Protection of Freedoms

Memorandum submitted by Dover Harbour Board (PF 69)

Summary

1. Dover Harbour Board (the Board) owns and operates the Port of Dover, which is private property used by the Board to operate one of the world’s busiest international ferry ports. The Port of Dover is a significant asset for Dover, East Kent, the South East and the nation. It has enormous national and international importance as one of the UK’s main trade gateways with continental Europe.

2. In the interests of security and the safe management of the port operation, the Board operates a proactive policy of immobilising unlawfully parked vehicles, followed by impounding in exceptional circumstances. As such, the proposed provisions of the Protection of Freedoms Bill are likely to have a major impact on existing security arrangements, adopted in line with good practice, at the Port of Dover.

3. Clause 54 of the Protection of Freedom’s Bill was designed to combat the issue of rogue clampers. When making the announcement regarding the Bill, the comments made by the Home Office minister, Lynne Featherstone MP, were as follows:

"The Government is committed to ending the menace of rogue private sector wheel clampers once and for all. For too long motorists have fallen victim to unscrupulous tactics by many clamping firms. … A ban on clamping and towing on private land will end this abuse and companies who decide to flout new laws will face severe penalties."

4. The Board has no issue with, and indeed supports, the overall objective of Chapter 2 of the Bill, but remains of the view that the blanket ban does not properly consider the impact on the owners of private property who have legitimate reasons for seeking to enforce parking restrictions on its property in a cost-effective manner, both for the customer and the landowner.

Reasons for Clamping

5. The Board clamps vehicles for a variety of reasons, most are the same reasons that clamping takes place on council property, i.e. vehicles parked without valid parking tickets, vehicles that have over-stayed their parking fee or parked in non-parking areas. In addition, the Board also clamp vehicles on behalf of the Port of Dover Police if they are suspect vehicles/recovered stolen vehicles.

6. Vehicles parked in security sensitive areas (e.g. the limited waiting parking areas at the entrance to the Eastern Docks) will be clamped where they have exceeded the maximum stay. Such vehicles are usually impounded, but depending on operational demands at the time of identification, occasionally it may take up to a day or two to arrange so vehicles are clamped and monitored until such time as they are removed.

7. In addition, the Board’s current policy where vehicles have overstayed their parking fee or have no ticket at all is to clamp vehicles then leave them in situ for 16 days - long enough to allow time for those who may have gone away on holiday to return and recover their vehicle. Subsequently, if the vehicle remains on site, it will be impounded and a recovery fee charged.

8. The present charge for a clamp removal is £52.50 plus the unpaid parking fee, plus £7 per day while the vehicle remains on site; the fee for impounding is £157.50, plus the unpaid parking fee and/or a per day storage fee of £5.25.

The Board’s Clamping Regime

9. Far from operating an independent "rogue" activity, the Board adopts an open and transparent parking regime and employs a respected, national contractor, G4S, to undertake a wide range of security duties pursuant to its obligations under the International Ship and Port Facility Security Code (the ISPS Code) as regulated by TRANSEC. One of those duties is to immobilise and/or impound unlawfully parked vehicles on the Board’s estate to ensure that the integrity of the Port’s security is not compromised.

10. The dock roads, although private, are subject to standard road traffic legislation. They are clearly marked with double yellow lines in no parking areas and signage is displayed confirming key conditions of parking, as well as warnings to offenders that their vehicles may be clamped. The Board’s parking terms and conditions are also published on the Board’s website. G4S enforces the parking regime under the management and supervision of the Board’s Terminal Manager (Compliance).

11. The G4S traffic officers, who are all SIA trained and licensed, are not expected to meet any clamping targets and are actively encouraged to try to locate the driver of any unlawfully parked vehicle to arrange for it to be moved. Clamping and impounding are only used as a measure of last resort.

12. In line with SIA guidelines, there is also an appeals process in place, such that anyone who believes that their vehicle should not have been clamped can contest the fee levied. The Terminal Manager (Compliance) works with the G4S Security Officer Manager to investigate all appeals and provides refunds if the clamping is deemed unwarranted.

13. Parking enforcement at the Port of Dover, including immobilisation and removal of vehicles, is tightly co-ordinated with Port of Dover Police and Kent Police Special Branch as necessary, to ensure that the risk represented by each vehicle is fully assessed before any action is taken.

14. As a matter of interest, the Port of Dover was a pilot port in the MATRA (Multi-agency Threat and Risk Assessment) project, which was jointly sponsored by the Department for Transport and the Home Office. The immobilisation and removal of illegally parked vehicles is one of the counter-measures for the mitigation of the VBIED (vehicle-borne improvised explosive device) threat.

15. Furthermore, TRANSEC is in the final stages of obtaining ministerial sign-off for the designation of the Port of Dover pursuant to the Port Security Regulations 2009, which will require the Board to undertake a full Port Security Assessment. It is anticipated that the current VBIED counter-measures will continue to feature as a vital part of the security threat mitigation plan.

Impact

16. The Board is aware that the Bill only makes it an offence to immobilise or remove vehicles where it is done without lawful authority. However, this caveat does not assist the Board as a review of the Board’s constitutional documents has concluded that the Board is only entitled to remove vehicles from its land. It does not have explicit power to immobilise vehicles, most likely because the historic legislation (from late 1950s/early 1960s) did not envisage that as an option.

17. Operationally, immobilisation of vehicles is a more viable approach than immediately removing and impounding unlawfully parked vehicles and is in line with the Board’s obligations under the ISPS Code. It is also a cheaper alternative for consumers who will have the opportunity to pay for the vehicle to be released before the costs of a tow truck, etc. are incurred.

18. One of the direct results of the change in legislation will be a sharp increase in the number of cases where vehicles are immediately removed from the Board’s premises. As the Board will no longer be able to secure vehicles on site by clamping pending removal, the Board will likely have to employ a specialist contractor who can provide a reactive service. This will increase the impound charges noted above in paragraph 8 and will have a detrimental impact on consumers as it will ultimately increase the charges payable to recover their vehicle.

19. The use of parking tickets would not be effective for an organisation such as the Board, due to the inherent risk of non-payment, which would inevitably result in the Board wasting administrative time and tracking vehicle owners through the DVLA etc, chasing payment and perhaps even seeking to enforce payment through the small claims court.

20. Furthermore, the use of a fixed barrier as proposed is not practical given the vast areas of land that the Board controls where there are many legitimate visitors expecting to be able to access and leave freely.

Conclusion & Proposal

21. It is worth noting that the threat of clamping is generally an effective deterrent for many motorists and usually ensures compliance with relevant parking/access restrictions. However, the Bill will remove all landowners’ ability to use this threat to good effect and potentially opens the door for motorists to flout the rules. Where the landowner does not have the right to remove vehicles from the land, the motorists may be able to continue flouting the rules unpunished, but for those landowners (like the Board) who have right of removal, the motorist will be hit with higher costs to recover their vehicle. Neither outcome seems quite right in the circumstances.

22. The Board is of the view that in seeking to eliminate the issue of rogue clampers, the Bill has gone to the ultimate position of making clamping on private land unlawful and the potential outcome appears excessive. The Bill does not strike the correct balance between landowners’ rights and the rights of motorists. It has potential to leave certain private landowners without an effective remedy, while still not quite meeting its objective of offering protection to motorists and ensuring that they are dealt with in a fair and even-handed manner given its potential to result in more onerous charges.

23. In the light of this information, the Board would strongly urge the Committee to ensure that there is an exemption for "statutory undertakers" such as the Board, i.e. those private landowners who need to be able to properly enforce parking restrictions on key infrastructure of national significance to ensure maximum operational safety, security and efficiency. The Board respectfully requests that the Bill include an appropriate amendment to Clause 54.

May 2011