The Assistant Director of Development and Planning Services submitted an exempt report in connection with an application for a Private Hire Vehicle licence with an exemption from the current licensing condition regarding window tints, in respect of a specific Private Hire Vehicle, Ref: 38/14, where circumstances had arisen which required special consideration by the Committee.
The Chair introduced those present and outlined the procedure to be followed. The applicant was in attendance at the meeting accompanied by a Legal Representative, and verified the name and address of the Operator and the vehicle in question and confirmed that a copy of the report had been received.
At this point in the meeting, the applicants legal representative raised a preliminary matter and asked the Chair to consider whether he wished to declare an interest in the matter. He stated that the Committee was quasi judicial and that there may be a public perception of bias on the part of the Chair. The Councils legal representative clarified that the Committee was not quasi-judicial but administrative and the Rules of Natural Justice applied. As each matter was considered on its own merits, it was for each individual Member to consider whether they had a pecuniary or non-pecuniary interest to declare in any matter and that the public perception of bias would be an element that they should consider when making their decision. The Chair confirmed that he did not have an interest to declare in the matter.
The Principal Licensing Officer presented the report setting out the circumstances of the case in relation to an application for an exemption from the current licensing condition in relation to window tints, in respect of a specific Private Hire Vehicle (vehicle registration number provided). It was highlighted that a previous vehicle test indicated that some windows fitted to the vehicle did not comply with the Councils current licensing condition in relation to window tinting, therefore, the matter had been referred to Committee.
It was explained that the Councils Policy in relation to vehicle window tints was introduced in 2010 following a general review of all the Councils Hackney Carriage and Private Hire Vehicle conditions and policies. At that time, the following condition was introduced:-
"Window Tints - This condition shall be applied to vehicles licensed after 15 July 2010. No vehicle shall have tinted windows beyond the following levels:-
Light transmissible through windscreen shall be no less than 75%.
Light transmissible through any other window should be no less than 70%.
When testing vehicles the Councils testing centre will allow up to a 5% error margin.
This comfortably takes into account n error margin of 3% recommended by the testing instrument's manufacturer."
The legal requirement in relation to all road going vehicles required that the windscreen allowed light transmission of at least 75% and both the passenger and driver side front windows allowed light transmission of at least 70%. There was no legal requirement in relation to tint levels on other windows of the vehicle.
The condition was introduced to improve passenger and driver safety and to ensure compliance with this condition, tint testing equipment was purchased and supplied to both the Councils vehicle testing centre and the Licensing Section.
In April 2014, it became apparent that the testing procedure in relation to window tints had not been followed correctly by staff at the Councils vehicle testing centre and Officers had identified a small number of vehicles that had been presented for test with window glass in place that did not comply with the Councils requirements in relation to window tints. As a result of failures in the testing process, these vehicles were passed and subsequently issued with Private Hire Vehicle/Hackney Carriage licences.
Since discovering the errors in the testing procedure, Officers had ensured that all vehicle testers were aware of the correct testing procedure in relation to tinted windows and, where a vehicle was identified as having window tints that did not satisfy the licensing condition, vehicle proprietors had been required to either replace the window glass or, where a film had been applied to the window glass to increase the level of tint, ensure that the film was removed. Those vehicles failing to meet the required standard had their vehicle licenses suspended for failing to comply with the licensing condition.
In April 2014, discussions were held with the applicant and other interested parties to highlight the errors in the testing procedure. This information was also passed to all other members of the trade in a letter dated 6 June 2014.
The applicants vehicle was first submitted for licensing as a Private Hire Vehicle in January 2012. Following a test at the Councils testing centre, the vehicle was given a 24 hour failure notice as a result of a minor fault with the front passenger seatbelt. The problem was rectified and subsequently passed the test and was issued with a Private Hire Vehicle licence in the Operators Company name.
In May 2012 the Licensing Section was informed that the vehicle licence had been transferred, therefore a new licence was issued to joint licence holders. As all licensed vehicles were subject to two annual tests, with the first being carried out before a licence was issued and the second being carried out six months after a licence was issued or renewed, the vehicle passed its first intermediate test in July 2012 without issue.
In November 2012, the Licensing Section was informed that the vehicle licence had transferred again and a new licence was issued to joint licence holders. In December 2012 an application to renew the vehicle licence was submitted and a fitness test took place as part of the renewal process, again the vehicle passed without issue.
In June 2013, the vehicle underwent its intermediate test and failed as a result of problems with a headlight and an imbalance in the breaking system. These issues were subsequently resolved and the vehicle was returned to the test centre, passing the same day.
In November 2013, an application to renew the vehicle licence was received. As part of the process, a fitness test was undertaken in December 2013 when the vehicle failed as the nearside sliding door could not be opened, it was missing some obligatory signage, a lamp lens was damaged and a dust cover on a ball joint was
damaged. The problems were duly rectified and the vehicle subsequently passed the test and was issued with a licence commencing on 1 January 2014 and due to expire on 31 December 2014.
The test sheets completed for the vehicle throughout its licensing history indicated that either the window tints had not been checked or that they had been checked and no issue was raised about them being unsuitable.
In June 2014, the vehicle was submitted for an intermediate test which included testing of the window tints on the vehicle. A number of the vehicles windows were found to have light transmission levels below that required by the Councils condition in relation to window tints. As a result, the vehicle was given a 24 hour period to rectify the issue before a suspension of the vehicle was issued.
Three days later, the vehicle licence was surrendered and the following day, a fresh application was submitted in relation to the vehicle accompanied by a letter from the applicant, a copy of which was attached at Appendix 1.
On 19 June 2914, the vehicle was presented to the Licensing Section where a test was carried out in relation to the level of tints on the windows. The results of those tests were detailed in the report. In conclusion, it was highlighted that all windows tested were within the limits required by the Councils window tint condition, other than the nearside middle passenger window and the nearside rear passenger window.
Following submission of the application to licence the vehicle, the Senior Licensing Officer contacted the applicant requesting information regarding the initial application made in respect of the vehicle. Information requested related to whether the applicant was made aware of the condition in relation to window tints when the application was initially made to licence the vehicle and, if so, why the vehicle was submitted for licensing when it did not comply with that condition. The applicant stated that legal advice had been sought in relation to the application and had not been received prior to the deadline for producing Committee reports. The applicant was advised that the report would be produced without this additional information which the applicant could table at the Committee meeting.
The applicants legal representative confirmed that the report was an accurate representation of the facts and was invited to address the Committee and presented the case in support of the application.
With the permission of the Chair, the applicant circulated a bundle to the Committee, containing the following:-
Report of Birmingham City Council regarding the Licensing of Vehicles with Factory Fitted Privacy Glass (dated 16 April 2014).
Article 68 for the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1976 in relation to Fitness of Hackney Carriages and Private Hire Vehicles.
Middlesbrough Councils web page in relation to Taxis.
Middlesbrough Councils Conditions and Policies in relation to Private Hire Vehicles.
Department for Transport Taxi and Private Hire Vehicle Licensing: Best Practice Guidance.
Photographs of the vehicle.
The applicants legal representative explained the background to the submitted application and, in doing so, made reference to Section 68 of the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1976, highlighting that the applicant's vehicle would have had its licence suspended due to failing its intermediate test in relation to the window tint requirement and that there was no option to appeal a suspension under Section 68 of the Act. The applicant had, therefore, surrendered the vehicle licence and submitted a fresh application with the request for an exemption from the Councils current Policy condition in relation to window tints.
The applicants legal representative also referred to the submitted document from Birmingham City Council, which had recently amended its restrictions on issuing vehicle licences to those with dark tinted glass, to allow standard manufacturer fitted tints and privacy glass, but not aftermarket film or replacement glass darker than originally supplied by the manufacturer. In reviewing its policy, Birmingham City Council had taken into account an increase in the amount of applications it had received for exemptions from the tinted glass restrictions, apparent lack of evidence to show that dark glass contributed to criminal activity and an increase in privacy glass being fitted as standard by manufacturers on higher specification vehicles.
The applicants legal representative circulated photographs of the vehicle and highlighted that the darker, manufacturer-installed windows were the ones that had failed the Councils test in relation to light transmission. The lighter tinted glass, on the other side of the vehicle, had been fitted at a later date (following the original windows being broken), however, this glass had passed the Councils test in relation to light transmission.
The applicants legal representative responded to questions from Members and the Councils legal representative.
It was confirmed that there were no further questions and the applicant, the applicants legal representative, and officers of the Council, other than representatives of the Councils Legal Services and Members Office, withdrew whilst the Committee determined the application.
Subsequently all interested parties returned and the Chair announced the Committees decision.
ORDERED that the application for a Private Hire Vehicle Licence, Ref No: 38/14, with request for an exemption from the current licensing condition in relation to window tints in respect of a specific vehicle (registration number supplied) be refused for the following reasons:-
The Council's policy required all windows of the vehicle to allow a specific amount of light transmission so that the driver and passengers were visible through all windows, day and night.
This policy was introduced in the interest of safety for both drivers and passengers. The named vehicle did not currently comply with this condition.
The Committee, therefore, did not consider there to be good reason or exceptional circumstances to depart from the Council's current policy in respect of the applicant's named vehicle.
In determining this matter, the Committee had considered the submitted report and the representations made by the applicant.
The applicant was reminded of the Right of Appeal to the Magistrates Court within 21 days of the decision.