North Norfolk taxi drivers unite in bid to get proposed licence fee hikes thrown out

Taxi drivers from across north Norfolk are uniting in a bid to get planned fee hikes and changes to their working policy thrown out.

Close to 100 cabbies, including operators from Cromer and Sheringham, have created the district's first ever taxi association in a bid to fight the proposals, drawn up by North Norfolk District Council.

Among the plans are a hike to the cost of renewing a vehicle licence, which is set to rise from �138 to �190 making fees in north Norfolk higher than that for drivers in Norwich. The changes would also increase the cost of renewing a driver's licence and introduce a controversial three year licence.

As well as the fee hikes a penalty points system for enforcement of minor breaches to licence conditions is set to be brought in, which would include slapping cabbies with six points if they use a radio handset while driving - a practise they say is integral to their job.

Ashley Colman, chairman of the newly formed North Norfolk Taxi and Private Hire Association, said the proposals had riled cabbies so much it had prompted them to set up the group, which wants to see the plans thrown out.

Since forming just a few days ago the association's membership has swelled to just under 100, but more are expected to join after Easter.

Mr Colman, who owns Anglia taxis based in Sheringham, said members understood the penalty points system for some offences - such as eating or drinking at the wheel or using a mobile phone while driving - but the rules over using a hand held radio had been strongly questioned.

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'By law we're allowed to (use them), no taxi company can work without using a radio handset and you have to use it while you're driving,' he added. 'How can the council penalise us for doing something we have to do every day?'

Council documents reveal changes to taxi policy were deemed 'necessary' in the light of 'equality legislation, changes in local circumstances and national good practise' and due to the current financial climate the authority is seeking to provide 'value for money' so those applying for licences cover the cost of processing them, rather than the general taxpayer.

The papers add: 'The aim of the exercise has been to reduce the administrative burdens on both the trade and the council in the licensing process, whilst improving fairness and equality yet without reducing standards of public protection.'

Helen Eales, council leader, said the authority is due to meet with taxi firms this week to discuss the proposals further. She has also asked for the papers to come before May's cabinet meeting before going to full council as she feels the plans need more looking into.

They were expected to be approved at next week's full council meeting, with the changes being brought in on May 1.