UPDATE: Horsefair protest off after taxi chief warned he could lose licence by breaching employment law
TAXI drivers’ leader Dave Patrick called off his protest against the �100,000 Horsefair revamp today after being warned he could be prosecuted for stopping contractors from carrying out lawful work.
The Lib Dem councillor had pitched up on the Horsefair Taxi Rank, in Wisbech, with a minibus and caravan with the aim of stopping work getting under way this morning.
Police officers were present at the Horsefair when Fenland District Council’s licensing officers and contractors Danaher & Walsh (Civil Engineering) Ltd arrived to commence work.
Cllr Patrick was warned by police officers that he was committing an offence under employment law - preventing workers from doing their lawful job - by leaving his caravan parked in an obstructive manner.
He was also warned by council officers that, as he was using a licensed cab to prevent contractors appointed by the council from doing their job, he risked being referred to the licensing committee for a review of his licence.
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Cllr Patrick has fought to stop work going ahead on the Horsefair which he claims is unnecessary, will create even more hazards for pedestrians and will threaten taxi drivers’ jobs.
Under the scheme a new layout for drivers will see taxi spaces reduced from 15 to four, with drivers not allowed to queue as before to collect fares.
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Cllr Patrick said: “There is no one I know who wants this scheme and it is a farce.” He also believes there are many councillors who support him but are frightened to publicly say so.
But what has incensed him most, he says, is a promise he claims council leader Alan Melton made a fortnight ago to put the scheme on hold.
He claims Cllr Melton told him “not to worry about things at present” - and because of that postponed a taxi drivers’ meeting planned for last Wednesday.
But Cllr Patrick says he then found out – from this newspaper - that work had indeed been contracted to start from Monday.
He said taxi drivers are furious and that the report, which suggested the changes, was flawed. The only injury accidents on Horsefair had been on the access roads and now the council was proposing that pedestrians use a crossing, near to oncoming buses, to get a taxi.
Cllr Patrick said: “The works that the council wishes to undertake are against the wishes of nearly all members of the taxi trade, many members of the public and members of Wisbech Town Council which wrote a strongly worded letter against the council’s proposals.
“These works which will cost several thousands of pounds are nothing more than a white elephant and a total waste of public money which could be put to far better use especially in these times of severe austerity.”
The protest was launched after an open meeting of Wisbech and District Hackney Carriage Drivers Association, the group chaired by Cllr Patrick, at Mendi’s on Wednesday.
Taxi drivers voted unanimously for “further protest action to be taken by means of a peaceful sit in and occupation of our old taxi overlay bay. We feel that is the only option open to us in the circumstances”.
A council spokesman said: “A contractor has now been appointed: it is Danaher & Walsh. Work will start on site on Monday, October 15, with completion scheduled for the end of November.
“While the work is being carried out, taxis will be relocated on to the two existing ranks in Blackfriars Road adjacent to The Empire.”