Protection of Freedoms Bill

Memorandum submitted by Wandsworth Borough Council (PF 84)

1. This response to the above consultation is submitted on behalf of Wandsworth Council. The Bill has provided some challenges to local authorities that were not previously anticipated and the response set out below provides some comments on the proposals contained in the above Bill and seeks clarification on Clause 56 and schedule 4 as follows

2. Whilst Wandsworth Council welcomes and would wish to support any move by the Government to deal with rogue clampers, some clarification of the proposals in the above Bill is needed in order to successfully implement proposed alternatives to the current practice of clamping and towing away illegally parked vehicles or those causing a nuisance and obstruction to residents.

3. The provision in Chapter 2 of Part 3 of the Bill which deals with vehicles left on ‘land’, and particularly Clause 54, which makes it an offence to move or immobilise a vehicle without ‘lawful authority’, provides a challenge to local authorities. To ensure that Clause 54 is workable the Council is seeking clarification on Clause 56 Schedule 4 of the Bill; recovery of unpaid parking charges.

4. Clamping on housing estates has been an effective form of parking enforcement and a total ban without an equally effective alternative would deprive the Council and its residents of an important tool to protect housing land and dissuade illegal/nuisance parking.

5. Where parking enforcement is identified as a problem on housing estates, residents are consulted with and vote on whether or not to introduce clamping on an estate as a response and solution to this problem. The Council is reluctant to remove this option from residents without a viable alternative.

6. In 2010/11 the Council clamped 3,245 vehicles on our housing estates, indicating the scale of the parking problem our residents face living on estates which are near to train stations etc and are ideal parking spaces for commuters.

7. The option of ticketing those who illegally park on Council land raises some concerns for the Council in its administration. The main concern for the Council with issuing tickets is the method of enforcement and recovery of charges. Current processes involve lengthy and costly small claims procedures that provide no effective remedy for persistent evaders, and the Council is concerned that this will not act as a deterrent for rogue parkers.

8. The Council seeks clarification of the provisions in the Bill as to how landowners can efficiently, and cost effectively recover parking penalty charges and how they can deal with persistent offenders.

9. The Council has also noted in the Bill the continued provision of the use of fixed barriers to restrict the movement of vehicles on private land. Due to the physical layout of many housing estates including multiple entrances and exits it is not feasible to erect barriers to manage parking. Barriers are restrictive to residents’ free movement in and out of their estates, and are inconvenient for visitors, trade vehicles and most importantly emergency services.

10. If councils are prohibited from clamping vehicles on their own housing estates, then the alternative must allow effective and efficient enforcement of parking charges. It is not clear whether the provisions in Clause 56 and Schedule 4 would allow the council to recover unpaid parking fees without having to go through the costly and time consuming process of the small claims court. Clarification on this matter is required.

11. The House of Commons research paper 11/20 [1] indicates that "current practice is that a landowner only has recourse to the courts if they make a charge for parking on their land but do not enforce it with clamping. The changes outlined in the Bill would allow landowners to recover parking charges without recourse to the courts, a process which can be time consuming and costly. A full explanation of how this new scheme would work is set out in the Explanatory Notes to the Bill". However, the Bill and explanatory notes are silent on the above assertion contained in the research paper. This new enforcement route must be made explicit if ticketing is to be successful on our housing estates.

12. A preferable alternative would be to use the same method of enforcement as would apply if Council housing land was covered by a Traffic Management Order i.e. if the ticket was unpaid the Council would simply register the debt at the County Court and then use bailiffs to recover the costs without the need for county court action.

13. Wandsworth Council is clear that clamping is an effective form of parking enforcement on many housing estates. Without an efficient and effective method of recovery of charges for parking offences the Council is concerned that ticketing will not provide as great a deterrent as clamping and is likely to lead to an increased administrative burden on the county courts if there are persistent non payments of parking charges.

14. In conclusion Wandsworth Council seeks clarification on Clause 56 and Schedule 4 to ensure that landowners are given an effective tool to recover parking charges without the use of the small claims court.

May 2011