A bid to introduce Minehead’s first fully electric taxi has been thwarted by West Somerset Council’s rules which make no provision for licensing electric vehicles.
Alcombe Taxis owner Keith Griffiths a taxi driver in the town for 25 years, wanted to offer customers eco-friendly transport in a £35,000 Nissan Leaf electric ar. It would have been the first electric taxi in West Somerset.
But after waiting three months for a decision from the council’s licensing committee, he has been told that the authority’s policy on licensing electric vehicles needs to be reviewed and no decision is likely until after the formation of the new Somerset West and Taunton Council.
Mr Griffiths told us: “I’m tied up in red tape and stuck with a vehicle I can’t use at a time when the Government is putting £6 million into encouraging the use of electric vehicles. It could be months before I get a decision. I’m at a dead end and don’t know what to do.”
With the backing of Minehead mayor Cllr Norman Hercock and several town councillors, Mr Griffiths appeared before the district council’s licensing committee last November seeking permission to take on a licence had been returned by another driver..
“I knew that a new taxi licence plate will only be granted for a disabled-friendly taxi – which the electric car is not. Bu existing plates, which cover ordinary vehicles, can be passed on”, said Mr Griffiths, who already runs two disabled-friendly vehicles.
“He said it was agreed at the [November] meeting that licensing manager John Rendell would investigate the situation and write a report which would be considered at the next licensing committee meeting last month.
“I was prepared to take my vehicle along so that they knew what they were making a decision about,” he added. “Members agreed that the licence should be issued with the condition that it would be for electric use only and therefore exempt from the regulations on disabled access.
“But this was deferred after the chairman warned they would be going against current policy by issuing a licence for a taxi which was not disabled friendly.”
However, last month’s scheduled meeting was cancelled due to lack of business. Mr Griffiths told the Free Press: “I was hoping the situation would be clarified at the March meeting and I could have put in an appropriate licence application. But they cancelled the meeting and asked me not to attend.
“It seems that nothing will now be done until a new council is formed and a policy on licences decided, which could take the rest of the year. In the meantime, Minehead and West Somerset will be denied a zero-emissions taxi service which would be an asset in the fight against climate change – and I’m helpless to do anything.
“All other taxis in Minehead are petrol or diesel and an electric cab would give people a choice to go green.”
In a letter to Mr Griffith’s representative, Mr Rendell said the proposal was discussed at length at the November meeting and it was fully understood that Mr Griffiths was looking to use a licence plate which was currently out of circulation.
“While there was support for what Mr Griffiths was trying to achieve, the resolution was that the council’s policy needed to be reviewed in the future, taking into account the use [of] electric vehicles.
“At no point was it decided to re-visit the proposal at the March meeting… and we have agreed that this matter will not be re-visited.” Cllr Hercock said last month that he was “appalled” by the licensing committee’s decision to refuse an application that would have seen Minehead taking the lead in Somerset in eco-friendly transport.
“A licence plate is available and to give it to Mr Griffiths would have caused absolutely no problems,” he said. “My view is that the district council is using the formation of the new council as an excuse to put off as many decisions as possible.
“We fully support Mr Griffith and will keep up the fight to get eco-friendly taxis in Minehead.”
Cllr Keith Turner, West Somerset Council executive member for housing, health and wellbeing, said: “WSC is keen to support local businesses and recognises the value of taxi companies to the economy and local communities.
“The possibility of issuing a licence for the electric vehicle was discussed at length during a meeting of the licensing committee in November where a number of points were raised over compliance with existing policy, in particular the need for vehicles to be wheelchair accessible, which the proposed vehicle was not.
“Members felt that there were certain advantages to electric cars and the policy needed to be updated to reflect them whilst remaining fair for all drivers and customers. It was resolved that the licensing manager would investigate the use of electric vehicles and amend the policy for the new Somerset West and Taunton council.”
Local MP Ian Liddell-Grainger said last month that he was “very disappointed” with the licensing committee’s decision and urged councillors to reconsider Mr Griffiths’ application.
“This would be a real first for Minehead and it flies in the face of Government policy to encourage the use of electric vehicles for eco-friendly public transport. Other parts of the country are using electric taxis with great success and I regularly use them in London.
“I will be contacting the relevant government department to see if something can be done to resolve this case so that Mr Griffiths can use his taxi. The present situation is ridiculous.”