Freedom, what freedom and for whom?

15 Nov

A DirectGov press release in August 2010 says.”Wheel clamping on private land is to be banned in England and Wales. The ban, which will be introduced in the new ‘Freedom Bill‘ in November, will impose tough penalties on anyone who clamps a vehicle or tows it away on private land”

Freedom for whom one has to ask. Freedom for the car driver to trespass, park and then drive away with confidence that they can ignore any signs saying ‘private’, ‘keep out’ and ‘no parking please’ with no more concern that they generally exhibit when parking on a verge, pavement, bus stop or anywhere else on the highway?

Needless to say the ‘motoring organisations’ have been pushing for this for some time. The RAC Foundation said that wheel-clamping was a breach of human-rights legislation because the concept of “one citizen “punishing” another is alien in English law”. The RAC Foundation’s did however say acknowledge  “We recognise the right of a landowner to enjoy his property without unauthorised obstruction.” The AA said that “bad and immoral practices” among private parking firms in England and Wales was “shocking and unacceptable”. Also that “The public have absolutely no protection if a private parking firm acts unfairly – it is a civil matter and no-one is interested in helping”. Finally in a flourish of brilliance that “Many elderly and vulnerable people have been ripped off by these callous cowboys.”

Lynne Featherston, the Home Office minister said that some firms were operating a “sort of entrapment” and an outright ban was the right answer and that “Most police forces do not spend their time prosecuting clamping companies”. The minister did however acknowledge on her blog that the police will not be able to cope, saying that “Cars that are parked dangerously on private land  – for example – blocking the entrance to a hospital or such like will be towed by the police. However, the police powers are for exceptional circumstances only”.

The British Parking Association acknowledged that reform was needed but that “If clamping is banned the Government must describe how it would protect landowners’ interests where vehicles are parked unlawfully on their land”. Matt Roberts, manager of Worcester Ten Pin Bowling who said that he was sceptical about the Government’s plans and was worried about parking becoming a “free for all” – “What alternatives are there to protect the car parking spaces that we pay for? I don’t like the idea of wheel clamping, if there is another way then I’ll do it”.

Which? magazine conducted a poll on their website which was split with a slight majority favouring the ban. The magazine was responding to readers concerns both about disabled people being frog-marched to cash-machines and those of land owners. A BBC ‘Have your say’ article attracted over 800 comments with the normal range of extreme views.

Now, I certainly believe that many clamping companies have indeed being run a racket charging exorbitant fees to release vehicles and that something should be done. Is not the real problem that drivers have got so used to breaking parking regulations in some many places and they find it a rude shock to actually get a ticket when parking on private property when they have been getting away for it for years on pavements, outside schools and on verges? We reported some time ago about the illegal parker who appealed successfully against prosecution on the grounds that he had done it many times before and never been challenged.

The huge opportunity now seems to be that we suddenly have business owners and even the ‘British Parking Association’ on our side. Every small business which owns and pays for a few parking places outside their property is going to need protection. Our challenge is to ensure that the action that protects their rights also protects the rights of the  “elderly and vulnerable people” (to quote the AA again) who wish to use the pavement and indeed the rest of us who have seen our rights and freedom trampled on for years.

The said Freedom bill, or “Freedom (Great Repeal) Bill” as it was described by the Queen in the Queen’s speech is very broad rangeing. It will cover many important concerns. For example:  ‘Restoring freedoms and civil liberties’, ‘Allowing members of the public to protest peacefully without fear of being criminalised’, ‘reform of libel laws to protect freedom of speech’, ‘protection of historic freedoms through the defence of trial by jury’, ‘restoration of rights to non-violent protest’, ‘Safeguards against the misuse of anti-terrorism legislation’, ‘repeal of unnecessary criminal offences’, ‘introducing new legislation to restrict the scope of the DNA database’, ‘Protecting privacy by introducing new legislation to regulate the use of CCTV’ and ‘Ensuring the storage of internet and email records is only done when there is good reason to do so’.

Let’s see if the bill can get them to acknowledge and deal with the whole parking mess across both public and private land. It is now predicted that the bill will be published in ‘the spring’.

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