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ACCUSATIONS OF SHARP PRACTICE

A dispute between two taxi firms in Huddersfield has threatened to boil over, with neither side seemingly willing to give ground.

The problems started when Shahid Parvez, a contract driver at the long-established firm of Mount Taxis, left to start his own business under the name of Marsh Cars. He applied for planning permission to operate one car from 48 Westbourne Road, which is located only a few properties down the same road as Mount Taxis. This was despite the fact that Mr. Parvez lives in a different area, a point not lost on his previous employer. The terms of the granted planning permission state that: "the permission hereby granted shall be limited to the use at any one time of one licensed private hire car only to be operated by a permanent resident of 48 Westbourne Road, Marsh".

The document also includes the phrase "use of dwelling to operate one private hire vehicle." Given the apparently limited nature of the new enterprise, Mark Horsfall, the manager of Mount Taxis, did not see it as a particular threat, saying: "I did not object as I thought it was only him and one car." However, developments have been swift since then and the new Marsh Cars business seems to have made significant inroads into Mount Taxis’ business. But Mark Horsfall contends this is due to underhand practices and he now certainly does object, and on more than one front. In fact, he has objected several times to Kirklees Council licensing and planning departments and made a personal appearance before councillors at a licensing meeting, but so far has failed to get the desired reaction. The first bone of contention is that Marsh Cars, with planning permission to operate one taxi from Westbourne Road, seems to be running far more than this number. Mark Horsfall, in fact, contends that he has seen several cars with the Marsh Cars badge and one weekend took photographs of nine separate cars operated by the company. Despite giving this evidence to Kirklees Council, nothing seems to have been done to enforce the regulations.

Mr. Parvez denied he was breaking any rules: "I'm just trying to make a living and give a good, honest service. I live at both houses and have been living and sleeping at Westbourne Road for the last four months and my wife and family have stayed with me." He admitted to having ten radio-controlled taxis but said the drivers are all self-employed. He contended that none of them park outside 48 Westbourne Road but all park elsewhere in the Marsh area of Huddersfield. Mr. Parvez claimed he was now applying for planning permission to use 48 Westbourne Road as a taxi booking office, although this would not change his method of operation. Nevertheless, if permission is granted, there will be no limit to the number of taxis that Marsh Cars can operate. He added: "I've been working 24 hours a day to build up this business and don't want to break any rules. I see it as interpreting the rules as everyone else does." A spokeswoman for Kirklees Council seemed to imply that the dispute over the number of cars being operated from Westbourne Road was due to a misinterpretation of what was granted by planning permission. "The planning permission applies to the parking of a vehicle and the council has had no complaints that more than one is outside the property at any one time. The application for a radio controlled office is likely to be decided in about eight weeks." A letter from Kirklees Council to Mr Horsfall stated: "Mr Parvez has planning permission to operate one vehicle from 48 Westbourne Road, Marsh. I am advised there is no evidence that more than one vehicle has been operating from the premises at any time." A second objection by Mark Horsfall is that he believes strongly that Marsh Cars is trying to unfairly pass itself off as Mount Taxis, a business founded forty seven years ago by Mr. Horsfall’s father, Donald, and so steal its trade by underhand means.

This allegation is based on the Marsh Cars business card being almost identical to that of Mount Taxis, even containing the phrase ‘Mount Cars’, and the business having a telephone number that is only one digit different. The result of this alleged subterfuge is that people often book with Marsh Cars while believing that they are actually dealing with Mount Taxis. Mark Horsfall reports that people have told him they have booked Marsh Cars by mistake and says: "People were phoning us up asking where their taxi was. It turned out they had never booked one through us." He went on: "The Marsh Cars phone number is the same as ours. Only the last digit is different. You've more chance of winning the national lottery than being allocated such a similar number by British Telecom." But Mr. Parvez was unrepentant, stating: "There was no copyright on their card." He admitted to having printed 5,000 business cards that looked very similar to those issued by Mount Cars. However, he claimed that only about fifty had been distributed and he now has a different card. He also denied asking British Telecom for a particular business number, claiming that the similarity in the numbers was sheer coincidence. He said: "I did not ask for that number. They just gave me it. I could not believe it." Whilst British Telecom would not comment on the specific case, a spokeswoman did admit that people could request a certain number. This can be purchased if it is available.

A counterclaim by Mr. Parvez is that Mount Taxis allows customers into its booking office in contravention of regulations. Mr. Horsfall maintains that this only happens when the weather is bad or if people appear vulnerable. The war of words seems set to continue, with Mr. Horsfall saying: "What is happening is wrong. Rules are being broken and nothing is being done about it. People should be aware of what can happen if planning permission for one taxi from one house is allowed. Mr Parvez is also using his business cards to generate work for himself off our reputation, which we have built up over almost half a century. "I am not against competition when faced with a level playing field but Marsh Cars has deliberately created a situation for their own profit where they are attempting to piggyback off the long-standing reputation of our company." 

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