Tuesday, 17 August 2010

The clamping mistake

I was awoken this morning by the dulcet tones of the newsreader on Magic FM. (I am an elderly man in a teenager's body, so my alarm is set to Magic.) Mrs Newsreader informed me, among other things, that the Government was plotting to ban clamping on private land. I frowned and cursed Lord Cameron of Cameronford and his poodle. This is why.

We're unfortunate enough to live opposite a relatively busy shop. People visit said shop in many ways, cars being the most hassle-making one of these ways. It's a hassle because if there's no room in the lay-by, and they're too lazy to walk from the car park, they park in the road, or more often, in/across our driveway. Since there's little we can do about this except go outside and tell them off - something which, being masculine and fearless as I am, I do occasionally - or hope a resident of the shared driveway wants to come in/go out. Our job is made a little easier by a local Police Community Support Officer, who sends out letters to people who block access whilst getting their all-important crisps and fags. It is hoped a letter, complete with a police header, is enough to deter them from doing it again, but the additional threat on this letter is that the residents reserve the right to clamp people parking there. We don't own a clamp, but we have the right to buy one and attach it to their wheel whilst they fumble around in the shop. I had been pushing for us to buy a clamp for a while, but it's something we never got around to, and it's not exactly the most fun of things to spend money on.

When the Government implements this, we will no longer have the right to clamp these vehicles. That means there's nothing we can do about it aside from moan, and we don't even have the threat of clamping them any more because I'm sure they'll "know my rights." This also means the letter will be inaccurate, and there'll be no threat of punishment in the warnings the PCSO sends out. The only option remaining to us would be to phone the police every time someone blocks access, and I'm sure you'll agree that they've got more important things to do. Besides, they would never get here in time. It seems very odd for a Government whose mantra is "big society" and which advocates moving power away from the State and putting it in our own hands wants to take away our power to do something about people illegally parking on private land. Instead, we're supposed to rely on the police, which is even more odd given that this is supposed to be the "age of austerity", in which small tasks and bureaucracy are reduced and money saved. ThisIsMoney claims that "Where cars are abandoned or left in a dangerous place, the landowner will be able to call on the police, who will be given new powers to tow cars from private land. Currently, they can do this only on public land." So as it turns out, the police will only be able to do something if the car has been abandoned or is deemed to dangerous. That means we have to put up with people parking there, and there's nothing we or the police can do about it.

Apart from the plight of residents like us, there are others who will be negatively affected: schools; hospitals; businesses; anywhere that people park where they're not supposed to or overstay their welcome. My school had recently begun to clamp sixth formers who - despite numerous warnings not to - parked on school grounds. Unless the gym is demolished and a multi-storey car park put in it place (please do that) there isn't room for us to park. The school will now no longer be able to clamp rebellious sixth formers. Organisations and businesses everywhere are going to be rendered impotent to discourage unauthorised or illegal parking, having no way to put people off and inconvenience and punish them if they persist.

ThisIsMoney continues "Landowners such as small businesses and church halls who want drivers to keep out will be expected to fit gates or barriers". It's all well and good saying that on paper, and I hate to break it to  the millionaires in the Cabinet, but not everyone can afford to put up gates or barriers. In addition, I expect they'd have to get planning permission for them. We'd love nothing more than to put up massive wrought iron gates with gargoyles on top which shoot lasers from their eyes in our driveway, but it's 1. too much money, and 2. too much hassle. With 8+ cars needing access to the drive, there would need to be 8+ keys. Since the drive backs directly onto the road, it would also mean residents and visitors leaving their car in the road whilst opening the gates, or sitting in the way if they were those snazzy automatic electric ones. I wonder if the Government wants to tell the cash-strapped church or the nursery with a parking problem that they've got to put up gates or barriers instead of clamping. How are they going to afford it, and in what way would it be practical? They'd either have to leave them open all day so people could gain access - thus defeating the object of having gates in the first place; give all permitted users a key or access card of some kind; or employ people to man the gates. Cost and hassle.

I do recognise that there's a problem with clamping - with extortionate release fees or overzealous attendants, but a blanket outlaw for anyone who isn't employed by the Government or council wielding a clamp is absurd. Regulation would be the route to go, imposing rules and restrictions on those who make profit from clamping, and implementing a more efficient appeals process for those who claim to have been wrongly clamped or overcharged.

For a Government which keeps banging on about restoring our liberties, reducing the 'nanny state', and says it puts faith in the private sector and individuals, it's strange that they're taking away our right to take matters into our own hands and clamp people on our own land. Now there's a shocker - 'big society' doesn't mean anything, and certainly not more personal responsibility. It's just a more PR-friendly alternative than Cammy saying "cuts" and then laughing manically, rubbing his hands together in glee.

Now I need to go and beat Firefox into submission. Can someone please invent a browser which doesn't eat all my RAM?
Where cars are abandoned or left in a dangerous place, the landowner will be able to call on the police, who will be given new powers to tow cars from private land. Currently, they can do this only on public land.

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