Protection of Freedoms

Memorandum submitted by Brookscroft Management Ltd (PF 67)

Purpose of submission: To draw attention to the serious consequences of clause 54 of the Bill for residents of privately managed residential property, and to request that the scope of the clause be limited to the prevention of ‘cowboy’ clamping.

Summary: The purpose of this part of the Bill is to prevent the activities of ‘cowboy’ clampers, but it will also deny the rights of thousands of homeowners living in privately managed properties to peaceful enjoyment of their homes, by removing their ability to apply any effective sanctions against rogue parkers. This submission explains the problem based on the experience of one private estate, including the threat faced by such estates and the ineffectiveness of sanctions other than clamping.

About the writer: I am chairman of Brookscroft Management Ltd (BML), a company established to manage the amenity lands of the Brookscroft estate and to make and enforce regulations to enable residents to enjoy those lands. By far the most important of these regulations controls parking on the narrow roads of the estate. Brookscroft has 96 houses (average value c.£220,000), and is part of the Forestdale development in Croydon with 2,000 homes most of which are managed on a similar basis. BML directors are themselves estate residents elected by the owners of its houses to run their management company.

Detail

1. Brookscroft was completed in the early 1980s to a plan intended to separate traffic from pedestrians as far as possible. Most houses have garages en bloc with access to the houses by footpath. Others have integral garages. Parking problems on the estate increased over the years and BML introduced parking regulations in 1992. However problems persisted despite various solutions tried by BML until, in 2009, an effective parking control contractor was appointed. Since that appointment rogue parking has ceased to be a problem.

2. BML provides 69 parking bays on the estate, which are free to use by residents and legitimate visitors. Some are in dedicated parking/garage areas, but most are along the side of our roads. Because the roads are narrow and have bends the bays are carefully sited to ensure safety. Problems encountered before effective clamping came into force include:

a. Parking across residents’ driveways or garages, thereby denying residents use of their own cars.

b. Parking on the bends in our roads, causing dangers which would warrant police intervention on public roads.

c. Parking on footpaths, forcing pedestrians into the road and making access by wheelchair or with a pushchair difficult or impossible (we have a number of disabled residents and families with young children).

These problems led to unpleasant incidents. Two examples are:

a. A resident with advanced cancer hoped to visit relatives before an operation which he did not expect to survive. He would have had to leave in the early morning but was prevented from doing so because a car had blocked his driveway.

b. A pizza delivery rider was knocked off his motorbike on a bend made blind and dangerous by cars parked all round it.

Since effective clamping was introduced there have been no such incidents. The parking control service is provided without charge to residents, the contractor covering costs by clamping release fees. Operation of the scheme is carefully monitored by BML to ensure that clamps are applied only in accordance with our regulations and that release fees are reasonable.

3. Alternative sanctions. The government suggests that owners of private property will still be able to protect their land by using alternative sanctions if clamping is disallowed. In practice that is not the case. Our parking control contractor started working for us with the intention of ticketing in all but extreme cases. However, it quickly became clear that ticketing was ineffective. If a driver does not pay for the ticket, the cost of pursuing the claim through the courts exceeds revenue from issuing the ticket. Knowing this, rogue parkers simply ignore tickets. Our contractor was thus forced to resort to clamping in the majority of cases. Once rogue parkers realised this, problems all but disappeared within weeks. The second alternative sanction suggested is use of barriers. Unlike commercial carparks, we cannot place barriers across our parking spaces as most are in marked bays on the road. We would have to put barriers at the estate’s two entrances, where they would have to be left open nearly all the time to allow legitimate vehicle movements into and out of the estate (we estimate about 400 per day). Barriers would be costly to install and maintain for our residents some of whom are struggling financially. They would be a magnet for vandalism thereby increasing the problems of anti-social behaviour in the neighbourhood (our entrance signs were subjected to arson attacks twice over a short time and we cannot afford to replace them while the risk of further attacks persists).

4. Other measures. It is suggested that enabling parking control organisations to pursue vehicle owners as well as drivers will improve the effectiveness of ticketing. In practice we believe it will make little if any difference. In most cases the driver and owner are the same person. Finally, it is suggested that local authorities can use existing powers to provide a parking control service on private land. However, we have been informed [1] that authorities will not be obliged to provide this service and that it is seen as a way of providing effective parking enforcement particularly on land such as hospital or university car parks. In other words, it is not expected to be used to help residential properties. Even if a local authority did offer a service, it would be on a ‘take it or leave it’ basis, since the Bill if enacted would create a public sector monopoly. Our right to tender for a service tailored to the specific needs of our residents would have been removed.

5. How widespread is the problem? We do not have the resources to conduct a survey, but we know that a single parking control contractor has 84 private residential clients in Croydon alone. Some of these clients will include hundreds of individual homes. We are also aware of protests raised by private estates in other boroughs. It seems fair to conclude that the problems in Croydon are repeated in boroughs across much of urban England affecting many, perhaps hundreds, of thousands of homes. Before concluding that the interests of all these homeowners were to be ignored, did the Home Office conduct any research into the size of the problem? It should also be noted that the Home Office letter (ref.1) claims that the government recognises that it is important to balance the rights of the motorist to have access to their vehicle, with the rights of landowners to use and control access to their property. However, our residents are motorists too, and are themselves denied access to their vehicles by rogue parkers. In other words, the Bill not only denies homeowners’ rights to effective protection of their property, but sets their rights as motorists below those of people who park with selfish disregard for others.

6. Could these unwanted effects of the Bill be avoided? We understand that the government claims that schemes involving licensing of clampers and/or limiting the legitimacy of clamping to certain types of land would be costly and complex. We dispute that conclusion and question whether any proper research was undertaken by the Home Office to support it. In our opinion, a self-regulating, self-financing scheme limited to, for example, health sector, educational and residential properties would be easy to establish by means of suitable amendments to the Bill and secondary legislation ( the latter to provide legislative backing to a mandatory Code of Practice which could be easily and cheaply kept up to date). The main focus of Part 3, Chapter 2 of the Bill could then be on the banning of cowboy clampers, as it should always have been.

Conclusions

- Based on direct experience of living in and managing a modest private housing estate, I can say with certainty that the anti-clamping provisions of the Bill will bring considerable stress and hardship to residents of our estate and will discriminate unfairly against them compared with residents on adopted roads who pay the same Council tax .

- The sanctions suggested by government as alternatives to clamping are ineffective – again a conclusion based on direct experience.

- The management company I chair will be unable to fulfil its obligation to enforce regulations in the interests of our residents, because the only effective sanction we have for enforcement will be outlawed by the Bill if enacted.

- This memorandum draws on personal knowledge but we have good reason to believe that our problems are shared by many thousands of others across urban England. We have seen no evidence that the Home Office has researched the scale of the problem, nor that it can justify its comparison with Scotland where circumstances are very different.

- We believe that the intended purpose of this part of the Bill can be achieved easily whilst at the same time protecting the rights of residents in their own homes without the cost and complexity claimed by the Home Office.

- The Home Secretary’s statement on the European Convention on Human Rights claims that in her view the provisions of the Bill are compatible with the Convention. However the damage which clause 54 of the Bill will undoubtedly inflict on the rights of homeowners to peaceful enjoyment of their homes seems a clear breach of Paragraph 1 of Protocol 1 of the Convention.

May 2011


[1] By letter dated April 2011 from the Direct Communications Unit of the Home Office