Ban on wheel clamping on private land coming into force in England and Wales today

I spend most of my time arguing for our roads to be made safer and more attractive for cyclists and pedestrians and making the case for improvements in public transport.

However, reducing car traffic and making our towns and cities more attractive for local residents does not mean defending indefensible practices against motorists.

From today one of the worst injustices facing motorists has been ended, with a ban on wheel clamping on private land coming into force in England and Wales.  North of the border this activity has been banned on private land for the last two decades.

It will now be illegal to clamp, tow away or immobilise a vehicle on private land without lawful authority to do so. Anyone who breaks the law will face criminal charges and a fine if convicted.

In effect, this will ban most clamping and towing by anyone other than the police, local authorities and some government agencies.   The days of an owner of private land being able to clamp cars (often with a lack of poor signage in place) and then demand a small ransom have been banished.

Back in 2010 this policy was announced by Lynne Featherstone and two years later the policy is being delivered.

Some terrible practices facing thousands of people –  including many elderly and vulnerable people will now be ended. For anyone needing evidence of how harsh some of these practices have been I suggest taking at a look at the Hansard from this House of Commons adjournment debate. And yes, a further manifesto promise has also been delivered – one which the public overwhelmingly supports.

Yet despite this great news there are a few further points that must be stressed.

The first thing to say is that this new policy is not some attempt to appeal to Jeremy Clarkson and ‘petrol heads’ who think that there should be some total free for all in parking.  This measure is simply tackling exploitation and ensuring that parking on private land is dealt with fairly.

Indeed it is worth noting that the ban on companies being able to wheel clamp on private land will go hand in hand with changes to vehicle laws extending the power of the police to remove vehicles parked on private land, so as to ensure landowners have an ultimate power to keep their land clear from obstructive or dangerously parked cars. The Department for Transport is also strengthening laws around ticketing so that unpaid charges can be claimed from the keeper of the vehicle, as well as the driver.

Yet strangely enough not everyone agrees with the specific  ban on wheel clamping on private land.

When Lynne Featherstone first announced the ban and wrote an article on her blog the reaction was mixed, with some people mocking the policy initiative and others even defending the continued practice of wheel clamping on privately owned land. Indeed, over the years some people have even argued that due to their simple hostility to car drivers almost every practice by owners of private land can be justified.

In fact just a year before Lynne Featherstone’s announcement, Diane Abbott MP summed up this muddled thinking when she declared in the Observer “Wheel clamping is a perfectly fair punishment.”

Today I am incredibly proud of what Lynne Featherstone has achieved. Tackling inappropriate parking on private land can and must be done in a humane way, and thankfully the Coalition Government has decided that the rights of private land owners should not include the ability to practice daylight robbery.

* Caroline Pidgeon is the Liberal Democrat London Assembly Member and chair of the London Assembly Transport Committee

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7 Comments

  • Stuart Mitchell 1st Oct '12 - 6:44pm

    Freedom, 2012-style :-

    If somebody leaves a 2-ton heap of metal on my private land, I will be committing a criminal offence if I remove it.

    Sure there were abuses with the old system that needed to be sorted, but this legislation moves the goalposts far too much in favour of those motorists who think they should have the right to park anywhere and suffer no consequences for doing so.

  • Alex Macfie 2nd Oct '12 - 1:27pm

    Well the “2-ton heap of metal” is also someone’s property. Regulation of private clamping has been tried, and has failed. So a complete ban was found to be the only possible approach. On a philosophical level, this is correct too. There is a difference between defending one’s property, and handing out private punishments to people suspected of stealing or encroaching upon it. The latter is not compatible with the rule of law, which is an essential part of freedom; until now, car clamping has been one of a very few ways that private citizens have been able lawfully to dispense their own private “justice” against other citizens.

  • Stuart Mitchell 2nd Oct '12 - 6:35pm

    @Alex
    Regulation of private clamping was only ever half-tried. You claim that the ban ends the right of land-owners to mete out “private justice” but this is not so; land-owners will still be able to issue “fines”. Do you not think the right of somebody to enjoy one’s own property is an “essential part of freedom”? If I arrive home tomorrow to find that somebody has parked at the top end of my drive without my permission, I will now be committing a criminal offence if I park at the bottom of my drive, blocking the trespasser in. This is crazy.

    Even dafter than that – the government keeps reminding us how we are free to use “reasonable” force against burglars. So if a burglar parks his car on my drive, enters my house, and I kill him, I will likely be committing no offence; but if I get a tow truck and shift his car off my drive, I become a criminal.

    People should be able to use and enjoy their own property, and this should include the right to remove stuff that other people leave on it.

  • Alex Macfie 2nd Oct '12 - 8:15pm

    @Stuart: Landowners can only enforce their parking “fines” (actually invoices; only public authorities can issue fines; private parking is governed by contract law) through the court, and for that, they have to provide evidence that the person parked unlawfully, and that the invoice was issued lawfully. The biggest problem with clamping or towing away is that these solutions hold the car driver/owner to ransom, such that the easiest and perhaps economically worthwhile solution for the car owner is to just pay up and be done with it even when legally the clamper is wrong and the car owner would probably win in court. This cannot be fair or just. But it is what cowboy clampers rely on.
    Also there is a big difference between a burglar in your house, who constitutes a likely threat to yourself and your household, and a strange car parked in your rightful space, which is merely an inconvenience. In any case I very much doubt that a burglar is interested in your parking space over your possessions.
    Finally the new law allows landowners to go after a vehicle’s keeper, not just the driver; in this respect it makes things easier to pursue parking tickets than before.

  • Wonderful. So now when people park in our drive (thus blocking access to 4 houses, 4 flats, and a dozen allotments) because they fancy going shopping and can’t be bothered to walk 2 minutes from the car park, we have no way of deterring them. The fact that you’re touting this as an achievement is yet another example of how your party is Liberal in name only. That’s the problem with being run by a contingent of middle class politicians with no experience of the real world. They’re under the illusion that the police are always interested and always respond promptly and do their job properly, as opposed to simply walking past people blocking the driveway.

  • Stuart Mitchell 3rd Oct '12 - 7:31pm

    “Wonderful. So now when people park in our drive (thus blocking access to 4 houses, 4 flats, and a dozen allotments) because they fancy going shopping and can’t be bothered to walk 2 minutes from the car park, we have no way of deterring them.”

    No, you don’t – and if you park in such a way as to block THEM in, you will be committing a criminal offence. This has to be one of the barmiest laws ever, and clearly unjust since it is protecting the rights of trespassers to prevent land owners from enjoyment of their own land,

  • Clifford Glenn 29th Jul '13 - 8:33am

    Am I understanding this correctly; if someone parks on my private land without my concent, and in doing so blocks me in, I will be committing an offence if I either remove said vehicle or block them in.

    What then if a second person, again without my concent, parks blocking the first intruder’s car in?

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