Eric Pickles may well have defended the right to begin the House of Commons day with prayers last week, but government itself is missing exactly how the Protection of Freedoms Bill will affect access to all places of worship when it becomes law later this year.
The Government’s proposed ban on wheel clamping, which is currently making its way through Parliament, poses questions about the protection of car parking adjacent to religious meeting places. At present, the threat of wheelclamping (usually with small release fees) keeps many areas near to religious centres free for permitted parking. From October, the most effective legal means to ensure spaces are used only by bona fide visitors will be to provide a gate or barrier closing off the land and to issue keys to worshippers.
For many venues with relatively small car parks this will represent a large cost and inconvenience. Alternative ways of controlling access are complicated and may not fit well with community values. One would be to employ a parking enforcement company to issue ‘tickets’; another to sue offenders for trespass.
We all want to see the back of rogue clamping but we need to be sure that what comes next properly protects drivers and property owners alike, and is workable. Or ultimately, frustrated congregations could well find themselves turning to more militant ways to protect their valuable parking spaces.