Newcastle cabbies fight 'free-for-all' taxi licences
TAXI drivers are threatening to take a council to court over plans to deregulate their trade.
Newcastle Borough Council wants to remove a limit on the number of Hackney carriages it can licence, in order to provide more taxis for customers and create more jobs.
But Newcastle and Kidsgrove Hackney Carriage Association believes such a move would jeopardise its members' livelihoods.
The association claims there is no unmet demand in the borough, and says taxi drivers are already struggling.
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The borough council is currently limited to issuing 51 Hackney carriage licences.
A solicitors' letter sent on behalf of the association, which has been seen by The Sentinel, threatens legal action if the limit is lifted.
It claims that the borough council has not complied with the "legal formalities" for making such a decision, as it has not carried out an unmet demand survey.
The letter states: "[The taxi drivers] are concerned about the failure to obtain an up to date survey in respect of 'unmet demand'. This is particularly contentious in our respectful opinion as the previous surveys have shown there is no 'unmet demand' in the Newcastle area.
"We wish to place you on notice that should you intend to have this decision ratified by full council we will be advising the association to challenge the decision in the courts and in particular regarding injunctive relief."
A licensing authority can only limit Hackney carriage numbers if it can justify it by conducting an unmet demand survey every three years.
The borough council last carried out a survey in December 2009, and it is expected that conducting another would cost up to £30,000.
Last month the borough council's public protection committee voted against carrying out a survey.
Carl Phillips, acting chairman of the association, has written to the council, criticising this decision.
He wrote: "In view of the positive outcome of past surveys, we consider it only right and proper conduct by the council, to instigate an unmet demand study to determine any need for delimitation in the borough."
A council spokesman said: "The majority of councils have already lifted the limit on the number of licences. This is regarded as best practice by the Department of Transport.
"The borough council doesn't believe there are grounds for a successful legal challenge.
"As well as providing the opportunity of more taxis for customers – especially at night when it's important that residents get home quickly and safely – creating more licences will give local people the chance to set up new businesses."
The spokesman said the council would continue to talk with the taxi drivers in the period leading up to the limit being lifted in December.