Multi-storey Car Parks (Safety)

– in the House of Commons at 1:43 pm on 28 February 2023.

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Motion for leave to bring in a Bill (Standing Order No. 23)

Photo of Maria Eagle Maria Eagle Labour, Garston and Halewood 1:47, 28 February 2023

I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to increase the minimum required height of guarding in multi-storey car parks;
to make provision about increasing the height of guarding in existing multi-storey car parks;
to require 24 hour staffing of multi-storey car parks;
and for connected purposes.

Unfortunately, I never met my constituent Gabriel Jack Santer, known as Gabe. He died, aged just 15, on 3 October 2020 when he fell from the top of an open-roofed multi-storey car park. It was a Q-Park on the corner of Hanover Street and Gradwell Street in Liverpool city centre on a bleak, wet and windy Saturday night. The inquest at the end of January 2021 recorded an open verdict.

Gabriel was, by all accounts, a lovely, popular, friendly and lively boy. His teachers thought him destined for stage or screen, because he was a natural entertainer with a fine sense of humour. He was kind, never cruel; he was a sensitive young man, who was solicitous and caring. He was friends with many and scorned by none of his peers at school or from skateboarding. Now he is gone and very much missed by his family and friends.

Agonisingly, Gabe’s family will never know what was in his mind around the time of his fall from that place, but they know one thing for sure—his death was as preventable as it was senseless. Had the barriers atop the car park been higher or designed to prevent people falling or climbing over them, Gabe could not have fallen as he did on that night. Had there been staff on site to watch what was going on and to check on safety, he would not have fallen.

As it happens, the barriers in the place from which Gabe fell were a few inches below the legal minimum. Even so, almost two and a half years later, there is no indication that Q-Park is to be pursued by any enforcement authority for that failure to adhere to the guidance in approved document K of the building regulations, even though it led to the death of a 15-year-old boy.

Gabe’s father, my constituent Johnny Santer, is determined to ensure that Gabe’s death will not be in vain. He wants to make sure that no other person finds it so shockingly easily possible to fall or jump from an open-roofed multi-storey car park, and I want to help him achieve that aim. That is why I seek the leave of the House to bring in a Bill, the Multi-Storey Car Parks (Safety) Bill, to ensure that the minimum height of barriers is increased substantially; that existing car parks have to be retrofitted with safer barriers adhering to new, higher standards; and that provision is made for the staffing of such sites to ensure that people do not fall.

After Gabriel’s father came to see me following Gabriel’s inquest, I was shocked to discover that the building regulations’ requirements for the height of barriers set a minimum height for guarding the rooftop of only 1.1 metres, or just around 3 feet. That is too low to stop anyone from accidentally falling, and it is certainly too low to stop anyone who is determined to jump. Multi-storey car parks must be attractive to those seeking to take their own life. They are easily accessible; one can reach the top floor easily, without needing to explain one’s presence; they are generally unstaffed, so there is unlikely to be anybody asking, “What’s going on?”; and the barriers only have to be 3 feet high to meet the requirements set out in the building regulations. In addition, such low barriers make it easy to fall accidentally in certain circumstances.

So how much of a problem is there—how general is it? The answer is not entirely clear. I tabled a written question, and was told that the Government do not collect figures to indicate how many people die each year in the way that Gabriel did. In a written answer on 5 September 2022, the Government confirmed that they are

“aware of some fatalities”,

but did not state how many or give me a number. However, it seems to be a more frequent occurrence than one might hope or expect. A simple search of newspaper reports, while hardly comprehensive, none the less indicates that there is a real problem. It shows that there were at least 17 deaths by falling from multi-storey car parks in England over a 12-month period—in 2022. There may well be more deaths that have gone unreported in the media, and there are also likely to be instances of very serious injury caused by people falling or jumping from those easily accessible, high and dangerous places.

If Mr Santer’s experience is anything to go by, owners and operators of multi-storey car parks are not exactly open to the idea of increasing safety measures above the minimum requirements set out in approved document K. Gabriel fell from a Q-Park roof. Q-Park is the third largest car park operator in Europe, with over 3,500 car parks under its control, yet when Mr Santer asked that company for all the information it held about his son by way of a freedom of information request, he was told that such requests need only be met in respect of “living persons”—what a shockingly insensitive response in the circumstances. When my office got involved, Mr Santer did receive some basic information thereafter, but it did not take long for Q-Park and its associated companies to shut up shop, demanding that Mr Santer communicate with them only via their lawyers.

It has become clear that Q-Park is not willing to take any voluntary steps to ensure that barriers are at a height that would prevent falling and jumping from its roofs, nor does it seem inclined to do anything much to improve safety unless it is made to by a change in the law. Indeed, there was a death by falling from the rooftop of a Q-Park in Sheffield in May 2012, which resulted in a regulation 28 report to prevent future deaths being sent by the Sheffield coroner to Q-Park Ltd and Sheffield City Council’s planning department in May 2014. That report set out concerns about the low height of the barriers and the ease of using the crash barrier by the perimeter wall as a step up to the top of the perimeter wall. Despite Sheffield City Council offering to facilitate improvements, and nine years after that prevention of future deaths report was sent by the Sheffield coroner to the company, Q-Park is still refusing to make any of the changes mentioned in that report when pressed by Mr Santer, and that is not encouraging. Gabriel died six years after the report was sent to Q-Park, which had done nothing to deal with the issues it highlighted. That shows that Q-Park will only do the absolute minimum to comply with guidance on safety.

It is therefore up to us in this place to require that improvements be made to the safety of multi-storey car parks. It seems clear that, if Q-Park is to take those safety concerns seriously and finally increase the height of its barriers, the legal minimum height must be increased, and a requirement to retrofit existing car parks must be included in the law. In addition, having car parks staffed can only increase safety levels. If Mr Santer is to achieve his goal of ensuring that Gabriel did not die in vain and that some good can come out of this terrible tragedy, the law must be changed. It is for us to do so.

In a written answer from June 2020, the Government confirmed that they have no current plans to make any such changes. It is in those circumstances that I seek leave to bring forward legislation to increase the safety of guarding at multi-storey car parks, as I have outlined. Should I receive permission to introduce such a Bill, and should that Bill receive Royal Assent, I think it would be appropriate to refer to it as Gabe’s law. He was a fine young lad with so much promise, who died too soon and so needlessly.

Question put and agreed to.

Ordered,

That Maria Eagle, Dame Angela Eagle, Sir George Howarth, Ian Byrne, Kim Johnson, Peter Dowd, Mick Whitley, Tony Lloyd, Barbara Keeley, Sir Mark Hendrick, Mike Amesbury and Ashley Dalton present the Bill.

Maria Eagle accordingly presented the Bill.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 17 March, and to be printed (Bill 256).