Cardinal Park fears of taxi drivers

TAXI drivers are set to boycott Ipswich's prime entertainment spot claiming it has become a "no-go area" and that police and the council are failing to protect them.

TAXI drivers are set to boycott Ipswich's prime entertainment spot claiming it has become a "no-go area" and that police and the council are failing to protect them.

The Ipswich Taxi Drivers Association [ITDA] has recommended that all drivers "withdraw support of taxi services from Cardinal Park" and are calling for the resignation of the borough licensing committee which they claim is "misleading the trade".

Furious drivers are also considering staging a "series of organised protests against the authorities' attempt to kill the Ipswich night taxi trade".

The Association claims council plans to boost late-night public transport – as part of Nightsafe Ipswich (a joint strategy to prevent disorder and ensure public safety in the town) – will cause irreparable damage to the taxi trade.

"We are withdrawing our support for the Nightsafe Ipswich initiative and we'll be going further than that," said ITDA secretary Eric Pearl, claiming the safety strategy has its transport priorities all wrong.

In a series of recommendations to drivers from the ITDA, Mr Pearl calls on members to fight back against a "secret council agenda" which will lead to job losses in the town's private hire industry.

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And in an open letter to drivers, Mr Pearl states: "We have received confirmation that the officials of the Nightsafe Ipswich group are planning to expand the proposed late night busses to rural areas and include additional late night train services.

"The authorities have no interest in supporting their own existing taxi trade and we are being sold down the river."

Mr Pearl claims that when cab drivers met police and council officials on February 22 to discuss the Ipswich Night Bus Scheme, plans to increase late-night public transport (and so deprive the private hire business of custom) were not clearly spelled out.

Instead of "wasting" money on night-buses with often only two or three passengers, the council and police should invest in supporting and protecting the town's existing private hire industry, he said.

"The big problem we're having in the cab trade is there are no-go areas and cabs are pulling out.

"We told police at the meeting that we were having real problems at Cardinal Park because of violence there and we wanted more support during busy periods.

"We regard it as a no-go area for us now - it's not safe," Mr Pearl said.

"The whole crime issue is affecting us as well. We are in danger and the police haven't got the resources to give us protection."

Though no cabbies had been physically hurt in Ipswich recently, drivers suffered "intimidation and abuse" from lager louts in the area, he added.

"We would have liked to have a major part in making [Nightsafe Ipswich] work like others, but we have withdrawn our support because they won't address the issues which we regard as the real issues.

Our reaction to it is going to be quite strong. Quite a few officials are going to be quite upset but we feel they've ignored our problems."

Members of the taxi association will be asked to vote on a series of recommendations at their annual meeting on March 13, including: cancelling all meetings with officials, withdrawing support of taxi services to Cardinal Park, a series of protests, a demand for better police response to alcohol related incidents and the call for the resignation of the licensing committee for "supporting this hidden agenda and misleading the trade".

The drivers' association has slammed the licensing committee for keeping them in the dark about late-night public transport plans.

Mr Pearl claims that while Nightsafe officials listened to drivers' concerns, their minds are already made up about the changes.

"They've got a plan and they're going to go ahead with it," he said. "We regard this as a serious problem issue."

Ipswich council deputy leader David Ellesmere said he was astonished to hear the cab drivers' comments.

"We held the meeting on February 22 and while they had concerns at the start, the cab drivers seemed happy at the end and backed the extension of Nightsafe buses.

"It may be that when they reported back to their colleagues, they got a different message - but the position was clearly agreed.

"As far as security is involved, the council is installing new CCTV cameras in Lloyds Avenue and Cardinal Park focussing on the taxi ranks – at the specific request of the cab drivers," he said.

Inspector John Fletcher, head of the police's Ipswich Town Centre Unit, was also surprised by the ITDA's accusations as he said the police and the borough council had met with the drivers on two occasions.

He said that it was hoped that cab drivers would also be involved in Clubwatch, a partnership between clubs, late night pubs and the police and that taxi drivers had written a letter to the police thanking them for the support they had received.

He said: "(after the meeting on Feb 22) It was our impression from that meeting that taxi drivers were satisfied particularly because of the level of support given to them (by the police) over the Christmas period.

"However if they are not satisfied and there are areas of high visibility policing that are required we must discuss this."

Insp Fletcher added that taxi drivers were extremely important to the Nightsafe project as they helped to get revellers home quickly, reducing the trouble on the streets.

He said: "The message that I would like to get across is that if there is more work to be done we would want to work with the taxi drivers.

"Taxis drivers are an important part of the late night leisure industry."

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