CONTROVERSIAL plans by BCP Council to “deregulate” the taxi trade have moved a step forward after winning the support of its licensing committee.

Members of the committee gave their backing to three new policies on Thursday, saying the scrapping of a cap on licence numbers would improve standards.

But industry leaders said they were “horrified” at the proposal and that it could cost drivers tens of thousands of pounds.

The policies are being drawn up as part of the council’s legal requirement to have a new conurbation-wide approach in place by April.

They govern both the Hackney carriage and private hire sectors and would introduce a white colour scheme and vehicle age limits.

More significantly, the draft policies would also gradually increase the number of licences issued “with the clear aim of a total removal of limits” in 2025.

There is no cap in Christchurch but in Bournemouth and Poole there are only 249 and 89 Hackney carriage licences issued respectively.

“We’re here to ensure standards and public safety, we’re not here to stop someone starting up their own business and that’s one of the reasons we started to look towards derestricting it,” the council’s licensing manager Nananka Randle said on Thursday.

“But rather than just derestrict it straight away, which we accept would have quite a devastating impact on the trade, we felt a gradual approach would be fairer.”

To do this, the policy would allow the council to issue 15 extra licences each year for four years, solely for wheelchair-accessible vehicles.

Councillor Toby Johnson, who was on a working party set up to create the new policies said the aim was to avoid “a sudden glut of taxis overfilling our ranks”.

This isn’t saying there must be 15 extra taxis in each area over the next five years...we may only get two or three applications but we felt it was best to remove the limit and that this was the most sensible way to do it,” he said.

But the proposal has attracted opposition from existing licence holders and taxi firms.

They have warned of a “significant” financial impact and increased congestion in town centres.

Kevin Diffey, PRC Streamline Taxis chairman, said the move would reduce the quality of service, particularly in the towns’ suburbs.

“This decision will impact on the travelling public and on the livelihoods of the many taxi and private hire companies,” he said. “We are horrified at the proposals and frankly scared of the effect it will have on our companies.”

David Lane, of the Poole Taxi Association, said it would result in “overprovision” of taxis.

However, the committee backed the draft policies, saying market forces would improve standards and ensure vehicles are available in the area they are needed.

“We don’t stop Tesco and Sainsbury’s opening up just because there’s a Waitrose down the road,” councillor David Kelsey said. “It’s supply and demand.

“We can’t change the way the world’s moving and it will be a case of new taxis when they’re needed.”

The policies will now go before the full council for final approval.