Councillors refuse to back down on Help for Heroes stickers

A RIPON taxi driver has lost his fight to support Britain’s injured soldiers with a Help for Heroes sticker in his cab.

Councillors have banned the district’s taxi drivers from having charity stickers or religious symbols in their vehicles, in a bid to keep the district’s cabs “multicultural”.

The shock decision came as the council’s Licensing Committee turned down the appeal at a meeting on Thursday, January 19, going against advice by the council’s own officials.

The row over stickers in taxis began when driver and Army veteran Bob Turner was ordered to remove a Help for Heroes sticker from his taxi, while another driver was refused permission for a Christian fish symbol on his car.

But after an outcry from passengers and taxi drivers the council relented and let him display the sticker until the committee could consider it formally.

Mr Turner said he was shocked at the council’s refusal to let him support a forces charity in a garrison town like Ripon.

“The Licensing Committee have squandered a golden opportunity to demonstrate that the council listens to the public. They have stuck up two fingers to our brave servicemen and women, and all other charities that may have benefited by a small amount of free advertising.

“I hope the voters remember this at the next local elections,” he said.

Fellow driver Richard Fieldman, a former chairman of Ripon Taxi Association, slammed the councillors’ “close-minded” decision.

“I am gob-smacked and astounded that the council seems to be such a group of small-minded individuals who would object to taxi drivers supporting registered charities,” he said.

“I think they have made the wrong decision. The councillors are elected by the public, and issues like this affect votes.”

A council official’s report had recommended rules in the taxi handbook should be changed to allow religious or charity symbols on taxis.

The regulations should permit one sign, symbol or sticker representing either a registered UK charity or recognised religion on the rear of each vehicle, it said, but the committee voted unanimously against the recommendation.

Only days before the meeting committee chairman Coun Stuart Martin had pledged to support it. He put his change of heart down to debates at the meeting.

“The proposal changed before it came before the committee so it would support registered charities but not religious groups, and I didn’t think that would be a fair thing to do because of the potential to alienate and upset people.”

He understands people will be upset with the decision, he said, but believes it is a case of “damned if we do and damned if we don’t”.

“I voted the way I did because I believe it is the fairest way in the long term.”

A council spokesman said committee members supported the charity’s work and debated for a long time before voting.

“The council currently prohibits any kind of advertising or sign other than those required by the licence such as the licence plates. It has always been felt that taxis should be presented with a tidy and clean appearance.

“In relation to religious symbols, it was felt that vehicles licensed by the council should be multicultural.

“Members commented that taxis were business tools and not personal vehicles and felt that was an important distinction.

“When considering charity stickers, the members of the committee discussed which types of charity may or may not be acceptable to the public and how it would affect the overall appearance of licensed vehicles. Increased pressure and expense in officer time in considering requests and enforcing inappropriate stickers were all considered.”

However Mr Turner said his fellow drivers have been quick to support him with Help for Heroes stickers in their taxis, while Mr Fieldman and Harrogate driver Kevin O’Boyle said they were outraged at the decision when in the past they have been allowed to display adverts for the DVLA and lap dancing club Spearmint Rhino.

l Has the licensing committee made the right decision?

Email your views to news@ripongazette.co.uk or write to The Editor, Ripon Gazette, 5A Kirkgate, Ripon, HG4 1PA.