FlashPark is a registered trademark of Vehicle Control Solutions Ltd, which was set up to deal with parking problems in North and Central London. Towing and clamping are the main tools the company used to solve private parking problems. In 2005 we decided to suspend all towing operations and focus on using new technology to meet our client’s demands and the demands of customers we could not reach out to.
Wheel clamping in the past has always been the main way for landowners to
solve parking problems. It was first used on private land in the 1980s.
There were several attempts to self –regulate the industry, all failed. It has
always been a subject of great controversy and without any guidelines clamping
has attracted a lot of bad press. Clamping was banned in Scotland in 1992 and
licensed in the UK in 2005 reducing the number of clampers to just over
1900. Further legislation coming into force in 2011 proposes to ban the practice all together.
As a result of the forthcoming ban a vacuum will be created for an alternative solution.
History of parking charge notices on private land
With so few licensed clampers around after 2005 I devised a parking control
kit that could be sold on the internet. It consisted of warning signs, parking
permits and a book of parking tickets. It meant the landowner could issue the tickets themselves and then send us the carbon copy which we would process. The kit did work and we encouraged it as much as possible. My idea proved that there was an alternative solution to clamping, however it had some drawbacks; customers would delay in sending the carbon copy to us, the writing on the ticket was unreadable and lots of paperwork was generated. However, despite this, it did solve the parking problem for the customer. We continued offering this as an alternative solution reaching out to customers in remote areas that could apprehend an offender much faster and with less confrontation than an external party. It worked well for the customer but we were losing revenue from the admin process. In 2007 I developed a blueprint so the whole operation could be done online.
How FlashPark was invented
In 2007 I devised a blueprint of how I could offer a service for issuing and processing parking tickets online. I brought all the previous problems with self-issue parking tickets into the equation first and drafted up a proposal to a
team of web developers to see how it would work. We decided to use the services of a DVLA approved software developer as they are familiar with our
industry. The main concept was for the landowner to upload a photo of the
vehicle in its offending position and to be able to select the offence code
from a drop down menu. The software would link to the HPI database to
validate the registration and ensure accuracy. In the past we would have to
destroy tickets with invalid or inaccurate vehicle registration number losing money.
The advantages of using an online service are outstanding
- We receive the PCN details immediately (no posting).
- Digital photo of vehicle in offending position is all the evidence we require.
- Free service to landowner and a £10 payback per vehicle.
- Landowner can sign up online nationwide.
- Instant Parking Charge Notice- takes seconds.
- No confrontation.
- Landowner can cancel ticket at any point during the process.
- Motorist can view their ticket and pay/appeal online.
- FlashPark is linked to the Police Stolen Vehicle register.
In November 2008, after much trial and error the site went live. In the
first 18 months 869 landowners registered and purchased our warning signs, out of which 357 still have active accounts to date. For many the signs act as a deterrent and completely solve the problem.
The invention has had lots of coverage in the national press and on TV.
Press coverage can be found at our site www.flashpark.co.uk
FlashPark’s competitors are generally individual clampers and wheel clamping companies. ANPR is a similar technology and has worked well in shopping centers and retail parks but lacks the flexibility in deciding who the offender is. It relies on a database of authorised users, this means
customers, visitors and tradesmen must pre-register making some sites
impractical to enforce. It also has high set up costs.. Access to the DIVA register is restricted to members of the British Parking Associations approved operator scheme and is subject to Audits from the DVLA. This strict criterion does deter many from starting a similar service.
Parking problems on private land does not have a vertical market. Any
person/organisation who has off street parking can be a potential customer. For example, Businesses, doctors’ surgeries, housing association, district councils, individual landlords, forecourts etc
Need for service
Off street parking is a vital tool for the motorist. If we imagine there are
two identical flats in the same block for sale, the one with a parking space
can add on average £15,000 to the value of the property. As our roads and cities become more congested and more traffic restriction is imposed, this has a direct effect on the demand for off street parking.
We are always working and improving the present model. As a result of a
recent change in Government policy towards wheel clamping it leaves FlashPark in a stronger position to acquire more business.
In March this year I auditioned for the BBC television programme Dragons Den and presented them the FlashPark business model. We have been approved to do a full pitch in front of the Dragons but we have not been given our date as yet. A copy of the email from the BBC is to be sent under separate cover.
Effect of innovation
The effect of having a website where illegal parking can be reported online reduces the number of motorists falling prey to wheel clamping companies. Many in the UK do not follow any code of practice. FlashPark is a trading name for Vehicle Control Solutions Ltd who is a member of the BPA. As a member of a BPA approved operator scheme we follow a code of practice.
Deliverability of innovation
Since FlashPark.co.uk launched two years ago, we have been working with Entity, DVLA approved software developers to ensure the smooth running and accurate database synchronization of the FlashPark website. It is important that the service is not only easy and convenient for the customer, but proves itself an invaluable tool in assisting to retrieve stolen vehicles. We believe that the invention of FlashPark has created a system that provides landowners with the parking solution they have long been searching for, while maintaining the civil rights of motorists. The fact that it can also aid bringing criminals to justice and vehicles returned to their rightful owners is a superb and highly beneficial bonus.
History of wheel clamping
During the year 1998 clamping first began on private land in the UK
Some may be surprised to know that the legal basis of clamping is derived from the problem of straying livestock and was called distress damage feasant. Essentially, if Farmer A’s cattle strayed to Property Owner B’s property then B was entitled, within, law, to compensation for damage caused by the cattle. He could keep the livestock – until A coughed up in full.
The motorist wants free parking naturally and this was easy to find in the past. Modern conditions have created restraints and local councils make the motorist pay for parking. The greater the number of motor vehicles extant the greater the demand for street parking and the higher the amount the council charges.
The motorist sees parking on private property (not his own) as a way out. On private property the traffic warden has no powers.
Wheel clamping became the weapon of the angry property owner as a response.
Property owners want to stop unauthorised parking by third parties in the least expensive and most cost-effective manner.
The expense of installing and maintaining traffic control equipment on commercial and residential property is enormous. There are problems about who pays for what where ownership is shared by, for example, leaseholders.
For the property owner the use of the wheel clamp was attractive. It was self-financing for the landlord has not outlay and might even get a commission for giving clamping rights.
Word has it that private parking spaces in Central London have sold for up to £150,00. An attached parking space increases the value of a flat. Consequently throughout the last decade of the last century and the first half decade of this one there were more and more clampers in the UK.
Regrettably, few clamping firms work to real professional guidelines. They rely on basic law of contract to justify themselves. A great deal of the argument with motorists is about the warning notice, such as whether or not it is easily seen and read.
A warning notice should be clearly displayed in a car park such that it is readable and understandable as far as the law is concerned. The clamper’s case is that if the motorist does not abide by the terms of the ‘contract’ by parking on the land then he has to pay damages as per his role in the ‘legally binding agreement.’ He is deemed to have ‘consented’ to pay by having parked on the property. He must pay the release fee to get his vehicle back.
This received court attention in a High Court action and a subsequent Appeal Court hearing (Arthur vs Anker November 30, 1995). The motorist lost both times.
There are disturbing aspects to the clamping business. Motorists have offered security in return for the release of the vehicle such as jewellery. Clampers have given informal ‘receipts,’ including on one occasion on the back of a cigarette packet. There is worse: Clampers have clamped without any warning notices at all (and the notice not easily visible) and charged far more than a local authority would charge for the release of the vehicle.
There have been cases where the desperate motorist has used an angle grinder to destroy the clamp. The clamper loses not just the release fee but also the clamp. The police service often if not usually backs up the angry motorist. There is a different outcome when the parking is done on the public highway. That is because the Road Traffic Act 1984 comes into play.
Wheel clampers are aiming to use the strongest clamp. At this time there are over twenty unregistered designs, the Denver Boot being the best known. The drawback of the Denver Boot is that deflating the tyre enables the driver to slide the clamp off.
The latest and the best model available is American. With this one the unhappy motorist de-clamps his own vehicle. He ‘phones the clamping company with his bank card details and they give him a release code. He then attaches the clamp to a nearby lamppost. If the company does not find the clamp they charge extra to the card’s account.
The legal basis of clamping is debatable. The police are involved because of high emotions. Up north in Scotland, there are no trespass laws and wheel clamping has been banned under Scots law.
The media has been exposing clamping malpractices and the clampers have searched for unity amongst themselves and social acceptance for their trade.
In 1992, a combination of about half a dozen clamping companies formed the Association of British Wheel Clamping Companies. This body had a voluntary code of practice. I attended one meeting of the BWCC in person and identified the clampers by their broken noses, bomber jackets, trainers, earrings and even facial tattoos. The other representatives were well clad and serious in attitude.
There have been changes to the code of practice and to the name. There have been meeting of the association up and down the country. The name became Association of Parking Enforcement Companies. This was intended to give it a friendlier image. The revised code of practice did not get acceptance from the motoring groups and local government.
The authorities appointed the Security Industry Authority (SIA) to regulate the industry with the result that would be clampers had to attend a £350 course and get a £200 licence. It took nearly six months and the deadline was in May 2005. it was too long, too inefficient and too uncoordinated.
In May 2010, a request was made to the SIA under the Freedom of Information to disclose the number of clamping licences. There were 1,900 licensed clampers in the United Kingdom. After subtracting the would be clappers who did not get jobs after the course and licensing there would be about 1,200 full and part-time clampers.
The is one licensed clamper for every 600 square miles in the UK .
There is a rising demand for another alternative solution to the parking problem. The best answer was identified by a former clamper who had knowledge of the Internet and computer skills. His method was to issue parking charge notices directly to the motorist without clamping and attendant confrontations.