing Policy 2011-16.
14 PROPOSED HACKNEY CARRIAGE AND PRIVATE HIRE LICENSING POLICY 2011-16
Introduction

The Senior Licensing and Enforcement Officer presented a report of the Strategic Director of Planning, Housing and Enterprise summarising the responses to the public consultation in respect of the Council’s proposed Hackney Carriage and Private Hire Licensing Policy 2011-16, and requesting the Committee to make a recommendation to Council in respect of the Policy. The following appendices were submitted with the report:

Appendix A - Schedule of comments received during the consultation, including recommendations;
Appendix B - Proposed Statement of Hackney Carriage and Private Hire Licensing Policy 2011-16 - Options A and B;
Appendix C - Consultation responses and copy of the minutes of the Trade Meeting to discuss the issue of zones.

By way of introduction, the Senior Licensing and Enforcement Officer reported a small number of minor grammatical amendments to the report and appendices, as follows:

• Paragraph 10.2 of the report - the new policy should take effect from 7 January 2011 and not 7 January 2010;
• Appendix A - Summary of Consultation Responses - Page 12 - second column (first comment) - addition of the word “not, so that the comment now read “Concern that a driver may have to re-take the DSA test if he does not renew his licence prior to expiry (s 3.4.4)”;
• Appendix A - Summary of Consultation Responses - Page 14 - penultimate observation (the response for which was incomplete) should be deleted, as it was re-produced in full as the first observation on Page 15.

The Senior Licensing and Enforcement Officer commented that, at the last count, there were 68 Private Hire Vehicles and 214 Hackney Carriages operating within the North Hertfordshire District.

The Senior Licensing and Enforcement Officer advised that the consultation process in respect of the policy had been undertaken between Monday, 21 June 2010 and Monday 13 September 2010. Officers considered that, in general terms, the Policy appeared to be working well, and therefore few significant changes were proposed in respect of its content. Due to changes to Department for Transport Best Practice Guidance, as well as the development of case law, some changes to the Policy were proposed to reflect these developments. Additionally, the section of the Policy dealing with the relevance of convictions had been re-written to ensure greater consistency with neighbouring authorities.

The Senior Licensing and Enforcement Officer stated that the one significant consideration within the Policy was whether or not to continue with the existing hackney carriage operating zones of Baldock, Letchworth, Hitchin, Royston and Knebworth. As this was both a significant and complex issue, two policies were considered during the consultation as follows:

Policy A - Hackney Carriage and Private Hire Licensing Policy (retaining zones); and

Policy B - Hackney Carriage and Private Hire Licensing Policy (removing zones).

Officers had made no recommendation on a preferred option, but had instead presented the available evidence to the Licensing and Appeals Committee for consideration.

In respect of the zoning issue, the Senior Licensing and Enforcement Officer advised that, under the existing Policy, a hackney carriage was only permitted to ply for hire or park on a hackney carriage rank within the zone in which they were licensed (either Baldock, Letchworth, Hitchin, Royston or Knebworth). Zoning did not apply to private hire vehicles, as these could only undertake pre-booked journeys. The existing zones were those inherited from the old Urban Councils prior to the creation of North Hertfordshire District Council. Unlike the majority of other local authorities, the Council had chosen to retain these historic zones.

The Senior Licensing and Enforcement Officer explained that the Best Practice Guidance issued by the Department for Transport recommended the removal of zoning. Whilst the Guidance was not statutory and referred to within the legislation, the Council must still have regard to it and have sufficient evidence/reasons for departing from it. The relevant extracts from the Guidance were set out in the report.

The Senior Licensing and Enforcement Officer commented that there were three main areas of concern raised by the trade in respect of the removal of zoning:

(i) With driver recruitment already causing problems, there was concern that a new applicant would have to pass a District wide knowledge test which would add a further obstacle to recruitment - the Officers’ response was that the proposal for the knowledge test, should zones be removed, would be to ask the applicant to state on their application form the town where they would ordinarily like to work and the knowledge test would concentrate primarily on that town. Should reports be received regarding a driver’s lack of knowledge of certain areas of the District, further knowledge tests could be used as enforcement tools to remedy the problem. Under the current zoning system, drivers may already be asked to take a passenger from their zone to any other part of the District;

(ii) There were also concerns over the potential for drivers to migrate across the District, resulting in a surplus of hackney carriages in some areas and a lack of hackney carriages in others - the Officers’ view was that, whilst this may initially be the case, the law of supply and demand would lead to a natural rebalancing of the hackney carriages. As an example, it was unlikely that hackney carriages from Royston would drive to Hitchin to join already lengthy queues on the ranks instead of remaining in Royston and benefiting form their existing trade. The removal of zones was designed primarily so that hackney carriages did not have to return to their existing zone empty, having travelled to another zone with a passenger.

(iii) The trade had raised concerns through the Hackney Carriage and Private Hire Consultative Forum that the current ‘self-policing’ of hackney carriage ranks would be lost if zones were removed - the Officers’ response was that, as the drivers all knew each other under the current zoning arrangements, they effectively self-policed the ranks and were able to identify other hackney carriages that should not be operating there, whilst maintaining accepted practices of directing passengers to the first vehicle on the rank. The trade believe that the removal of zones would make self-policing more difficult and may lead to confrontation on the ranks. Were the Committee minded to remove zoning, this issue would need to be carefully monitored by officers through additional enforcement activity.

The Senior Licensing and Enforcement Officer advised that, in considering the arguments for and against retaining zones, however, the Council should also consider the potential impact on the public. It could be argued that the current zoning system was confusing for the public, who would not necessarily be aware of the zoning restrictions. For example, if a member of the public tried to ‘flag down’ a hackney carriage they saw in the street in Letchworth, they would not be aware of the zoning restrictions and would not understand why a non-Letchworth hackney carriage would not stop.

More importantly, however, the Senior Licensing and Enforcement Officer stated that hackney carriage insurance required the vehicle to be used in accordance with its hackney carriage licence and the appropriate legislation. In the example in the previous paragraph, if a non-Letchworth hackney carriage did stop and pick up the member of the public it would not be operating in accordance with its licence and so would potentially be uninsured.

The Senior Licensing and Enforcement Officer advised that a further issue for consideration, bearing in mind the Council’s strategic priority of ‘Green Issues’, was the effect of zoning on the environment. Under the existing zoning, if a hackney carriage carried a passenger from, say, Hitchin to Royston, it would then have to return to Hitchin without a passenger, thus creating ‘dead mileage’. If the zoning restriction was removed, the hackney carriage could then either ply for hire in Royston or park on a Royston hackney carriage rank rather than returning empty.

The Committee was informed that there were potential cost implications for the trade in removing zones. A single vehicle licence plate could be issued for the whole District, rather than having to keep stocks for each of the five zones. Drivers were currently licensed to drive hackney carriages within one or more of the five zones. If a driver was licensed in, say, Hitchin they could only drive hackney carriages operating in that zone. They could add further zones if they wished, however, each additional zone incurred a further licence fee, whereas a hackney carriage driver would be licensed for the whole District if zones were removed.

The Senior Licensing and Enforcement Officer commented that, historically, the Council had always operated under one policy, with one fee structure and one fare structure. As each individual zone was a District in its own right, potentially the Council may need to consider five separate fee structures, five separate fare structures and five separate policies were it to retain the existing zones, as there had been some support within the trade for this approach. Whilst it may be possible to have one policy, there may be successful arguments for individual zones having their own fees and fares. Clearly there would be a financial implication in administering five separate fees and/or fare structures which would have to be passed on to the trade as part of their fees. The process of setting fares and fees was an annual process already undertaken by the Council and would continue irrespective of any decision on zoning.

The Senior Licensing and Enforcement Officer advised that the consultation responses set out in Appendix C to he report covered in more detail the pros and cons of retaining the zones, and that it was for the Committee to consider all the evidence, including verbal presentations, before making its decision. He added that, in making a decision, the Committee may wish to be guided by the stated objectives of the Policy.

Public Participation

(i) Melvyn Day, Tiny’s Taxis, Hitchin

Mr Day made the following points:

• Opposition to Policy B (de-zoning);
• Confusion to the general public;
• Views of the Taxi Trade Forum not taken into account;
• The Knowledge Test
• Lack of public complaints about the current system;
• A request for drivers to be able to charge for “dead mileage”;
• A request that short licences of less than 6 months should not be issued;
• Opposition to the penalisation of drivers who failed to renew their licences on time;
• DVLA Endorsements;
• Licensing of temporary replacement vehicles; and
• The requirement for all passengers to be able to view the tariff meter in each vehicle.

The Chairman thanked Mr Day for his presentation.

(ii) Pat Perryman, Butlers Car Services, Royston

Mrs Perryman made the following points:

• An anomaly in the Policy of the 8 passenger limit in certain vehicles;
• An anomaly in the Policy with regard to Vehicle Testing requirements;
• An anomaly in the Policy regarding Lost Property;
• The amount of time taken to issue new licences;
• A request for an approved MOT station closer to the Royston Area;
• Criminal Records Bureau checks;
• The Knowledge Test;
• Was not against de-zoning, but was mindful of the views of other drivers.

The Chairman thanked Ms Perryman for her presentation.

Senior Licensing Officer’s Response

The Senior Licensing Officer responded to the points raised by Mr Day and Mrs Perryman as follows:

• Very few local authorities retained zones, for the reasons outlined in the report;
• There was significant public confusion regarding the distinction between hackney carriage and private hire vehicles, but that the Service was attempting to educate the public;
• The Knowledge Test had been an area of concern, but a workable solution had been devised;
• It was acknowledged that there had not been many taxis complaints from the public, although a few complainants had recently used the Council’s website to complain;
• The “dead mileage” issue would require further investigation;
• The usual use of licences of less than 6 months would be for when a hackney carriage vehicle was within a few months of its 7 year maximum licence period;
• Drivers failing to renew their licence on time were legally required to submit a fresh application (the law provide no leeway for officers to renew licences in such circumstances);
• The requirement was for each new driver’s application to be referred to the DVLA for confirmation of any endorsements;
• The reason why licences were not issued for replacement vehicles whilst taxis were off the road was due to the fact that, when repaired, both the taxi and replacement vehicle could be used at the same time; and also that all vehicles should now be wheelchair accessible, which may not be the case in a replacement vehicle;
• Meters must, where practicable, be able to be seen by passengers at all times; the senior lawyer confirmed that the Policy wording as drafted was acceptable in this regard;
• The Policy would be clarified so that it referred in all cases to certain vehicles being licensed to carry a maximum of 8 passengers;
• The Policy would be amended so that appropriate cross-referencing would be made to correct requirements for Vehicle Testing;
• The procedures would be revised so that licences would be issued within 5 working days of the receipt of all necessary paperwork and payment;
• The Policy gave an amount of discretion for the use of a further authorised MOT station should the need arise;
• In order to remove potential risks to the public, the new Policy required a current (less than three years) Criminal Records Bureau disclosure to be provided for each application.

Debate

The Committee asked a number of questions, which were answered by the Senior Licensing and Enforcement Officer. Having heard all of the written and verbal evidence, the Committee decided that Policy B (removing zones) should be recommended to Cabinet for adoption, on the basis that it supported the Council’s strategic priorities of Green Issues and Town Centres and potentially reduced the carbon footprint of licensed vehicles by permitting them to undertake a journey to one town and then ply for trade in their destination, rather than having to return empty.

The Committee was supportive of possibility of drivers being able to charge for “dead mileage”, but requested officers to consider this issue as part of the annual review of tariffs, following consultation with the Taxi Trade Forum. The Committee also requested officers to investigate the possible addition of an authorised MOT station in the Royston area, in addition to the current authorised MOT station in Letchworth Garden City.

RESOLVED:

(1) That the proposed Hackney Carriage and Private Hire Licensing Policy 2011-16, as attached at Appendix B (Option B) to the report, incorporating the results of the public consultation exercise, and as amended, be supported:

(2) That officers be requested to consider the issue of a possible charge by drivers for “dead mileage” as part of the annual review of tariffs, following consultation with the Taxi Trade Forum;

(3) That officers be requested to investigate the possible addition of an authorised MOT station in the Royston area, in addition to the current authorised MOT station in Letchworth Garden City.

RECOMMENDED TO CABINET: That the proposed Hackney Carriage and Private Hire Licensing Policy 2011-16, as attached at Appendix B (Option B) to the report, and as amended, be adopted.

REASON FOR DECISION: To ensure publication of the Proposed Hackney Carriage and Private Hire Policy by 6 January 2011, the expiry date of the existing Policy.
Published on Thursday, 6th January, 2011
Start - 7.30pm
End - 9.20pm