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Landau U-turn: council reverse decision to let Great Yarmouth carriage driver stay on the road

PUBLISHED: 10:27 12 October 2012 | UPDATED: 11:41 12 October 2012

Fred England and supporters outside Yarmouth Town Hall.

Fred England and supporters outside Yarmouth Town Hall.

Archant

LANDAU driver Fred England thought common sense had prevailed, and his lack of a car driving licence would not close his family business.

Timeline of the saga

For 25 years in a row, Fred England renews his license to drive the landau.

Monday, September 24, Mr England goes to town hall to renew his license, and is informed of the law the council have suddenly come across.

Tuesday, September 25, Mr England’s friend Jayne Parkin sets up online petition and his sister, Rachel England-Allen, starts the Facebook page Back my Brother to Keep his Hackney Carriage License.

Monday, October 1, the Eastern Daily Press features Mr England’s story.

Tuesday, October 2, local and national radio, TV and newspapers pick up the story.

Thursday, October 4, the Norwich Evening News reports how “support has flooded in for Fred England.”

Thursday, October 4, licensing committee day. Mr England is brought to the Town Hall in a Landau driven by a 16-year-old, as his supporters make a cheeky point. The committee decide, after much debate, to grant him his license.

Friday, October 5, solicitor Chris Skinner gets wind of the decision, and realises it is unlawful.

Mr England goes to Town Hall to see about his license. He says he was told to wait until Monday, as there is some paperwork to get through.

Saturday, October 6 and Sunday, October 7, Mr Skinner writes his report.

Monday, October 8, Mr Skinner rings up Town Hall, and is again told to wait.

Tuesday, October 9, the letter is posted through Mr Skinner’s door at 5.30pm.

Wednesday, October 17, ???

The 43-year-old, whose father and grandfather were both horse-drawn carriage drivers, had been told his 25-year career could end due to the baffling law - which town hall bosses did not know existed until recently.

Licensing councillors agreed they would grant him exception to the law at a meeting last week, and he thought his troubles were over.

But to his horror Mr England got a letter through his door on Tuesday telling him they had reversed their decision, and he must cease work as a landau driver until he has got a car driving licence.

“I don’t know how they could give me it then take it back - it seems a bit naughty,” said Mr England, of Vincent Close. “I’m not happy at all.

“If you’ve got a driving licence you can go down the town hall and get paperwork to drive a horse which you know nothing about, and that’s all wrong.”

More than 600 people supported a petition to let Mr England keep his licence, and another campaign is gathering pace in light of the council’s U-turn.

It appears licensing councillors went against advice solicitors’ advice last Thursday, and that the original bad news for Mr England was accurate.

Council solicitor Chris Skinner told members of the panel in a report that they “gave no satisfactory reason for this decision. I am satisfied that they acted unlawfully”.

Mr England’s problems began when council officers discovered the authority had acted incorrectly for years – and that landau drivers must possess a car driving licence to get a landau licence.

He was told when he went to renew his licence, as he does every year.

Closure will come on Wednesday – when a special meeting will decide once and for all if Mr England will lose his landau licence.

He said he will wait until the verdict before he considers his options, including having to learn to drive a car to continue a trade of which he is already a master.

John Holmes, chairman of the licensing committee, said members were aware of the risks when they went against officers’ advice.

“We knew this could happen but not whether it would, but now it has we have to deal with it,” he said. “We knew we were going against legal advice at the meeting.

“It is not the ideal situation. We just have to wait and see if full council supports us or asks us to reconsider.”

Mr England said he was angered by the false hope, and had been pursuing ‘grandfather’s rights’ – where the law is waived due to age and experience.

Five out of 51 landau drivers in Blackpool are exempt on this basis, but a report to Yarmouth’s council said “there is no legal basis to grant such rights”.

A spokesman for the borough council said: “As the council has made what is deemed to be an unlawful decision, the council’s monitoring officer is duty bound to bring a report to full council highlighting that the decision is effectively illegal.

“This process is governed by national law and would therefore happen at any council in the country following such a decision.

“Full council will meet to consider whether to back the decision made by the licensing committee, regardless of it being judged to be unlawful, or decide whether to send the application back to licensing committee for another look.”

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