Protection of Freedoms Bill

Memorandum submitted by the Blackheath Cator Estate (PF 41)

Clause 54. Offence of immobilising etc. vehicles


1. This estate, the Blackheath Cator Estate, like others in Greater London, would face significant practical problems from the imposition of a blanket ban on vehicle clamping. Our main entrance is about 200 metres from Blackheath railway station, adjacent to Blackheath's Concert Halls and close to its shops and restaurants. Public parking in other parts of Blackheath, including areas of park and display, is controlled by the local authority.

2. We have no quarrel with legislation to deal with rogue clampers. The estate uses a clamping firm 70% of whose work is for local authorities. In practice they clamp few vehicles but the threat of clamping is generally an effective deterrent to commuters and others disrupting the passage and parking of vehicles associated with its 3-4,000 residents, those coming to work on the estate, and those coming to use its facilities which include two churches, two schools, three residential homes, halls accommodating a wide variety of activities, sports facilities and retail premises. Legitimate parkers are provided with annual passes or deploy temporary notices.

3. We respectfully ask that clause 54 should be rejected in its present form and we are taking advice on possible amendment; advice that we expect to share with our local representatives when it is available.

Local representation

4. The estate crosses the boundary between the London Boroughs of Greenwich and Lewisham and includes parts of three parliamentary constituencies:

a. Eltham - Clive Efford MP

b. Greenwich & Woolwich - The Rt Hon Nick Raynsford MP

c. Lewisham East - Heidi Alexander MP

Identity and Declaration of Interest

5. I am the Revd Dr Adam Scott OBE. I am one of the clergy in the parish of St Michael & All Angels. Blackheath Park, which is largely co-terminus with the Estate. I have been on the parish staff since 1974 - the parish church was built by the Cator family who gave their name to the estate within which it is situated.

6. I write as a resident - having lived with my wife in a terraced house with a 17ft frontage at 19 Blackheath Park, SE3 9RW since 1982. I have a resident's parking permit.

7. I am also one of many shareholders in Blackheath Cator Estate Residents Ltd - the local amenity company serving thousands of people on the estate. I have been working on this topic with a fellow resident, John Bartram, a director of the Blackheath Cator Estate Residents Ltd. "We" in this document relates to our representations on behalf of ourselves and of the company. It uses a reputable clamping firm, 70% of whose work is for local authorities - that 70% is unaffected by the proposed ban.

A Local Situation

8. Between 3000 and 4000 people live on what was once the park of a big house and there is a wide range of housing some old homes, many private post-war developments and two council estates served by schools, some retail outlets, sports facilities and halls as well as a homes for elderly people and another for those with learning difficulties.

9. In 1950 a residents’ association was formed and, in 1965, its remit was widened by taking over the ownership of the roads and the administration of the Estate from the Cator family trustees, and, in 1982, it was re-named the Blackheath Cator Estate Residents Ltd (BCER). Apart from maintaining the roads, BCER also has to look after parking on the estate and uses a combination of conventional yellow lines, bays for those with disabilities and spaces reserved for residents.

10. Essentially the Estate occupies the South Eastern quarter of Blackheath Village. It is close to the shopping and entertainment area of the Village and its North West gate is just two hundred meters from Blackheath's busy commuter railway station. Therefore, to maintain some discipline on observance of the conventional parking signs, BCER have, for many years, employed firms who have the capability for putting notices on, and - if appropriate - clamping cars parked in contravention of the signage.

11. The London Borough's of Lewisham and Greenwich, who are responsible for neighbouring streets, police parking in those areas and there are two car parks in the village where one pays to park as well as pay-and-display parking on some streets.

12. Our church halls are heavily used for a variety of community purposes including a nursery school, scouts and other youth activities, events for older people, blood donation and even as a polling station. We also have midweek services, weddings and funerals. Visitors to the church and halls are permitted to park and - with the current restrictions and clamping as a threat - there is usually space for their vehicles.

13. Many of the facilities on the estate are accessed by people living outside the estate and that makes closing the roads to all but residents impractical.

The Legislative Proposal and Suspect Rationale

14. Clause 54 seems to be part of the agenda to stop there being what people perceive as a war on motorists. Our concern is that this clause would lead to a war by motorists against residents and visitors to this and other estates. Please appreciate that we are against rogue clampers extorting unreasonable sums from motorists.

15. As we understand it, the ban on the use of clamping upon private land has been proposed because there are some rogue clampers.

16. We recognise the need to balance the rights of motorists to have access to their vehicles with the rights of landowners to use and to control access to their property. In terms of the effect upon an estate like this, the impact of the legislative proposal seems to be to establish a de facto right for any motorist to drive onto private land and to park provided that they do not abandon their vehicle, or park dangerously or in a manner that causes an obstruction. At the same time, the effect seems to be to emasculate the landowner - in this case an amenity body looking after a large estate - from exercising proper stewardship of a community resource. It is hard to see what an amenity body like BCER would be able to do when seeking properly to control parking in an estate like this one if a ban came into force.

Responding to Home Office Reasoning

17. The suggestions made by the Home Office (Lynne Featherstone MP, CTS Reference: M11889/10) seem to be these:

a. There have been rogue clampers, therefore all clamping on private land should be banned - Philosophically this seems to be faulty - it is not an argument that has yet held much force in banning membership of parliament, banking, practicing medicine, law or accounting because there have been rogues - rather society looks to regulation and to removing, from practice, the rogue element.

b. A similar ban has worked in Scotland - I am not aware of there being, in Scotland's larger cities, private estates, like the Cator Estate, with the mixture of residential, educational, care, sports, halls, church and retail premises. Scotland's entire population is smaller than London's and it does not have a metropolitan area like London's where a large estate like ours - so convenient to a good commuter railway station - could become a park and ride for those wishing to park during a day.

c. Private landowners can use ticketing or barriers - that works well in a well confined area like a supermarket car park but not on a large estate with thousands of residents and many legitimate visitors expecting to drive too and fro. We gather that ticketing would also be very difficult for a private amenity company to enforce legally.

d. The local authority has a responsibility to remove abandoned cars - We accept this, but the problem is not so much the relatively rare abandonment of a car as regular parking by commuters or others who would be able to avoid parking in places where the relevant Council can render (and enforce) a charge.

e. Cars creating a danger or an obstruction could be removed by the police under new powers - agreed but parking in a bay set apart for motorists with disabilities, for residents of a particular set of homes or the space that has been marked up for hearses used for funeral coffins and for bride's cars would not constitute obstruction.

18. As explained, we have no time for rogue clampers whether they operate on private land or on public roads. A blanket ban presents real difficulties for estates like ours in a large city like London. I am confident that the committee could come up with a solution that would be better than the blunt use of a blanket ban.

19. A sensibly drafted law would permit properly regulated clamping in situations of estates like this one and thereby allow disabled motorists to access special spaces and residents to continue to park reasonably near their homes rather than being squeezed out by motorists taking advantage of the inability of the amenity organisation to enforce conventional signage.

April 2011