AS A LEGAL professional specialising in assisting private hire businesses with licensing issues, I have seen first hand how busy TfL’s Taxi and Private Hire Unit is enforcing planning permission functions that should be the remit of local authorities. I also know of a number of operators who have had their application for an operator’s licence refused due to issues relating to the proposed operating centre.
This has not always been the case but, following consultation in 2010, TfL adopted a new policy requiring that applicants for PHV operator licences and existing licence holders wishing to vary their licence, have to provide proof of planning permission.
In the beginning
When TfL commenced control of the industry, following the introduction of regulations, they required applicants to produce evidence of planning permission as part of its administrative requirements. However, this was relaxed in 2007 as the licensing authority felt that enforcement of planning was a matter for the relevant local authorities. And, as such, operators were merely reminded to comply with planning requirements for operating centres, which became the norm.
With its 2010 revision TfL has, in effect, gone full circle, reverting back to its original policy of requiring proof of planning permission prior to issuing an operating licence. This suggests that whilst TfL has no role in the granting of planning permission, they do have a role in ensuring that private hire operations are established in a manner where local issues are taken into consideration.
However, as local authorities have their own enforcement mechanisms for dealing with this, it is my opinion that TfL does not need to duplicate this function by imposing onerous requirements on operator businesses.
At present, Tfl’s planning requirement can be met by obtaining any of the following:
– Planning permission from the local authority at which the proposed operating centre is located, which allows the premises to be used as an operating centre;
– A certificate of lawful use (Lawful Development Certificate) from the local authority which allows the premises to be used as an operating centre;
– A letter (on headed paper) or e-mail sent by an appropriate person (with their details attached) from the local authority confirming that planning permission is not required and that the proposed use of the premises would be lawful without planning permission.
However, where the applicant is unable to fulfill any of the criteria listed above, TfL states that it will accept proof that an application for any of the above requirements has been made by an applicant through a letter from the respective local authority or planning portal reference number.
The reality however is different, as TfL often delays licensing even when an applicant has produced proof that an application has been submitted.
In other instances, operators have been threatened with withdrawal of their licence where it was granted but planning permission had not later been produced.
I am of the view that the requirement for planning permission can be onerous on an existing private hire business that is attempting to expand its current operations (having acquired new operating premises) or a new business attempting to set up new operating premises.
Planning authorities can be notoriously slow to consider applications or even provide necessary confirmation that planning consents are adequate or have been applied for, causing unneccessary delays and expense for operators
It is therefore important that business owners get the right advice to limit the effect of this on their company. Otherwise, as many are finding out, the process of planning permission can become a minefield.
About the author:
Jonathan Etuk is a director at Blue Trinity Legal, a firm of solicitors who specialise in matters pertaining to the private hire industry.